Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

 
Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

 
The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

 
He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

 
Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.

Starship #15 launches AND lands successfully

Starship #15 about to land

Starship #15 after landing

Capitalism in space: On the 60th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s suborbital flight, making him the first American to fly in space, SpaceX has successfully launched and landed its fifteenth Starship prototype.

The flight appeared remarkably smooth, except for the cameras on board which dropped out for much of the flight. The first image shows the rocket coming down just before touch down. At this moment it was dropping very smoothly, and landed very gently on the landing pad.

The second image was taken about thirty seconds after landing. There was a fire at the rocket’s base being extinguished by the water fire control system. Other than that, the rocket appears whole and undamaged.

As I write this, it is about ten minutes after landing, the fires at the rocket’s base have been put out, and all seems under control. I expect that SpaceX engineers will finally have a fully intact prototype that they can inspect for future design revisions. For example, the skin of this prototype has many thermal tiles attached. They can now see if their attachment system works.

I have embedded the 16 minute live stream of the flight below the fold. Enjoy!

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62 comments

  • geoffc

    Woo-Hoo!!!!!!!

    The camera on the front flap was cool, since you could see how much it was moving, while the rear flap looked pretty calm.

  • Ken

    Woohoo indeed!

    Nicely done SpaceX!

  • Michael Deavers

    Seriously folks, that is so fake. The whole Scam X “space” program is so totally in-your-face there-is-a-sucker-born-every-minute fake. Elon Musk is the twenty-first century P.T. Barnum. Wake up, people.

  • Skunk Bucket

    Amazing flight, amazing landing, but if it had come down just a couple of feet further from the center of the pad, we would have seen a good test of how much lean angle those little legs can handle. It will be good to see the next generation legs on a Starship. All in all, though, a tremendous achievement and I can’t wait to see what SpaceX does next.

  • Latemarch

    Dear Michael Deavers,

    This comment brought to you by Starlink. You know that SpaceX “scam” that supposedly brings internet to all of us way out in the boonies.
    Might want to do a little research before attempting to equate Elon to P.T.

  • Michael Deavers

    Dear Latemarch,
    This comment brought to you by Starlink. You know that SpaceX “scam” that supposedly brings internet to all of us way out in the boonies via weather balloons launched from the North Pole. Or actually the nearest cellphone tower… Depends on how boonies you are, bro.
    Might want to do a little research before attempting to elevate Elon to someone who is actually doing something besides scamming people.

  • Scott M.

    Oh dear, it looks like the crazies are out in force.

  • eddie willers

    So I looked in earlier, saw the weather and thought, “They aren’t launching today”. Went off and read a book.

    So, for the first time, I missed the prototype launch live.

    I guess I should continue that as I seem to be a jinx. (just kidding)

    Way to go, SpaceX!

  • TommyK

    I often find myself recalling Teddy Roosevelt’s words,

    “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

    Go Mr Musk.

  • Steve Richter

    Will Starship use liquid oxygen/methane fuel when landing on the moon and then returning to Earth? How to keep the temperature of the fuel low enough to stay liquid for long periods of time?

  • Patrick Kelley

    Includes improvements to address the “rapid unplanned disassembly experienced during the last flight.” That’s good stuff right there. 😎

  • Mitch S.

    Ha, “Michael Deavers”, your revelation might be a shocking surprise to those astronauts who rode SpaceX craft to and from ISS.
    But spinning elaborate conspiracy theories can be fun.
    And I can sympathize with someone who finds SpaceX’s successes hard to believe.

    A couple of weeks ago there was an interesting thread here about China’s space program that discussed gov’t space vs. private space.
    It occurred to me there are really three categories: Gov’t space, Private space and SpaceX.
    Nowadays we look what’s getting launched and point out how private space has accelerated past gov’t space, but if we take SpaceX out of the equation it looks quite different. A few successful small launchers such as Rocket Lab and some big players such as Blue Origin with big promises but so far no notable successes.

    The question is (and I ask this to the group) is “private space”‘s success due just to free market freedoms and incentives or does SpaceX have another vital ingredient – Elon Musk. Are we witnessing the human race’s D.D. Harriman, Zefram Cochrane etc – someone who will go down in history as propelling humanity into space?
    Can an individual make such a difference? Look at electric cars. Without Tesla, automakers would still be making low volume “overgrown golf carts” and speak of practical electrics as something for the far future. Now even Ford is making a BEV with performance a decade ago their executives would have declared an unrealistic dream.
    And the person responsible?- that same Elon Musk!
    The plot of my conspiracy story is that Musk is really an alien sent to lift humanity to the next level…

    BTW my nephew is a newly minted engineer. He’ll be working for Northrop Grumman. When I mentioned SpaceX, he said the word is SpaceX is exciting but when you work there you have no other life. Is that a sustainable business model? Time will tell – keep your seat belt on (and the spacecraft can fly itself but don’t try that with the car yet!) .

  • Mike a

    Mr Deavers is clearly a troll. Never feed the trolls.

    I think a lot of Old Space is collectively soiling their drawers tonight, they have officially been eclipsed by a private company SELLING their wares.

    I hope the PORK, as Mr Zimmerman is so fond of saying, is getting real anxious.

  • Michael

    It will be interesting to see if they will hold up 16 pending a detailed physical review of 15 or go for broke. I’d go with the latter as long as no critical items pop up.

  • Funny, how such a “con man” gets paid for providing valuable services to others … and is reaching for the future with the money from his own pocket and those who have voluntarily invested in his endeavors with eyes wide open.

    Almost like he doesn’t fit the definition of “con man” … or at the least, fits it less than the cabal that supports Big Space with our tax dollars, while delivering less value to show for it than the “con man” delivers. And with Starship, he’s investing in the future – again, with his own and his investors’ freely-invested money -so that he can potentially deliver even more value.

    However, I think that what is driving the move to EV’s, more than Musk’s success with Tesla, is politically-sensitive automakers falling for another con … the Climate Change Cult … in the hopes of currying favor with our political elites. I saw something like this play out in the 1990’s with the EV1 … and it did not end well for GM. Funny how Toyota is now raising significant questions about the practicality of mass conversion to EVs … back in he 1990’s they didn’t chase the ZEV the way GM did, but plodded along and because the household word for those non-zero-emission beasties called “hybrids”. Perhaps we should listen to them now, given their track record on such issues.

    It remains to be seen whether this will end differently … if the automakers can deliver EVs that will meet the expectations of mass-market consumers (as opposed to expecting them to settle for less performance as the price of being a “good citizen”) without the artificial sweeteners of government subsidies, then more power to them.

  • Lee Stevenson

    Go SpaceX! Now THATS the way to bring a big chunk of rocket back to earth! I hope Chinese NASA was watching!

  • Lee Stevenson

    @Jester, I can’t see any drawback with electric vehicles these days, except under a very limited set of circumstances. We have a VW Caddy ( an unfortunate and disrespectful name, I know!) As our works “run around”, and it is great… It can do 250km on a charge generally, and 150km even in the depths of Swedish winter. It is the advances in battery tech that have made EVs viable, and much of that advance is down to Elon. Those “very limited set of circumstances” do however include long distance runs, and heavy haulage, and I unfortunately do not see a viable EV option for these on the near horizon. If I was driving from Stockholm to the north of Sweden , say 1100km, I don’t want to have to stop 4 times to fill up, so I believe that we are going to need fossil fuel vehicles for some time yet, but if the vast majority of car owners who drive less than 200km ( 125 US miles) at a pop can be convinced by the economy and performance of EVs, we will have taken a big step forward. ( Especially you guys living in sunny states! Solar panels, a Tesla battery in the garage, and you never have to pay for gas again! It seems a no brainer to me!)

  • wayne

    Jocko Willink / Akira the Don / Rudyard Kipling
    “If”
    2019
    https://youtu.be/F5yQLOv3oPQ
    4:34

    “IF you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
    If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
    If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
    Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise.”

  • wayne

    Jocko Motivation
    “GOOD”
    2016
    https://youtu.be/IdTMDpizis8
    2:19

  • wayne

    Michael–

    Joe Rogan / Akira the Don
    “I Don’t Wanna Hear That…!”
    Meaningwave 2018
    https://youtu.be/ybMgbaIt6FA
    4:52

    ->contains a WHOLE lotta, ‘adult-language.'<–

  • Doubting Thomas

    Great flight. Good to see it. I wonder if they need some more quick operating valves closer to the engines. PV=nRT would seem to indicate that a little bit of unburned fuel / oxidizer in the engine line can expand to a pretty big cloud of methane / O2 mix.

    Now with an intact bird, they may be able to figure this out.

    Go SpaceX – Great job. See you on Saturday Night Live this weekend, Elon, hope you survive the NBC prima donnas.

    Oh yeah, has everybody got their sealed bid in for Jeff Bezo’s suborbital hops?

  • Lee: Solar panels, a Tesla battery in the garage, and you never have to pay for gas again! It seems a no brainer to me!.

    Until you have to replace that battery, in a few years … as though the original capital cost is not significant, as well. And batteries do not obey Moore’s Law, the way semiconductors have.

    Many of us here have to drive relatively long distances, and/or in cold climates for a good part of the year – and don’t have the capital laying around to buy two vehicles to accommodate both short-range and long-range needs. (Many don’t have the capital to shell out for ONE Tesla, as good as it is.)

    I have no problem with EVs if/when they meet the needs of consumers. I have a big problem with government tilting the playing field in various ways to promote them and the renewable energy they want us to depend upon … especially when the limitations of the underlying technologies demand more attention from the user to manage/work around them, when they could be more productive doing other things.

    And I have a big problem, when the tilting of the playing field is justified by “interdicting” a chimeric threat, justified by ¡¡¡SCIENCE!!! that is reminiscent of how the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park were made: take some evidence from here and there, glue it together with the “frog DNA” of computer-modeled extrapolations and assumptions, all to create a T-Rex of a narrative with the potential to bite us with all sorts of “unexpected” outcomes.

    It would be real easy, as an engineer who works with the underlying technologies almost every day, to jump on the bandwagon of EVs and renewables as The Answer … it might even lead to some short-term expansion of job opportunities for me. But I’m also smart enough to see their limitations, and how those will will lead to solutions as illusory as flying cars and nuclear fusion … so I’m not betting my career on that bandwagon.

    Life is not a Field of Dreams … neither “if we mandate it, it will come”, or “if we subsidize it, it will come”, are capable of overriding the laws of physics and economics.

  • wayne

    Lee–

    Ref:
    “I can’t see any drawback with electric vehicles these days,…”

    Well…. not an engineer myself, but—-
    –most electricity is generated by coal and natural gas. Your electric car is mainly powered by coal.
    –conventional automobile production in the USA– somewhere around 13-15 million units per year. What is the current production of EV’s?
    –electric cars are subsidized by the fed government in the USA, so by definition aren’t economical to produce. (and why should I have to pay to subsidize people that make twice as much money as I?)
    —I’m entirely fuzzy on the dead weight loss amount for using electricity in this manner, but I know for a fact there is a tremendous loss at every single step. No good rational reason for wasting such high-quality energy in this manner.

    That being said, let’s go for a drive….

    “Driving the Eisenhower Pass (I-70) in Colorado”
    TheHighwayMan 2011
    (Music by Joe Satriani)
    https://youtu.be/iLSRVaqG5-o
    4:44

  • Jeff Wright

    Now the big question: try to fly her again? Or dismantle and hunt every hair? What would YOU do?

  • wayne

    Waynes World 2
    “If You Book Them, They Will Come”
    https://youtu.be/aSG3s7Y9lP0?t=63
    3:04

  • Doubting Thomas

    Jeff – Autopsy her for a month and then decide to fly SN 16. Gotta have routine landings that don’t require fire fighting at the end.

  • wayne

    very nicely done….

    “What Really Happened During the Texas Power Grid Outage?”
    Practical Engineering, March 2021
    https://youtu.be/08mwXICY4JM
    16:47

  • Kyle

    Interesting comments ill just add that currently SpaceX has the greatest show on earth. And here’s to an exciting future for Starship and Capitalism in Space!

  • wayne

    Kyle–
    Very Good Stuff!

  • wayne

    “It’s A Wonderful Flat Earth Life”
    Louder With Crowder, December 2020
    -Parody Alert-
    https://youtu.be/-_MAnHECpaA
    1:56

  • William Frumkin

    Statement from Eff Ezos;
    Elon Musk is a poopoo head and his rockets are stupid! That’s why I sued NASA to make them buy my rockets instead.

  • That was great! Not sure what else there is to say.

    “Dystopia and Utopia, running neck-and-neck through the clubhouse turn!”

    Lee Stevenson noted: ” It is the advances in battery tech that have made EVs viable . . .”
    Had this same conversation while riding with a client in his . . . Tesla. Electric cars have been around for well over a century, and he noted how far battery tech had come in the last ten years. I pointed to the car: “Exhibit A”.

  • Jeff Wright: Now the big question: try to fly her again? Or dismantle and hunt every hair? What would YOU do?

    Good question. IMO one can learn a LOT by close examination, without a full teardown. My vote is to keep her together and fly her again.

    William Frumkin: Statement from Eff Ezos; Elon Musk is a poopoo head and his rockets are stupid! That’s why I sued NASA to make them buy my rockets instead.

    Over at Instapundit’s link to UPI’s coverage of the flight, commenter richard mcenroe was thinking along that line:

    Bezos just filed a restraining order against anybody launching a working spacecraft who isn’t him…

    Commenter Guy Cocoa posted this in reply:

    Just for fun Elon should have given serial numbers to the Starship prototypes of 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37…just to show Bezos what prime really looks like.

  • Jester Naybor related:

    “Commenter Guy Cocoa posted this in reply:

    Just for fun Elon should have given serial numbers to the Starship prototypes of 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, 19, 23, 29, 31, 37…just to show Bezos what prime really looks like.”

    Police reports indicated that Jeff Bezos could only be identified from dental records.

  • Edward

    Mitch S. asked: “The question is (and I ask this to the group) is ‘private space’‘s success due just to free market freedoms and incentives or does SpaceX have another vital ingredient – Elon Musk. Are we witnessing the human race’s D.D. Harriman, Zefram Cochrane etc – someone who will go down in history as propelling humanity into space?

    This isn’t the first time we have had such people in the space industry. Back when rocketry and spaceflight were new, there we a few people who made huge contributions. Somehow, over time, the space industry started to play it safe. (Didn’t Zaphod Beeblebrox do that once?)

    Can an individual make such a difference?

    The major difference is that Musk’s SpaceX company allows its engineers the freedom to try things that other companies have not allowed. It is one of the differences between a young company and a stalwart company. Another factor in favor of SpaceX is that it is not publicly traded, therefore it does not have to answer to those who require the investor’s interests be the driving factor. Government regulators consider investor’s interest to be the safe use of funds.

    Trying such radically new techniques is not a responsible use of investor money, largely because it is well known that a booster rocket cannot reenter the atmosphere and land successfully for reuse. It is well known that the manufacture of rockets must take place within a cleanroom to prevent contaminants from causing spectacular failures. Landing a returning spacecraft on a runway is reasonable, but this last-second flip maneuver that SpaceX proposes is complete insanity! No regulator would allow a company to bet the business on such lunacy. No wonder people think that SpaceX is just a scam. What we see happening is impossible — don’t believe your lying eyes, because men will walk on the Moon before anything you see could ever happen. And how likely is that?

    BTW my nephew is a newly minted engineer. He’ll be working for Northrop Grumman. When I mentioned SpaceX, he said the word is SpaceX is exciting but when you work there you have no other life. Is that a sustainable business model?

    In my experience, all of which is outside of SpaceX, much of the space business has overtime work. The closer to launch operations we get, the more we are able to brag about how hard working we are. While doing assembly, integration, and test, I once went 111 hours with only 11 hours of sleep, and I have worked more than 22 days in a row (unfortunately, I lost count). This may sound like I have bragging rights, but I have worked with people who are not even remotely impressed by such long working times, as they exceed them be impressive amounts. However, I once moonlighted at my own company, doing two jobs at the same time for 70 hour weeks: writing test procedures during by day and running test procedures on second shift.

    An engineer who wants a nine-to-five job and weekends off but still be in aerospace should stick to design, which is where I started. Even then, there are times when overtime is authorized.

    Lee Stevensonwrote: “I can’t see any drawback with electric vehicles these days, except under a very limited set of circumstances.

    It isn’t so much the vehicles themselves or the technology. The main problem is getting the electricity to the vehicles.

    Two decades ago, California tried to mandate a fleet of electric vehicles, 5% of car sales, but they failed to upgrade the power grid. Indeed, they demolished the grid by changing the way power was generated and distributed. What a cluster bleep that was. These days, California wants to require even larger EV fleets in the next decade, but has yet to fix the grid or increase the power generated. California is run by cluster bleeps.

  • DannyG

    “BTW my nephew is a newly minted engineer. He’ll be working for Northrop Grumman. When I mentioned SpaceX, he said the word is SpaceX is exciting but when you work there you have no other life. Is that a sustainable business model?”
    Grad school & residency were exciting but I had no other life. However, the benefits have lasted 40+ years. An intense period of work & learning the real world part of the job is a good investment of the early 20’s through 30 or so. Lots of time left for life after that.

  • Chris

    Truly Wayne seems to have had a bit of pent up videos in the queue.
    That said, I’m glad to see them.

  • Gotta have routine landings that don’t require fire fighting at the end.
    “fire fighting” is an improvement over “rubble retrieval”. It wasn’t all that long ago that they were blowing up without even flying. The trend line is now – warning! small sample size! warning! do not use in bathtub! – in the right direction.

  • Ron Desmarais

    I wonder how close to Boca Chica that Long March 5B stage (or pieces of it) will crash to Earth? (Hopefully not so)

    TommyK:
    Love the Teddy Roosevelt quote, I think I’ll steal it 😉.

    Mitch S:
    The commercial space industry needs multiple providers to keep flying and innovating regardless of whether one operator experiences a serious failure that knocks them off-line for a time. I don’t want a repeat of the Government space experience. I am disappointed with Blue Origin’s lack of performance, I’m hoping that they and Sierra Nevada will get their systems up and running sooner rather than later.

    Mitch S, Edward and Danny G:
    Being a recently retired instrumentation engineer who worked with and provided sensors to the folks at SpaceX, I can tell you that they are a seriously impressive group. If you are really excited and dedicated about getting to Mars, and can work crazy hours, it doesn’t get any better than this. If you are doing it for the money, it is probably not for you.

    As for EVs:
    I will stick with my Prius that gets me 50-60 MPG without plugging in or worrying about getting to the next charging station on a trip. It works for me, with 550+ mile range on an 8-9 gallon fill-up I can generally get to where I’m going with a single stop for gas. As for the batteries, Prius batteries have a history of 10 years or more of operation without replacement.

    For me, the excitement that SpaceX is providing to society is so needed in this difficult time.. I have not seen this level of excitement across all ages for a long time. To put this into rocket-terms, Elon Musk is providing the propulsion and guidance while his team of incredibly talented and dedicated people and providing the operations and design support. In the future we will look back at the work SpaceX is doing today as the re-birth of our future in space.

    Robert:
    Thank you so very much for such a wonderful site! The wealth of information, along with the discussion, is just invaluable.

  • Joe

    Yabba dabba doo!

  • Gary

    Wow..comments all over the place. Good to see an intact SN15.

    Downside of electric cars:

    Toxic lithium mining in Canada
    Toxic lithium disposal in China
    Massive energy loss between electric power generation and power to the wheels
    Currently, poor choice due to the negative environmental impact.

  • Diane Wilson

    Random responses:

    Word is that next flight will be SN16, followed by re-flight of SN15. And still looking for orbital launch with SN20 in July! I’m guessing that SN17 may be scrapped, as SN12 was.

    SpaceX employees may “have no other life,” but that is the life they have willingly chosen. If you have not read “Liftoff!” by Eric Berger, the story of SpaceX and Falcon 1, it is worth reading to see what that life at SpaceX is like. SpaceX offers tangible achievements in return for dedication and hard work, unlike some other burn-out jobs I’ve known. It becomes a sustainable business model when each generation of employees trains and promotes the next generation. And clearly, the sequence of Falcon 1, Falcon 9, reusable Falcon 9, Dragon, reusable Dragon, Crew Dragon, Starlink, and Starship suggests that SpaceX has found a sustainable business model here.

    Electric cars are a complex issue. Hydrocarbons are an energy source. Electricity and batteries are energy storage. (Ditto for hydrogen.) Zero emissions is nice, but battery technology is very dirty ecologically. The rare earth elements needed come from mostly third-world countries, where child slave labor is frequently used (specifically, cobalt, which mostly comes from the Congo). Mining waste from rare earths is usually radioactive, mostly from thorium. Battery disposal is equally dirty. Ditto for solar panels, which have a limited life of 20 years or so. Ditto for wind power, where the generators also require rare earths, and thousands of miles of additional transmission lines would be needed. Also disposal problems; the fan blades are fiberglass, and can’t be sent to landfills. Again, there’s a limited life span, requiring disposal and replacement.

    Even Elon Musk has said that we will never have the generating capacity for everyone to drive EVs. So I’ll continue riding my unicorn to work, thankyouverymuch.

  • Lee Stevenson

    I guess the answer to the environmentally friendly power production problem can only be nuclear at this point…. ( For the record, over 90% of Sweden’s electricity is hydro or nuclear! ), Nuclear has had a bad rep, due to 3 mile island, Chernobyl and Fukushima, but designing a melt down proof reactor is 9th grade physics, and the actual fallout ( pun intended!) From said accidents has not had anywhere near the impact predicted. Thorium reactors are safe and efficient, they have been used on nuclear subs for decades…. In my utopian dream there would be a shipping container sized thorium reactor for every couple of thousand households… Decentralised clean energy production for all…. And even huge reactors feeding into the grid would cut emissions from power generation to almost zero… But the political will is just not there. One has to wonder why???

  • Lee, it seems that Western society has selectively been reading the New Testament, obsessing on how “the love of money is the root of all evel”, while ignoring the Parable of the Talents (which presents the earning of an honest profit as a virtue).

    Western society has elevated those perceived to be part of “non-profit” endeavors – charitable entities, academia, activism, government – to the level of saints that can ALWAYS be trusted, while viewing those who are honest enough to state their intent to profit with disdain and suspicion.

    Even though both categories are populated with humans, whose profit motives can take many forms … obtaining tenure, getting more government grants, building bureaucratic empires, finding new ways to keep the activist gig going after successfully dealing with the original cause … producing energy, providing worldwide wireless Internet, marketing real estate and entertaiment properties with glitz and glamour.

    The problem with nuclear power generation, is that it is part of the old “for-profit” Big Energy sector, works with substances that if handled carelessly, can wreak havoc upon innocent people, and we have come to believe that nothing less than zero risk is acceptable.

    So it is treatred with suspicion, to the point of inhibition.

    Even though those submarines you menton, along with France and Japan (Fukishima notwithstanding) provide ample evidence that nuclear power can be used safely ane efficiently to meet our energy needs … and with a relatively small, physically speaking, footprint when it comes to both generation and waste disposal.

    BTW … who is using thorium in power production of any kind, let alone submarines? I thought that today’s shipboard reactor designs were improved derivatives of the original uranium-fueled PWR designs from the days of Rickover.

  • A. Nonymous

    Sadly, Lee, there is a very simple answer to your question: Communists.

    Here’s the slightly longer version. Back at the height of the Cold War, the US was struggling to keep ramping up its production of nuclear weapons (after the Cold War ended, it was discovered that the US was actually in the lead at this point, and the USSR would not have a superior number of warheads until the late ’70s). The US planned to solve this issue by developing a new generation of breeder reactors, which would be dual-purpose–producing both electricity *and* plutonium of sufficient quality that it could be reprocessed as either reactor fuel or bomb fuel (“Conventional” power-generating reactors make horrible bomb fuel that’s just chock-full of contaminating isotopes; for bomb fuel, different plant designs are used, which is why nobody believes Iran or North Korea just want to make electricity, because their plants are clearly of the latter type). This alarmed the USSR, which began a very heavy push to turn public opinion in the West not just against nuclear weapons (which they were already doing) but against all things nuclear. Weapons and power plants were conflated in the public’s mind, and stories of just how “dangerous” and “terrible” nuclear reactors were flooded the West.

    Aided by the non-event that was TMI, it worked. The US didn’t just abandon its next-generation breeder reactors; it unilaterally outlawed the reprocessing of nuclear fuel for any purpose, altogether (thanks, Jimmy!). And sympathizers, particularly in the nascent environmental movement, would go on to demonize power reactors to the point that no new commercial reactors would be built in the US for decades. And the US wasn’t the only victim of this gambit–see Germany, where the Greens came into power long in a coalition (long after the Cold War had ended) and promptly forced the phase-out of every single reactor in the country (to be replaced by solar… and remind me, just how much sunshine do you guys get in the winter in Europe?).

    So, in the US today, it’s almost impossible to build new reactors for power. People are trying, but the environmentalist movement in the US makes it incredibly difficult, ruinously expensive, and likely to be shut down/regulated out of existence by the government whenever the left is in charge. Examples that prove reactors are safe, efficient, and actually better for the environment than anything else (like Sweden, yes… or France, which has been majority-nuclear for decades) are completely ignored. In fact, things are so bad here that there used to be large protests (with fawning media coverage) whenever the US went to launch a space probe powered by an RTG (because, PLUTONIUM!). Fortunately, by the time of Curiosity, that movement was somewhat quiescent.

    Slightly more on-topic, I believe that Elon has stated in interviews that he would be happy to use reactors on Mars–but he’s not willing to put them on his critical path given the extreme political risks that they might be delayed or cancelled. If that means wasting thousands of tons of Mars-bound cargo on solar panels… well, he’s close to making that into a reasonable expense.

  • Lee Stevenson

    @A. Nonymous, I agree it was the USSR that put the kybosh on nuclear power here in Europe, but that was down to Chernoble, it’s kinda ironic how Greenpeace were campaigning so hard against nuclear power back then, yet what a different world we could be living in if nuclear power had become the norm… Anyway, I remember the fuss about NASA sending plutonium into space… But can’t remember which mission got the idiots all worked up… Could someone please remind me?

  • Ron Desmarais

    Lee:
    You may be thinking about Cassini or New Horizons, but the last two Mars Landers (Pathfinder and Perseverance) also had RTGs to support the power needs for the sample processing and heavier drive systems (but I don’t remember a lot of fuss over them).

  • Jay

    Lee,
    They always put up a stink when an RTG is sent up. The one that they put up the biggest protest against was the Cassini probe to Saturn. I remembered it because my university made some instrumentation for it and my state made the plutonium for the RTG.

    I think the last RTG launch here in the USA that had a protest was New Horizons to Pluto, all three protesters turned out for that one. I did not hear about any protests for the launch of Perseverance to Mars. I think they went to Disney World instead.

  • Trent Castanaveras

    Congrats SpaceX team! Way to go!!

    “I think they went to Disney World instead.”
    Not likely. Perseverance launched in July last year; Disney World was closed due to FUD of Covid-19. :)

    Speaking of FUD, at the moment nuclear power is the province of governments, at least in the USA. They had to restart the production lines at enormous expense to get enough plutonium for Curiosity’s and Perseverance’s RTGs. The good part: INL will continue production to provide RTGs for several more NASA missions. https://inl.gov/mars-2020/

    With that in mind, think about this:
    SpaceX wants to get to Mars Right Now, by any means necessary, usually the fastest means necessary. Next year they will send the first cargo ships, probably just two. They want to land people there by 2024 or 2026, along with lots more cargo. They want a million people living and working there by 2050, and by 2100 they want a completely self sufficient civilization on the surface. The shortest path to that reality means starting with what we have Right Now.

    Solar panels? Got ’em! Hey, Tesla, let’s crank out a few Martian panels and batteries, and simultaneously develop a production line that will produce those on Mars itself. We can ship both in our ever growing fleets of cargo craft that each haul 100+ tons directly to the Martian surface every Hohmann opportunity for the foreseeable future.

    Nuclear power? Hey NASA, hey US government, please may we have a few of those thorium reactors? And when will we get them? Wait, HOW LONG?! And it’ll cost us HOW MUCH?!! And there’ll likely be activists at our door the whole time? And how many pages of regulatory dreck to wade through?! Uh… yeah, ok, we’ll get back to you.

    It’s a no brainer for SpaceX.

    There will definitely be nuclear reactors deployed on Mars in the future, because as we can all agree, solar is not anything like a complete Martian energy solution. However, waiting for that to happen first or even as the cornerstone of power generation from the get-go is just silly. Start with what you have on hand, add on and upgrade as you go. Easy peezy. Mars has as much land area as does the Earth; there is room in this project for a multitude of engineering solutions, at a multitude of timelines. Lets just start already.

    Other thoughts:
    As Mr. Z. is fond of saying, hopefully some other entities get off their chairs and get in the game. SpaceX cannot do it all, and fun should definitely be had by others. ULA needs to get that ACES into flight testing! Bezos needs to just launch into orbit already! All those folks working towards private stations, let’s see some on orbit construction! I wonder what Planetary Resources or Deep Space Industries would have done with a Starship/New Glenn flight or six!

    History is being made right this moment. People centuries from now will look back and say, That’s when it all began, right there. That was the tipping point that first brought us out here.

    p.s. Michael Deavers: That’s good stuff! I haven’t laughed like that in a while. Keep ’em comin!

  • Mike Borgelt

    Lee: Solar panels, a Tesla battery in the garage, and you never have to pay for gas again! It seems a no brainer to me!.

    OK. A 100Kw-hour battery in a Tesla is going to take 10 hours of full output of a 10Kw solar panel system. It won’t do that so you’ll need something like a 20 to 25 Kw system (I have a 3 Kw system on my roof at 27.5 deg S at 2100 feet above sea level, inland 130 km from Brisbane) and it will take all day to charge. Nice if you work at home but your car will normally be used to go to work.
    No brainer is right.
    Electric cars : an inconvenient “solution” to a non existent problem at vast expense and huge environmental cost. It isn’t as if the human race doesn’t have real problems to work on.

  • wayne

    Lee-
    Glad you are on board with nuclear.
    Ref “90% from nuclear and hydro,”— what is the breakdown on those two?

    Chris–
    When a Theme presents itself, that’s my cue! (shared-cultural experiences and all… so to speak)
    (it is however, getting difficult to locate specific clips on youtube; more and more are ‘age-restricted,’ and/or ‘down the memory hole.’)

    Mike B—
    I don’t actually know anyone in my area, who has solar panels. It would be interesting to hear of your experience utilizing them.
    –I pay roughly 15 cents a kilowatt-hour (all in) for electric. (tangentially–just received a notice about “peak usage pricing,” wherein they will be charging me 1.5x’s the ‘normal’ rate, between 2pm-7pm during the Summer months, for A/C.)
    –How easy is it to clean your panels? (do you need to clean them?)
    –What is the realistic life-span of these panels?

  • wayne

    “Thus, I speak to you in a parable….”

    Jordan Peterson / Akira The Don / Friedrich Nietzsche
    “Tarantulas” (2018)
    https://youtu.be/7zIkUkRLJAM?t=84
    7:59

    “”When they call themselves the Good and the Just, do not forget that they would be Pharisees… if only they had – power!”

  • pzatchok

    Why couldn’t a US Navy style reactor be sent and assembled on Mars?

    A sealed reactor with the only thing it needs from Mars would be the cooling water that could be recycled in a closed system.

    Mega watts for 20 years vs hundreds if not thousands of solar panels giving a fraction of that power.

    But like Elon said “politics”.

  • pzatchok

    By the way nice flight and landing.

    Have to come up with a better landing leg system for undeveloped landing fields. Like the moon and mars..

  • Jerry E Greenwood

    Happy, Happy, Happy ☺

  • Another fraudulent spectacle from Space-Sex. It’s so bad I can’t believe some of you are still buying it. I’ll take my response off the air, thank you.

  • Frank

    You can hear and see a couple of explosions from the engine bay after landing. Looks like gas build-up and ignition.

  • Edward

    Ron Desmarais wrote: “For me, the excitement that SpaceX is providing to society is so needed in this difficult time.. I have not seen this level of excitement across all ages for a long time. … In the future we will look back at the work SpaceX is doing today as the re-birth of our future in space.

    When I started my aerospace career, this is what I thought the Space Shuttle would provide, and I was excited to become part of the future of space exploration. Little did I know how government adversely affects this exploration, as the Space Shuttle turned into the very drag on it that my space science colleagues predicted. They thought that it sucked money from unmanned exploration (which it may have done, or manned exploration may have inspired the unmanned exploration, especially of Mars), but the Shuttle sucked the enthusiasm and ability from manned exploration. We ended up with significantly less than 10% of what we had expected from the Space Shuttle, and even less than that if you include the lack of the expected space station. Even the ISS produces a quarter of what was originally expected.

    Now that commercial space is taking over, we should get a lot of science as well as goods and services that government space never considered producing. Even better, it won’t be funded by taxpayers but by non-governmental customers. Not just a sustainable program but an economy that feeds itself into rapid growth.

    At the end of my career we can finally start seeing the advancements that I had expected to see four decades ago.

  • Jay

    pzatchok,
    I agree, you do need a reactor and not an RTG for the power requirements on Mars. The small modular reactor they are working on at INL would be perfect.

    All,
    I am happy about the success of the landing. I don’t know if anyone else has seen the numbers for this, but on their website, SpaceX is saying it can make the voyage to Mars in 6 months. I know the closest approach to Mars every two years, but it will take a lot of fuel to make it over in six months. Are there plans for a NERVA? I have seen no plans for that. I have to ask that question, especially since I just finished Dewar’s book “To the End of the Solar System: The Story of the Nuclear Rocket”.

  • Edward

    Jay,

    The six month travel time is in a low-energy (low delta-v or low fuel) trajectory. Here is a video by Scott Manley that helps to explain this trajectory:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSEPwokZmRQ#t=243 (4 minutes on topic)

  • Jay

    Edward,
    Thank you for the video, I have never seen those “pork-chop plots” before. A nice graphical way of looking at it instead of just looking at the numbers in a spreadsheet.

  • wayne

    Edward–
    great video!

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