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Musk answers questions on reddit

In a reddit Q&A session yesterday, Elon Musk answered a host of questions about his Mars mission plans.

Key takeaway: They are far away from actually flying this rocket. The engine needs tests, its giant tanks need a great deal of development, and they are only beginning the concept work for the ship itself.

His comments on Falcon 9 re-usability, however, were somewhat more interesting, and far more grounded in present reality.

Musk did not answer any questions submitted about the status of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket, grounded since a Sept. 1 explosion during preparations for a static-fire test destroyed a Falcon 9 and its Amos-6 satellite payload. He did, though, briefly address an upcoming, and “final,” version of the rocket, which he called Block 5, that is designed for frequent reusability. “Falcon 9 Block 5 — the final version in the series — is the one that has the most performance and is designed for easy reuse, so it just makes sense to focus on that long term and retire the earlier versions,” he wrote. That version includes many “minor refinements” but also increased thrust and improved landing legs, he said.

The first of the Block 5 Falcon 9 vehicles will begin production in three months, with an initial flight in six to eight months. With its entry into service, he said he doesn’t expect recovered first stages from the older Block 3 and Block 4 versions of the rocket to be reused more than a few times.

In a speech earlier this month, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said she believed the updated version of the Falcon 9 could be reused up to 10 times. Musk, though, was more optimistic. “I think the F9 boosters could be used almost indefinitely, so long as there is scheduled maintenance and careful inspections,” he said.


Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Edward

    I’m glad to hear that they have a plan for a final design of the Falcon 9. Engineers tend to think in terms of “change is bad,” because when changes are made to something that works, something unexpected can happen. And — oh! — it did on September first.

    However, engineers make changes when something is not working. Our launch industry has been faltering for the past half century. The launch rate has been about 100 launches per year for the past half century. The lack of increase in launch rate shows that space access has been stagnant. Research has shown that this stagnation has largely due to the cost of getting projects into space.

    To solve this cost problem, Musk (and others) have been working on reducing the cost per pound of launches — and that has required change. Other people have been working on reducing the cost of hardware launched into space, with smaller, lighter satellites being the most common solution — especially since they can be lifted for low cost even if the cost per pound remains the same, which is yet another form of change. If a combination of cost reductions can be achieved, then the use of space could grow very quickly, making the risks involved with these changes worth it.

  • wayne

    good stuff.

    Personally, I’m leery of Musk’s business model with Tesla & Solar City, but I can’t fault the guy for what SpaceX has achieved.
    “Living on Mars” aside–The one thing he understands completely about rockets-in-space; there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit within his reach, as far as scaling up quantity-produced and/or quantity re-used.
    Space is capital-intensive, but you can drive the marginal cost of launches down dramatically with his model. You go from 100 million/launch down to 20, that’s a game-changer in an “industrial-revolution” type impact to society.

  • Edward

    You wrote: “I’m leery of Musk’s business model with Tesla & Solar City

    If you mean the government subsidy portion of the model, then he is filling a need that the government has. You may disagree with the government’s priority, but Musk is filling a niche that the government created. If the government eliminates that niche, then Musk may have some interesting times.

    You wrote: “You go from 100 million/launch down to 20, that’s a game-changer

    True, but most in the industry compare cost per pound. In the 1990s, the cost was around $10,000 per pound, and studies back then suggested that the game changer breakpoint was around $2,000 per pound. However, I suspect that the new small-satellite industry has created its own game-change by allowing similar satellite capability for around $2,000 worth of launch cost. We will have to see how well this industry works out, after some of the smallsat launchers come on line. It seems that Orbital ATK’s Pegasus costs too much, as it is not in demand for launching commercial smallsats.

    SpaceX’s Falcon 1 was a smallsat launcher, but it seems that there was not enough business, at the time, for SpaceX to keep it in service.

    Finally, if Shotwell is correct and each Falcon 9 can fly only 10 times, then SpaceX will probably have to keep up a production rate of a couple per year, and maybe a Falcon Heavy or two per year as well. This should help bring in revenue as the company develops their next rocket(s) and spacecraft(s).

  • wayne

    Edward- more good stuff.

    totally off-thread:
    Project NERVA — the Nuclear Engine for Rocket Vehicle Application.
    >I’d love for some billionaire to dust off those blueprints!

    Even more tangential– there was something called Project Timberwind connected with SDI research in the 80’s/90’s “space nuclear thermal propulsion.” There’s a skimpy wiki page but that’s all I know about it.

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
    Charles Dickens: A Tale of two cities

  • PeterF

    Wayne, interesting video about NERVA. I recall another nuclear propulsion plan that used fission bombs detonated next to a “pusher plate” that the payload rode on and provided shielding as well.

    Unfortunately, NERVA as envisioned would have been problematic because precise start and stop timing would have been next to impossible as well as precision thrust levels being difficult to predict or maintain.

    Then there would have been the cost. U-235 is less abundant than platinum and the entire concept was based on throw-away modules. Talk about wasting money in space would have been a literal discussion!

    Thorium would be a much better fissionable material and could be used in an electric generator to power an ion engine.

  • Steve Earle

    PeterF said:
    “…Wayne, interesting video about NERVA. I recall another nuclear propulsion plan that used fission bombs detonated next to a “pusher plate” that the payload rode on and provided shielding as well….”

    Project Orion!

    That was my favorite “secret government project” of all time! Especially after Larry Niven used it to save the world from Alien Invasion in “Footfall” and it saved the world again in the movie “Deep Impact”.

    You would think with it’s “proven” ability to save us all in an emergency, they would have one or two laying around just in case…… LOL!

  • wayne

    You’ll like this video–

    Project Orion –
    (Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “blast off.”)

  • wayne

    Totally off-thread, but an interesting video produced by GM for the 1940 NY Worlds Fair;

    “To New Horizons” 1940, Jam Handy Organization.

    “Definitive document of pre-World War II futuristic utopian thinking, as envisioned by General Motors. Documents the “Futurama” exhibit in GM’s “Highways and Horizons” pavilion at the World’s Fair, which looks ahead to the “wonder world of 1960.””

  • Steve Earle

    Wayne said:
    You’ll like this video–

    Project Orion –
    (Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “blast off.”)….”

    I did! Thanks Wayne. Great video, especially when Dr Freeman Dyson and Dr Ted Taylor talk about how they sincerely wanted to go on Orion themselves!

    It’s not often when there is a real chance that the designers and engineers will get to go for a ride on their own creation.

    “To Mars by 65 and Saturn by 70” Wow! You can see that they really believed that….

    That is big, heady thinking! And that may have been part of their own undoing. They were thinking so big that they scared, or at least overshot the minds of, those holding the purse strings. There were other factors at play, but I’ll bet if they had thought a little smaller, at least at first, and came up with some better answers for the fallout problem, they would have had a good chance of success.

    I also like the “To New Horizons” video. Especially the part where they predict an end to traffic congestion by 1960… LOL

    It reminded me a little of the “Horizons” ride at Epcot. It was a sad day when that was torn down. Disney/Epcot used to have that same confident, positive view of the future and it was reflected in their Park. Not any more. :-(

  • Wayne

    Steve– thank you again!

    Project Orion– that test footage is amazing, isn’t it?

    totally off-thread–
    Highly recommend the Archive dot Org folks. They have curated and archived a ton a material that would otherwise be lost to history. (I suspect you might enjoy a bit of most anything from their “Prelinger Collection,” just peruse their listings.) All free, no registration required.
    The Jam Handy Organization did a lot of film-work for GM & other Corporate clients. “To New Horizons,” was one of their more elaborate films and certainly has a futuristic utopian bent, with a strong free-market message.

    (I’m a bit of a buff on the Chicago (’33) & NY Worlds Fair’s (’40) & would take this opportunity to shill for anything at Archive dot Org, concerning the “Medicus Collection,” — color home movies shot by the Medicus family on their many vacations around the United States, including a dozen lengthy reels from the NY Fair. (silent but full-color & with well done titles & identifier’s. Closest thing to “being-there” you’ll ever find.)

    “Home Movies: Medicus collection: New York World’s Fair, 1939-40 (Reel 1)”

  • wayne

    Last one… Mars related…

    “Destination Earth”
    (sponsored by the American Petroleum Institute.)

    “This animated cartoon follows the adventures of “Colonel Cosmic,” a Martian, as he learns that Oil and Competition are the two things that make America great. It is a sci-fi-influenced economic tract on the strengths of Earth-style free enterprise economics, compared to a stagnating Mars under the fist of a certain Mr. Ogg, who centrally controls the Martian economy. In the film, a Martian undercover agent flies from Mars to Earth to learn about the oil industry, and finds that the lack of government regimentation and control is what makes our system flourish.”

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