Musk’s speech: Starship is coming on fast!


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Musk standing at base of Starship Mk1

Elon Musk has begun his speech. The image to the right shows him as a tiny figure at the base of the just completed Starship Mk1 prototype. I will be adding details here as the speech proceeds.

First, he wants to inspire and thinks making humanity a multi-world species is the way to do it.
Then, to make us multi-world species requires a completely reusable rocket, what he called “the holy grail of space.”
Next, he goes back to the beginning of SpaceX, the first launch of Falcon 1 on this date years ago. “Getting to orbit is hard. We were very naive.”

From here he discussed Grasshopper, and noted that Starship Mk1 will do the a bigger version of that “in one to two months.” To repeat, they will be doing that quickly, and will be aiming for orbital flights in six months.

He is interspersing the speech with videos, of Falcon 1 launching, of Grasshopper, of Falcon Heavy, I think to illustrate how far SpaceX has come in such a short time. For example, he notes that Falcon Heavy’s first launch was only last February.

He is now outlining Starship as planned. Starship is now expected to be at 120 tons in mass, more than first planned. It will be able put 150 tons in orbit with full reuseability.

Next, getting it back to Earth in reusable form: It will return in many ways like the shuttle, but with its own uniqueness. “It will fall like a skydiver, then become vertical, and land.”

Next, the Raptor engines: Starship will have six, three able to adjust their nozzle and three fixed and optimized for efficiency. The Mk1 prototype has the three adjustable, since these will be used for landing. The other three engines will be for getting into orbit.

The heat shield and hull: They are going to use hexagonal ceramic tiles in the thermally critical areas. Everything else will use stainless steel, which he says is actually stronger when hot them some traditional rocket materials. It also has a high melting point. “You don’t need any shielding on the leeward side.” It is also much cheaper than carbon fiber, and much easier to use, shape, weld, install.

Super Heavy booster: Now estimating it will have 37 Raptor engines, but this number will be changeable, even when it is operational. The fins will be legs (just like the 1950s sci-fi movies!).

Final complete stack, both Starship and and Super Heavy, will be 2 1/2 times taller than Starship Mk1, as shown in the image above. They then showed a simulation of a launch, which I am sure will be online very shortly.

To get to either the Moon or Mars Starship will require refueling in orbit. This technology he considers essential. It will require rendezvous and docking, a skill they are learning with their manned Dragon.

He is also outlining the need to go to both the Moon and Mars, and then beyond. However, his first focus is on finding “the fastest path to building a city on Mars.”

His larger focus is making us multi-planetary, in order to preserve both our existence and all life on Earth. “And we should do it now!”

To sum up, the gist of the speech was to outline how far the entire company has come in a very short time, where they think they are going in the near future with Starship — and that’s the very near future — and then to conclude with Musk’s longer term vision for space exploration. Overall, it appears the goal was to once again sell Starship and the magnificent possibilities it might achieve.

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34 comments

  • Tom Billings

    Q&A at Boca Chica:

    Mark 3 (with 6 engines) starts building in about a month. It may be the next to launch after Mark 1.

    A whole bunch of Marks, from both the Cape and from Boca Chica. Mark 4 by 4-5 months.

    Both places will launch crewed missions. Go to orbit in less than six months?

    Mach 3 rotation speed will be the transition point for high pressure bottles of gaseous Gox/Methane hot gas thrusters on Starship instead of cold gas thrusters.

    This will allow rotating the Starship without starting the main engines. Thus they will only start just before landing.

    Cryogens in orbit will be preserved by multilayer vacuum insulation.

    Propellant production (LOX) should be done at Boca Chica.

    100 person passenger size is the baseline still.

    Raptor production rate is vital to completing the booster.

    Life Support system will be regenerative.

    Switch to steel in October, 2018. 4 months for building Mark 1. Recursive improvements to schedule.

    “The best part is no part.”

  • Tom Billings: Thank you. I had to cut out for family stuff.

  • m d mill

    “His larger focus is making us multi-planetary, in order to preserve both our existence and all life on Earth.”
    This part is such a simple minded, simplistic fallacy, on his part. If we can’t make it here on a paradise of a planet filled with resources, we cannot make it anywhere.

  • Ian C.

    Yeah, there wasn’t much novel information. And the few details he gave can change with the next design iterations. He was mostly using the anniversary to promote Starship, which is okay.

    Adding to your notes:
    * He expects to reach orbit in less than six months with either Mk 3, 4, or 5, depending on design improvements.
    * Rate of shipbuilding is “crazy” for industry standards; exponential improvements in design. Each iteration takes only a couple of months thanks to reusability (testing ten design changes in ten days with the same ship instead of building a ship for each a new design).
    * Boca Chica and Cape Canaveral will both be used for crewed launches.
    * Martian life: surface is cold and has high UV, so it’s unlikely to be on the ground. If it exists, it’ll be deep underground and rather resilient.
    * Design principle (for short iteration cycles): undesign (what have you deleted), the best part/design/process is the one you don’t have. Rule of thumb: if it takes long, it’s wrong.

  • A. Nonymous

    Pretty much everything important has been covered, I’m just scraping the barrel.

    * Internal volume is 1000m3, giving each passenger an average of 10m3 (figure less than that, to carve out common areas). Zero-G lets you make the most of your space, however. He claimed this was more space than all of ISS, and Wiki agrees (915m3). Could you cram a hundred people into ISS with any degree of comfort?
    * Not worried about life support and ISRU, confident that they’re largely solved to the extent that he needs them solved.
    * The revised animation has Starship landing on a concrete pad next to the (absurdly large) launch platform/mounts. Nothing was said about whether SH is still aiming for the mounts, or if they’ll land on the pad and use the tower-mounted crane on it just as they will with Starship. Given the wind out there tonight, I hope it’s the latter. Also, there was no reference towards barges (again, that launch platform was HUGE, and unlikely to work on a barge).
    * Switching from a giant barge to an even more gigantic launch platform and adjacent landing pad is probably the force behind the Boca Chica Buyout. The risk of a failure to perform the final flip to vertical during testing is low, but non-zero, and it would be a lot simpler for SpaceX to get their launch/landing permits if there weren’t people in the danger zone (expect the county–which apparently formed a public/private entity years ago for precisely this eventuality–to go Eminent Domain on anyone who doesn’t take the buyout).
    * Production goal is 1 Raptor/day by next spring. Multiple Starship/SH per year.
    * Thinks a Tesla could run on Mars largely as-is. I’m not sure what Tesla’s minimum operating temperature is, though. Those nights get cold.
    * Expects so little need for maintenance or extensive checks between flights that each SH could fly ~20/day, and each Starship 3-4/day (limited mostly by the need to wait for precession to carry the orbital track back over the launch site each time).
    * Said nothing about Cargo Starship, or using it to launch Starlink.
    * Implied that all power generation on Mars is planned to be solar. I don’t like that, but I concede that there’s probably not enough time left before the first mission to get NASA to build KiloPower, much less deal with the political junk it would bring up.
    * Nothing about landing sites. However, somebody did ask about shipping a Boring Company machine to Mars, and Elon thought that sounded like a great idea, since he plans to mine ice for fuel, and it could provide underground living space.

  • Questioner

    Unfortunately, many interesting and crucial questions were not asked or answered, for example (with particular attention to the sometimes relatively poor craftsmanship in the construction process of this Starship test article, as revealed by heavily zoomed-in live-stream videos):

    What about loss of strength in stainless steel sheets (S 310) by welding, which were highly strengthened by a cold forming process before? How are the quality and strength of the welds ensured under the sometimes adverse outdoor manufacturing conditions? How is it ensured that the protective Argon gas is not blown away by the wind? It looks like some of welding points and seams are already rusting.

    How is the dimensional accuracy and strength of the almost completely freehand (without fixtures) built construction ensured? Note: The more accurate view displayed during the construction partially quite large gaps between sheet metal parts and also the appearance of quite large dents in the steel skin (Mk2 seems to be built more accurate as Mk1 version of Starship).

    About the most important heat protection system for reentry and its development status not much was carried out.

    Also on the crucial issue of the dry weight of Starship Elon Musk did not say anything which is adequate to its importance. It is already clear that the original target will not be achieved, which is very critical for performance of vehicle and the reason why the launch weight of the rocket as a whole has now been increased to 5000 tons. I would have been happy to learn how he wants to achieve a drastic weight reduction for Starship from now 200 to 120 tons. And this that without all components of final Starship’s version as heat shield, 3 further engine and so forth are already onboard.

    He spoke only about fuel costs. For example, what about the high maintenance and operating costs that such a complex and huge vehicle certainly implies?

    I do not believe in this Mars (or even Moon) thing. It will not happen as envisaged. Btw, his philosophical framed reason for the Mars case is quite weak (“consciousness have to survive in the Universe”). Which payload market he wants to serve instead? And who will be his customer for his payload of “millions of tons a year”?

    He forgot (although originally announced) also to talk about the usage option P2P (earth to earth).

    That’s just a small selection of questions that come to mind right now.

  • Questioner

    Unfortunately, many interesting and crucial questions were not asked or answered, for example (with particular attention to the sometimes relatively poor craftsmanship in the construction process of this Starship test article, as revealed by heavily zoomed-in live-stream videos):

    What about loss of strength in stainless steel sheets (S 310) by welding, which were highly strengthened by a cold forming process before? How are the quality and strength of the welds ensured under the sometimes adverse outdoor manufacturing conditions? How is it ensured that the protective Argon gas is not blown away by the wind? It looks like some of welding points and seams are already rusting.

    How is the dimensional accuracy and strength of the almost completely freehand (without fixtures) built construction ensured? Note: The more accurate view displayed during the construction partially quite large gaps between sheet metal parts and also the appearance of quite large dents in the steel skin (Mk2 seems to be built more accurate as Mk1 version of Starship).

    About the most important heat protection system for reentry and its development status not much was carried out.

    Also on the crucial issue of the dry weight of Starship Elon Musk did not say anything which is adequate to its importance. It is already clear that the original target will not be achieved, which is very critical for performance of vehicle and the reason why the launch weight of the rocket as a whole has now been increased to 5000 tons. I would have been happy to learn how he wants to achieve a drastic weight reduction for Starship from now 200 to 120 tons. And this that without all components of final Starship’s version as heat shield, 3 further engine and so forth are already onboard.

    He spoke only about fuel costs. For example, what about the high maintenance and operating costs that such a complex and huge vehicle certainly implies?

    I do not believe in this Mars (or even Moon) thing. It will not happen as envisaged. Btw, his philosophical framed reason for the Mars case is quite weak (“consciousness have to survive in the Universe”). Which payload market he wants to serve instead? And who will be his customer for his payload of “millions of tons a year”?

    He forgot (although originally announced) also to talk about the usage option P2P (earth to earth).

    That’s just a small selection of questions that come to mind right now.

  • Questioner

    Unfortunately, many interesting and crucial questions were not asked or answered, for example (with particular attention to the sometimes relatively poor craftsmanship in the construction process of this Starship test article, as revealed by heavily zoomed-in live-stream videos):

    What about loss of strength in stainless steel sheets (S 310) by welding, which were highly strengthened by a cold forming process before? How are the quality and strength of the welds ensured under the sometimes adverse outdoor manufacturing conditions? How is it ensured that the protective Argon gas is not blown away by the wind? It looks like some of welding points and seams are already rusting.

    How is the dimensional accuracy and strength of the almost completely freehand (without fixtures) built construction ensured? Note: The more accurate view displayed during the construction partially quite large gaps between sheet metal parts and also the appearance of quite large dents in the steel skin (Mk2 seems to be built more accurate as Mk1 version of Starship).

    About the most important heat protection system for reentry and its development status not much was carried out.

    Also on the crucial issue of the dry weight of Starship Elon Musk did not say anything which is adequate to its importance. It is already clear that the original target will not be achieved, which is very critical for performance of vehicle and the reason why the launch weight of the rocket as a whole has now been increased to 5000 tons. I would have been happy to learn how he wants to achieve a drastic weight reduction for Starship from now 200 to 120 tons. And this that without all components of final Starship’s version as heat shield, 3 further engine and so forth are already onboard.

    He spoke only about fuel costs. For example, what about the high maintenance and operating costs that such a complex and huge vehicle certainly implies?

    I do not believe in this Mars (or even Moon) thing. It will not happen as envisaged. Btw, his philosophical framed reason for the Mars case is quite weak (“consciousness have to survive in the Universe”). Which payload market he wants to serve instead? And who will be his customer for his payload of “millions of tons a year”?

    He forgot (although originally announced) also to talk about the usage option P2P (earth to earth).

    That’s just a small selection of questions that come to mind right now.

  • Diane E Wilson

    Re: risk of landing near or on pad if landing goes wrong… The last couple of landing failures (Falcon 9 at landing zone 1; first Falcon heavy center core) pointed out an interesting factor in their landing trajectory. The trajectory is designed to go into water if anything fails to go right. The final burn has to go right to get to the landing pad.

    Unrelated, I wonder what the chatter will be at Blue Origin, ULA, and Arianespace this week.

  • Richard M

    CNN interviewed Elon Musk after the presentation.

    Rachel Crane: “On that point, Jim Bridenstine tweeted, ‘Commercial Crew is years behind schedule.’ Did you take that . . .”

    Musk: “Did he say ‘Commercial Crew’ or ‘SLS’? [Heaving laughter]

    Link: https://edition.cnn.com/videos/busi…-orig.cnn/video/playlists/business-elon-musk/

    I admit, I laughed pretty hard, too.

    But after that, Elon actually tackles the question substantively. All the hardware is basically done, and what’s left is now a series of safety reviews. “It’s really going as fast as we can make it go. If there’s some way to make it go faster, I would make it go faster.”

  • Richard M

    ” Implied that all power generation on Mars is planned to be solar. I don’t like that, but I concede that there’s probably not enough time left before the first mission to get NASA to build KiloPower, much less deal with the political junk it would bring up.”

    Musk and Wooster are clearly going the path of least resistance on this.

    Not only would they need NASA to complete development for Kilopower, they’d also have to clear all the regulatory hurdles involved in getting permission to launch them.

    That said, the danger posed by long dust storms likely means that at some point, they are going to integrate some nuclear power capability to cover their bases. It probably just won’t be in the first phase of the base.

  • pzatchok

    Could Russia launch a nuclear power source for Musk? Just pick it up in orbit and skip all the US regulations.

  • Questioner

    To say at first: I love Musk’s rapid prototyping approach, shipyard-like construction process and stainless design applied to Starship.

    Unfortunately, many interesting and crucial questions were not asked or answered in his presentation, for example (with particular attention to the sometimes relatively poor craftsmanship in the construction process of this Starship test article, as revealed by heavily zoomed-in live-stream videos):

    What about loss of strength in stainless steel sheets (S 310) by welding, which were highly strengthened by a cold forming process before? How are the quality and strength of the welds ensured under the sometimes adverse outdoor manufacturing conditions? How is it ensured that the protective Argon gas is not blown away by the wind? It looks like some of welding points and seams are already rusting.

    How is the dimensional accuracy and strength of the almost completely freehand (without fixtures) built construction ensured? Note: The more accurate view displayed during the construction partially quite large gaps between sheet metal parts and also the appearance of quite large dents in the steel skin (Mk2 seems to be built more accurate as Mk1 version of Starship).

    About the most important heat protection system for reentry and its development status not much was carried out.
    Also on the crucial issue of the dry weight of Starship Elon Musk did not say anything which is adequate to its importance. It is already clear that the original target will not be achieved, which is very critical for performance of vehicle and the reason why the launch weight of the rocket as a whole has now been increased to 5000 tons. I would have been happy to learn how he wants to achieve a drastic weight reduction for Starship from now 200 to 120 tons. And this that without all components of final Starship’s version as heat shield, 3 further engine and so forth are already onboard.

    He spoke only about fuel costs. For example, what about the high maintenance and operating costs that such a complex and huge vehicle certainly implies?

    I do not believe in this Mars (or even Moon) thing. It will not happen as envisaged. Which payload market he wants to serve instead? And who will be his customer for his payload of “millions of tons a year”?
    He forgot (although originally announced) also to talk about the usage option P2P (earth to earth).

    That’s just a small selection of questions that come to mind right now. Nevertheless, I like to see him succeeding.

  • Doug

    I wonder if Elon ever watched this as a kid

    https://youtu.be/5bNjAabLjCc?t=19

  • pzatchok

    Free form sheet metal work is actually cheaper then pre formed parts.

    Why you ask?
    Its simple. if a preformed part does not tip perfectly we now have to wait for an engineer to come in and measure the area to fit the new piece into. Then we wait for the inspection of the old piece to see why it did not fit. Then we wait for a new piece to be formed, which could take months if parts are being made for the rest of the ship. Slipping the remake into the production line is not easy and slows everything down.

    The freeform method allows the sheet metal worker to cut and form a new piece right on the sight in minutes and have it installed inside that hour.

    As for the sheet metal being a bit wrinkled. Its no big deal.
    Have you ever seen older non stressed air-frames on older aircraft? They are pretty wrinkled. Except for the wings. those are lifting surfaces and need good airflow in contact with the wing at all times. the rocket body is not a lifting body and for the most part at speed the air flow over the body means nothing on lift off and little on return.

    I bet those sheet metal panels are not fully welded. They need to expand at heat of re-entry and shrink when cooling off.
    So I bet they are mostly riveted or screwed on to allow expansion. And quick easy change outs.

    As for maintenance cost.
    So far he has kept that down to levels NASA never dreamed of. By my internet guess he has kept costs down to about 5% of build cost for a turn around to next launch.
    I just can not see the cost going up by any huge amount just because he made a new rocket bigger. 5% is 5%. Even if it explodes to 10% of the build cost he is ahead of everyone in the world.

  • Questioner

    “One speed” says:”Here’s a speculative simulation of Starship Mk1 performing a flight to nearly 20kms in altitude, and returning using a ‘Skydiver’ profile.

    The vehicle reaches about Mach 2 before it returns to launch pad. I found the simulation, which is also presented at NSF quite instructive.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=1&v=f9u7zQmtJSA

  • m d mill…

    I think that you are missing the point. We are already surviving here. That’s not the issue. The issue is very simply, when you have all your eggs in one basket, you risk losing it all. e.g. If a self-replicating, technological threat emerged on Earth, regardless of whether Earth has good resources or not, it would be wise to have a free-standing second branch of humanity even in a location with fewer (but enough) resources.

  • Elon says “…the best part is no part.” That reminds me of Bill Lear, of Lear Jet fame, who reportedly said “Strive for simplicity. You never have to fix what you leave out.”

  • m d mill

    Dougspace:
    I saw this scenario once on Babylon 5…the Drakh Plague.

  • Matt in AZ

    While Bridenstine’s comment about delays to manned launches is a bit rich, it is heartening to hear that finally -someone- at NASA is chomping at the bit to launch our own astronauts again. Too many there have been perfectly comfortable with deferring that responsibility (and potential blame if something goes wrong) to Russia for far too long.

  • Questioner

    Two Twitter-quotes from Robert Zubrin regarding Musk’s starship presentation:

    @robert_zubrin 29. Sept.

    My view on what’s real in #SpaceX presentation.
    1. Fully reusable HLV- Yes
    2. LEO Flight in 6 months- No. In 2 years- Yes.
    3. Orbital refilling -Not for 5+ years.
    4. Sending Starship to Moon/Mars with 100 people- No.
    4. Staging S/C off Starship sending ~5 people to Moon/Mars -Yes

    @robert_zubrin 30. Sept.

    Starship can revolutionize Earth to orbit. But for landing on the Moon or Mars we need to stage off it. Using Starship as a lunar lander is like using an aircraft carrier for white water rafting.

  • Patrick Underwood

    Or like using a giant airliner to carry a four-member rock band across the Atlantic!

    Oh wait…

  • Calvin Dodge

    I think Zubrin may be ignoring certain facts. He doesn’t want a Starship sent to Mars, but something else instead. Great.

    So … 1 more craft to design, build, and test. Something which can land on Mars, which includes hypersonic movement through an atmosphere. In other words, something with the same functionality as Starship, but different.

    Zubrin is welcome to pay for such a craft. I don’t see why SpaceX would.

  • wayne

    Steve Miller Band –
    “Jet Airliner”
    2007, Ravinia Amphitheater, Highland Park, Chicago
    https://youtu.be/pEp_IAfyldo
    6:18

  • Edward

    Steve Golson wrote: “Elon says ‘…the best part is no part.’ That reminds me of Bill Lear, of Lear Jet fame, who reportedly said ‘ for simplicity. You never have to fix what you leave out.’

    A quote from Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

    All of these are summed up with the phrase: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” (KISS)

    It is interesting that SpaceX is so willing to make public its design iterations, presenting an annual update on their current iteration. Musk presents much of the thinking behind their latest version. I don’t think that we ever got this much detail in any one place during Apollo’s development.

    One of the things that SpaceX focuses on is low cost. They are willing to give up efficiency in order to reduce the cost of reaching space. For instance, they use RP1 for both the first and upper stages rather than using the more efficient hydrogen in the upper stage, which would require two different engines, one for the first stage cluster and other for the upper stage, and would make the ground support more complex and expensive. Musk gave other examples during this talk, such as using steel rather than composites.

    Zubrin may be thinking along the lines of efficiency rather than low cost. Even sending eight artists around the Moon in a Starship is overkill, but it is what SpaceX has, or will have, so that makes it the least expensive option.

    In 1968, it was somewhat credible for a large craft to land on the Moon by the year 2001, as imagined in the movie of the same name. Since SpaceX’s mission is to get a lot of materiel and personnel to space and to various destinations, such as the Moon and Mars, it is hardly surprising that their vision is to use a very large spacecraft. Using a single basic design, with a few variations, is hardly a new idea; it is just a new-ish idea in space. Airliners have been made into multiple uses, from passengers to cargo to aerial refueling. Calvin Dodge is correct about SpaceX’s plan for keeping it inexpensive (KISS). Don’t make more versions than necessary. Even the various test vehicles are iterations toward the final class of flight vehicle.

    At this point, I would not be surprised that one of the test Starship vehicles is made for single stage to orbit (SSTO) testing within six months. It would not carry a cargo, which is the limiting factor on SSTO, so it is feasible to do. Rapid development is one of SpaceX’s key disciplines. They do not waste their time on things that are unnecessary, such as building the buildings for making Starship indoors, so they build the test spacecraft outside, at least for now. SpaceX saw that the time spent waiting for the buildings was time not spent on development of the spacecraft, so they skipped that part for the test vehicles.

    The Russians already have experience with refueling on orbit. American companies and NASA have not had a rapid development schedule for their own attempts at orbital refueling. I expect that SpaceX will have a much more rapid development program, and since they will probably be able to launch frequently, they likely will be able to test refueling methods and hardware multiple times per year. From Musk’s Q&A session: “Remember, it’s designed to be a reusable rocket — reusable booster, reusable ship — so we can do many flights to prove out the reliability very quickly. Whereas with an expendable vehicle, if you want to do ten flights to prove out the viability of an expendable vehicle, you need to build and destroy ten vehicles.” (about 1:13:10)

    Reusability made aircraft development quick, back in the early jet age, and it will help with development of rockets. Blue Origin is able to reuse its boosters and capsules, and SpaceX has been able to reuse boosters on Falcon Heavy. The limiting factor for both companies is how long it takes to incorporate the required improvements after each test or to prepare for the next phase of testing.

    Whether 100 people can go as far as Mars is a good question. I suspect that SpaceX will work up to that number, or find whatever number works. Submarine experience could help inform the way the crew can live and work for the seven month journey.

    What surprised me most, however, is Musk’s idea of rapid reusability. Although he admitted that he was speaking stream of consciousness, he imagines launching a Super Heavy booster 20 times a day, or about every hour and a quarter. That seems unlikely to me, but I have been surprised by SpaceX before, and it would certainly help their point to point (Earth) passenger service, if it becomes popular enough. Starship would fly less frequently, because it will spend more time in space.

  • Richard M

    Calvin,

    “So … 1 more craft to design, build, and test. Something which can land on Mars, which includes hypersonic movement through an atmosphere. In other words, something with the same functionality as Starship, but different.

    “Zubrin is welcome to pay for such a craft. I don’t see why SpaceX would.”

    This has been Zubrin’s stance for the last few years on Starship, and I continue to be perplexed by it (and not just because of how it seems to clash with his architectural approach in previous days).

    Musk is focusing all the capabilities on Starship because he barely has the resources to build Starship as it is. If you want to stage separate landers or interplanetary vehicles off *that*, you gotta find the money to develop and build those, too. And even SpaceX just doesn’t have the money to do that.

    Maybe someone else might do that (Blue Origin?). But we can hardly blame Musk for not wanting to put some notional vehicles by some other notional company or agency on his critical path to Mars.

  • Questioner

    DougSpace:

    Earth, whatever may happen to the planet in a time span relevant to humanity’s existence (including the impact of a 20km asteroid), Earth will still be a thousand times more habitable and livable planet than Mars could ever be in human time-scales envisaged.

    To all:

    I agree to Robert Zubrin that Musk’s Starship design should be optimized for the LEO use case and the other use cases should be dropped. I am also convinced that this will happen in the end. The SH / SS system could become the much better and cheaper shuttle. It is also my impression that the SH / SS start system for this case is oversized by a factor of 2. About 2500 total launch mass and 50 tons (real) payload mass should be enough.

    BTW, present Starship test article Mk 1 requires at least three months intensive work load of making it flight worthy for a first test flight. For example many subsystems are not installed. Whereas lower tankage section of Mk1 makes (at least regarding its welded structure) a good impression, upper section of Starship was improvised for Musk’s presentation. Upper part will be taken down again for rework. It was only stapled with spot welds to the lower part.

    Edward: You write to long text. Make it short. Extract the point faster. Take Musk’s demand for simplicity as an example.

  • > a 20km asteroid), Earth will still be a thousand times more habitable and livable planet than Mars could ever be

    Questioner, not if the problem is a human-made, self-replicating infection whether biotech, self-replicating chemical ecophage, or nanotech. Experts in global catastrophic risks identify human-made existential risks as being at far higher probability than natural risks including the very small risk of an asteroid with planet-wide destruction. We know of all of the >= 6 km NEAs and none of them piss an impact risk.

  • Questioner

    Mr. Z., I would like to bring these remarkable interview to attention of your blog audience:

    “A conversation with Elon Musk about Starship”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIQ36Kt7UVg

  • wayne

    Questioner-
    excellent link!

  • Questioner: You are not the first to send this my way. Thank you. It is about to become a post.

  • Dick Eagleson

    Questioner:

    Thanks for the Tim Dodd video link – absolutely terrific stuff.

    Now on to other matters.

    The Stainless used for Starship is 301, not 310. It’s a good choice because it is readily available, is toward the lower end of the cost/lb. scale among stainless steels and is strongest at cryogenic temperatures. Every re-entry through Earth, Mars or – someday, perhaps – Titan atmosphere will re-anneal much of Starship’s structure. Refueling will re-toughen it. The long-term effect will be analogous to what each SR-71 flight does to that plane’s titanium structure. Every mission, in essence, re-does the heat treating and cryogenic toughening of the metal which should make Starships quite durable.

    I am also a long-time fan of Dr. Zubrin, but he can be a tad stick-in-the-mud-ish about certain things. He was a long-time detractor of NewSpace, for example, having come around only fairly recently. Having done so – mostly because SLS and Orion are taking forever and because the Gateway to which both are tied is a pointless waste of funds and diversion of effort, Zubrin has embraced Falcon Heavy – now that it flies – and has even cautiously treated New Glenn as though it’s not Out There In The Indefinite Future.

    Starship still seems to be a bridge too far for Dr. Z. If it flies and progresses at even half the rate Elon Musk sketched out on Sept. 28, I think Dr. Z will come around on Starship fairly quickly too, but, for a futurist, he seems remarkably disinclined to actually count on the future.

    An example would be his Moon Direct idea. It’s doable and relies mainly on the Falcon 9. But it also requires travel to and from the Moon be done two people at a time in a tiny lander with no sanitary facilities. Travel to the Moon via Starship could involve dozens at a time on a vehicle with toilets and showers and even turn-down service at bedtime. Pioneering the universe is going to be hard enough without imposing even more hardships on the pioneers than are necessary.

    Dr. Z’s list of Starship development time estimates are all far too long, especially his notion that it will take 5 years to shake down on-orbit, large-scale propellant transfer.

  • Patrick Underwood

    “Dr. Z’s list of Starship development time estimates are all far too long, especially his notion that it will take 5 years to shake down on-orbit, large-scale propellant transfer.”

    It definitely would take that long, or longer, if the program used boosters that could only launch once every year or two.

    As you indicate, Zubrin has yet to get his head around the idea of rapid reusability. And there are thousands of aerospace engineers and powerful aerospace execs trailing far behind him. Actually I don’t blame them. The mind of Elon Musk is a force like none they have encountered, and they can’t deal with it. Maybe that’s a bit fanboi, but what the hell, I’m a fanboi! Being a fanboi of Elon Musk is a highly defensible stance.

  • Edward

    Questioner wrote: “I agree to Robert Zubrin that Musk’s Starship design should be optimized for the LEO use case and the other use cases should be dropped. I am also convinced that this will happen in the end.

    I, too, believe that there will eventually be more optimized spacecraft for each task. Shuttle from Earth to low Earth Orbit, shuttle to lunar orbit, shuttle to lunar surface, etc. But for now, we have what we can afford to have, and we will use it for as much as we can until we are able to afford better. With luck, Blue Origin, or someone, can afford to build the better spacecraft and force SpaceX to improve, too.

    Questioner,
    Thank you for the feedback. It is not the first time I have been criticized for using too many words. I did not grow up in a Twitter world but in one that emphasized essays. Besides, I have also been criticized for not explaining my opinion properly.

    In the future, I will try harder to design my essays in the Antoine de Saint-Exupéry way: “A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” You may be surprised at how much I already take away.

    Patrick Underwood wrote: “Zubrin has yet to get his head around the idea of rapid reusability. And there are thousands of aerospace engineers and powerful aerospace execs trailing far behind him. Actually I don’t blame them.

    I do blame them. The idea of creating space travel in a way similar to air travel is more than a quarter century old, so they should know better. Peter Diamandis is one of my heroes, because he was bold enough to create the X-Prize (without the prize or knowledge that the challenge could be met) in order to stimulate reusable rockets and spacecraft as Musk is doing, so the other engineers and execs should know better. Despite his accomplishments, Musk is not yet one of my heroes, but being a Musk fanboi is commendable.

    The series “From the Earth to the Moon” said that the Apollo 1 fire happened because of lack of imagination. We have spent the intervening time with little progress in space because of a similar lack of imagination. Von Braun imagined a different world for us, by now, and Musk and others are finally working toward making some of that world come true. Good for them.

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