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My February birthday fund-raising campaign for Behind the Black it now over. I sincerely and with deep gratitude thank all those who donated. Without your support I could not keep doing this, not so much because of the need for income to pay the bills, but because it tells me that there are people out there who want me to do this work. For those who did not contribute during the campaign, please consider adding your vote of support to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, in any one of the following ways:


1. Zelle: This is the only internet method that charges no fees. All you have to do is use the Zelle link at your internet bank and give my name and email address (zimmerman at nasw dot org). What you donate is what I get.


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Starship update: #11 about to roll out; #10 landing analysis

Link here. As has been the case now for almost a year, the cadence at this SpaceX facility continues to be brisk.

Just days after SN10 completed the first – albeit hard – Starship prototype landing, SN11 is set to rollout to the launch site for its own attempt. Incremental progress is being made with the test flights, with another tweak to the landing sequence set to be implemented, based on data gained from SN10. Meanwhile, the first Super Heavy prototype continues stacking operations while parts for up to Starship SN20 are being staged at the Production Site.

The update also includes details about the explosion of prototype #10 — which apparently landed harder than it should have which caused damage to tanks which then caused the explosion — as well as details about future expansion plans at the Boca Chica facility.

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.


  • Steve Richter

    is there an estimate of what each Starship costs to build and then launch?

  • Steve Richter: Without doing a search on BtB, my memory is that Musk has estimated that when operational they hope to fly each ship for a total cost of only $2 million.

    We are not at that point of course. Right now this is a test program with funding somewhere between $2 and $3 billion. The per flight cost is therefore much higher, but reasonable from a research and development perspective.

  • Cotour


    1. How is this ship design expected to properly land upright on Mars?

    2. What happens if it lands less than perfectly and on an angle?

    3. How would it be righted and securely supported if it did land imperfectly?

    4. And then you must ask, what if it falls over, on Mars?

    Is it just me? Won’t there have to be a landing system that includes the booster type system? And they are not proven to be 100 percent reliable. I know the gravity is one third on Mars as it is on earth, but still. And like I have stated previously, I do not talking against Musk, he makes things happen. What am I missing here?

  • V-Man

    The current leg design has always been understood to be a placeholder, just the minimum required to land the prototype. Expect to see something substantially different on the latter prototypes and the production models.

  • George C

    Coutor: There will need to be unmanned trips to Mars before any manned Starship round trips. By that time landings should be perfected and routine with redundant stearing systems tested among other things. Still scary. But nothing as risky as early airplane flight. Lindbergh wrote a book including his experience flying airmail for the US post office. Of course he had fewer people watching him crash land.

  • Jay

    I am willing to bet that Musk will not only land a cargo Starship on Mars, but also an unmanned Starship as a backup before he steps foot there. He is a fan of Dr.Zubrin and his Mars Direct/Semi-Direct plans. Plus, he needs to make methane there if he wants to get home.

    Who knows, he might make a cargo variant that will land horizontally and not be reusable.

  • Ray Van Dune

    It might become standard practice to ferry humans between Mars orbit and the surface, using smaller purpose-built ships that could have a more comfortable descent profile, and emergency systems / capabilities that would not be economically justifiable for cargo.

    I think there could also come a day when Starships or their successors would be space-only vessels. They could launch the first time from Earth with life-support cargo only, and the crews brought up to the in Dragon-derived ferries. They would not need heat shields because they would not land on Mars, nor ever return to Earth’s surface.. of course there’s no free lunch – entering Martian orbit requires delta-v whether it is derived from atmospheric drag or propellant. And heavy equipment will still need to be landed on Mars.

  • wayne

    Pink Floyd –
    “Set The Controls For The Heart Of The Sun / Mars Direct”

  • m d mill

    It seems strange that the same control algorithms and Newtonian laws that have worked to make soft landings routine on the other space x rockets, are not working as well here. Certainly the mass and moment data have been adjusted for Starship.
    I would suspect these engines do not ramp up thrust as quickly as the control system is predicting, and thus the rocket is not slowing as quickly as desired. But this should have an easy fix in the control algorithm.

  • wayne

    — bottom line, this is all extremely difficult stuff to pull off, and people will eventually end up dying in the Adventure. Musk makes it look easy.
    (for my money, no one is going to Mars anytime (relatively) soon; radiation during the trip + Jell-O muscles on the surface are 2 hugely pesky problems)

    This is all absolutely Amazing Stuff, nonetheless.

    m d mill–
    to mangle a Hayek Quote:
    “The Curious task of Rocket Science is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they image they can design.”

    (–again, this is super Amazing Stuff)

  • Jeff Wright

    I am a bit more skeptical. This thing used three engines and still hit too hard. Now the production design will have 3 extra stretch nozzle vacuum Raptors that will fill up the aft skirt- less room for flames to lick at the tankage-but can they help?

    It may be that Starship will be too massive for Super-Heavy to lift as is. Now I like rugged construction. The Saturn I was a temple of columns, as it were. A Jupiter was the LOX core surrounded by Redstone tanks-also stretched-alternately filled with kerosene and LOX.

    Now as I’ve said before-I think this design lends itself to having longer legs that can fit between the tanks-the extra mass paid for by scaling up the design, and by having light tanks for kerosene possibly out of fiberglass.
    The smaller engines lend themselves more to 3-D printing. The Saturn IB had about the same payload as Falcon 9, but was shorter. Solid augmentation was considered-and perhaps jetpods could go there as well. Now, the old Jupiter IRBM had petals surrounding it, just like Spectre’s Bird One. An opening fairing-attached to the first stage cluster of all things-would serve both as an upper stage/payload shroud on the way up but as grid fins on the way down…with as much surface area as parachutes. Put webbing between the petals and you have a Mars aerobrake if you launch this Saturn I atop some like Super-Heavy, which can have a similar design-or be a tube with some extra pressure to help rigidity. On its own- this new Saturn replaces both Falcon and Starship.

  • V-Man

    @Jeff Wright

    SN10 used only one engine for landing — you can clearly see the other two shut down after the flip maneuver is complete. There was apparently a throttling issue that caused a low thrust situation, which still landed the vehicle.

    In short, the overall design is sound. Now they need to work out the kinks (engine reliability, landing leg design, etc.).

  • Edward

    Robert Zimmerman wrote: “my memory is that Musk has estimated that when operational they hope to fly each ship for a total cost of only $2 million.

    I believe that this cost is the operational cost to the company, and the price charged to customers would be somewhat higher. If they were to charge $20 million for a flight (about $100 per pound) then SpaceX would have to launch around 100 times to recover $2 billion of development costs.

    m d mill wrote: “It seems strange that the same control algorithms and Newtonian laws that have worked to make soft landings routine on the other space x rockets, are not working as well here.

    I don’t think the problem is in the landing algorithm or the laws of physics. One problem lies in the technique used, a flip just before landing. SpaceX is doing something very different with Starship than they do with Falcon, which does not require header tanks. As with all development programs, SpaceX is learning the quirks inherent in its new designs and techniques. They foresaw several problems and tried initial solutions, allowing their first “drop” test to work better than they expected. Good for them. They even were more successful on their third Starship landing attempt than they were their third Falcon landing attempt (not counting short hops). Clearly, SpaceX has learned a lot of lessons, over the past decade.

  • MDN

    WRT landing on Mars I expect one or more (assuming the earliest attempt(s) fail) early missions will be planned to land some form of excavation equipment to clear prepared landing areas clear of boulders, core sampled to confirm surface density/stability, etc. This may include positioning a few ground based terminal guidance beacons as well to improve navigational accuracy and reliability (remember, there’s no GPS constellation out there yet).

    And, I expect we’ll see all of this well before any Mars missions, as they’ll want and need similar solutions for safe lunar operations too.

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