January 12, 2019

Just as God and Robert Heinlein Intended

While the news is distracted by the government shutdown, one of The Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes brings us news from Southeastern Texas, where consequential things are happening. 

And they are happening QUICKLY.

7 days ago, there were reports that Space-X might do a flight of their "Starhopper" test rig for their upcoming Mars Rocket in a little as 70-120 days. This was much sooner than had been projected. 

However, the engineers have been working nonstop, through weekends and with astounding alacrity. Now the prototype is assembled (at least externally) and Musk is hinting at a much earlier test. 
 SpaceX CEO Elon Musk says that the company’s first Starship prototype – a low-fidelity hop test vehicle – has finished assembly in South Texas, paving the way towards a series of experimental vertical take-off or landing (VTOL) hop tests that could begin as early as February or March 2019.

This is a low altitude test vehicle intended to work out hovering, and landing techniques and refine some design concepts for the ultimate design. It may well be run to destruction to test the limits of the vehicle.

Even more astounding, the first of the actual orbital prototypes is expected to be ready to fly as early as June pending the results of the Starhopper tests.  

The Starship Interplanetary Spaceship will be a remarkable vehicle. It is expected to be able to insert itself into orbit without a booster (albeit with virtually no useful payload). Assisted by the Super Heavy booster it will be able to carry more payload than even the Saturn 5, and transport 50 to 100 people to the Moon, Mars or beyond, or, for a more down to Earth application, a much larger number anywhere on earth in under 37 minutes as an inter-continental ballistic passenger rocket

The frantic speed of the test program is somewhat odd. One would expect a more reserved and methodical approach. There are a couple of possibilities, but two stand out. Space-X is tight on cash and just laid off 10% of its employees. It needs a spectacular PR stunt to woo more investment money. Also, NASA's SLS rocket, which has been delayed numerous times, is now expected to fly in 2020. If Musk can get a Starship orbital flight before then, that might well kill the NASA rocket (which, being expendable, and having a lower payload is inferior in every way). This would grant Space-X a much bigger share of the US launch market. 

This would also have the benefit of killing off a program that has already wasted 14 billion dollars of the U.S. taxpayers money just since 2011.

Remember that NASA was given a mandate to go back to the moon in 2005. Note that it's 2019. Using something we like to call MATH, if we take 2019 and subtract 2005 from it we get 14 years, which is exactly twice as long as the 7 years it took from 1962-1969 to do the exact same thing but with the exception that the technology was 50 years more primitive and going to the moon had never been done before. Now, 14 years after being told to repeat something done with far more modest technology, NASA can point to the fact that China has landed a rover on the moon, but on the far side, which has never been done before. Also; NASA'll have that rocket of theirs running soon

If Musk can pull this off, and finance the large numbers of rockets needed for the Mars missions he has planned, then the 2020s will usher in a new era in the history of mankind, one that may well save us. 

However, this project is pushing engineering to the limit. Some crashes and explosions are to be expected in the engineering test rigs. Unfortunately, investors and the public generally don't have a grasp of sound engineering principles and learning curves will look like failures to many of today's risk adverse generation. It remains to be seen if Musk can 
keep this most worthy of projects financed and supported.

Fingers are crossed!

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 12:49 AM | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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