His presentation is noticeably a little self-concious, but not so much as to obscure his enjoyment to be standing in front of the first massive shimmering yet wielded and dented together rocket ship, which is due to demonstrate lift off and landing in a month or so.
I think it mainly shows just how ineffective and inept the established players have become. The companies and organizations that got us to the moon 50 years ago still exist but seem to have lost a lot of their ability to get things done.
Now that other countries are landing on the moon, the pressure is on to deliver the next persons to the moon and ultimately to Mars. Working backwards from that goal and the goal of going to Mars, Elon Musk has done what Nasa has not been able to get done for decades at a fraction of the budget they've consumed not getting there; or even deciding to go there. Better still, he's turned that into a profitable company.
I am genuinely trying to understand it as an outsider to SpaceX. It seems like either SpaceX has figured out a formula for organizational success that we all need to learn from, or it also seems like there's a possibility something else is going on. I really can't tell.
EDIT: If anyone has any books or reading material on this topic, please share!
SpaceX also benefits from a constant, unbroken vision: develop cheap, reusable rockets -> lower launch costs -> build a spaceship to go to Mars. That's roughly the plan, and they've stuck to it since their founding. NASA, meanwhile, sees every new administration flip the table and change the mission, because every president wants to have their Kennedy "We choose to go to the Moon" moment". This makes long term planning impossible, and budgets are cut when Congress gets impatient.
NASA is still riding on the coattails of the Apollo program, but it takes more than that to inspire people to work for you. No doubt that NASA remains a desirable employer full of bright and motivated people eager to contribute to the larger goal, but NASA just doesn't have this "it" factor anymore. If you asked someone on the street what NASA is doing back in 1970, they would say "send people to the Moon". But today? NASA is involved in a plethora of projects, from the Mars rovers to aeronautics to climate change monitoring, which is nice, to be sure, but also sucks time and resources from the kind of "Moonshot projects" that SpaceX and other private actors are working on.
There are lots of good people at NASA and they manage to do some great work, but they could do much more with the budget they have if they weren't subject to the political whims of two branches of government.
ESA/Ariane are in a similar situation. They rejected reusable rockets a couple of years ago explicitly because they were afraid of the effect it would have on the jobs on their production line--the calculus is purely political, and jobs won out over not being left behind with an overpriced single-use launch platform. To their credit they recently walked that back and are now developing a reusable launch platform.
Interesting reading the Wikipedia entry regarding SpaceX's funding: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SpaceX#Ownership,_funding_and_...
Seems to be a lot of capital 'raised' which I usually read as money out of thin air, or money otherwise provided because of a certain hype attached to the company.
This is also why there are no shortage of people always saying 'this thing Tesla or SpaceX is doing is not going to work'. Those people are correct in a sense, in that there's definitely a chance that the various things Musk is attempting will fail (FSD etc). Thats why he's attempting them. If they were sure bets, someone else would have done them already.
- NASA got to the moon in a decade with slide rules and wire-wrapped guidance computers. It'd be surprising if we couldn't much do better now.
- While large amounts of bloat is tolerable in many public works projects (you can build a dam with twice as much concrete and it only costs double) a rocket can barely afford any bloat. The Space Shuttle pushed the limits of feature creep and bloat so much they could only launch about 4 per year.
- When public projects go down a wrong road, they're structurally unable to backtrack. The Shuttle, the F-135, the Denver airport baggage system, the War on Drugs. If these were projects run by a private company with a CEO, they would've been shut down and re-thunk long ago.
- If SpaceX is right about welded stainless steel being the right tank material (a very surprising claim) it's an example of backtracking that a public project could never manage.
About steel construction: Visually, the Starship looks like a pile of junk. Like someone's Burning Man installation. I think that's inherent in the steel panel construction. You can imagine that, if NASA has started building something like that in the 1970s, the public would complain that it doesn't look spaceworthy. Private companies have the luxury of doing something that looks silly until it works, while public projects don't.
There was a really awesome multi-part piece on SpaceX and WaitButWhy  that was proposed by Elon and made with his input. It covers pretty much everything and provides a really great overview alongside lots of nice little insights.
 - https://waitbutwhy.com/2015/05/elon-musk-the-worlds-raddest-...
A skunk works is what happens when you decide to remove bureaucratic obstacles, it requires team consensus, political sheltering, and subterfuge.
Boyd managed to get things done without this consensus.
Musk simply eliminates all bureaucratic obstacles from the top.
There are a few other entrepreneurs involved in space and they each have their own successes to brag about. But none even close to "I launched a car one of my companies built in the general direction of Mars using a big rocket that my other company built".
That kind of ballsiness, for lack of a better word, is what makes the difference to say Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, or Nasa.
John Carmack made this point on the JRE podcast when talking about his failed Armadillo Aerospace, that a rocket company needs to have outrageous goals, otherwise you'll waste ten years accomplishing nothing (think Amazon Blue Origin).
This is assuming the moon landing's objective was space exploration. If instead you think of that as a gigantic muscle flexing and chest thumping intimidation exercise, that ultimately led to the USSR's losing the arms race and the Cold War, then it was a very efficient allocation of resources.
These people are not aiming to achieve anything, just to make more money in general, and specifically to extract more taxpayer money. And they are extremely good at that. For instance ULA (an anticompetitive joint venture between Boeing/Lockheed) managed to get the government to pay them $422 million per rocket launch.  The only reason this ended was because of those pesky kids, SpaceX in this case - who are charging $83-$97 million for a comparable launch capability. And that's at the inflated government price - private commercial launches go for about $65 million. SpaceX have a big picture goal. Boeing/Lockheed exist only to make more money.
Perhaps my favorite example of ULA's success is the 'launch assurance capability subsidy.' ULA managed to get the government to give them about $1 billion of taxpayer money per year, to do literally nothing but exist.  Elon's taken flak because of astroturfed articles suggesting he feeds on government subsidies when they tend to be little more than tax rebates (in other words the government taking less). But this is literally getting the government to write you a check for $800 million, just to make sure you have your vehicles ready to accept their $420 million check later on. ULA, for their part, refers to it as an "innovative contracting mechanism." Whatever it is, getting the government to spew taxpayer money to you is what they're trying to do, and yeah - again, they are very good at it.
The examples are endless here. For instance Lockheed Martin is also behind the maligned F-35 program (works out to an average of about $29 billion a year of taxpayer money, for the next 50 years), the SLS launch vessel, perpetually 3 years out on the horizon, draws billions per year and a large chunk of NASA's entire annual allocation, so forth and so on.
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marillyn_Hewson
 - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_McNerney
 - https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/06/air-force-budget-rev...
 - https://spacenews.com/u-s-air-force-looks-at-ending-ulas-lau...
As I have said many times: the MBA is the Western equivalent of the Soviet apparatchik.
Elon should not be quite so remarkable. He seems superhuman only against a field of apparatchiks and bureaucrats.
I do however think the “rapid reusability” thing is going to be a challenge. He mentioned 20 flights a day for the booster and 6 (or so) for the starships. I expect 1 per day tops, still exceedingly impressive, but once one of these blow up (or hopefully before) they’ll have heavy pre-flight inspections.
Starting off id hope for heavy inspections, then following a period of no error inspections could be reduced.
Due to thermonuclear evaporation issues.
How is this not massively disruptive to the entire space launch industry?
I wonder if this applies to pricing as well. If we get to single-digit dolar prices pe kg to orbit, a tourist ticket would be easily a couple thousand dollars - equivalent to a business class plane ticket.
One more order of magnitude and you can start shipping ready-to-be assembled habitats and fuel factories to Mars. And Boston Dynamics robots to assemble them.
At these prices you can start sending empty nuclear reactors for power, and lift heavily shielded nuclear fuels as well. Not puny RTG generators for a couple hundred watts but 1000MW generators that will sustain cities.
So many possibilities!
From my perspective, these are the big ones in the near term:
1) LEO satellite internet. Fixes the lag issues with GEO orbits, making space internet directly competitive for some applications.
2) Tourism: I would certainly pay a very pretty penny indeed to see the earth from space.
3) Global sun shade or other system for preventing global climate catastrophe. In 30 years I think we’ll be talking a lot about this.
4) Resource extraction, which otherwise doesn’t make sense with expensive rockets.
5) Self sustaining mars base. Still can’t figure out what the economic incentive is for this. It will cost a lot of money for what return exactly?
This is "Elon Time" at its best, but worth keeping in mind how fast Starship development has actually gone. Elon Time is becoming more realistic.
He expects a Starship successful orbit in 6 +- 3 months. Demonstrating human capability with non-reusable hardware means building and throwing away hardware 10 times. A rocket capable of rapid reuse would be able to do about 3 flights a day (due to orbit time + needing to align to landing site again + some downtime) Even at the "low" rate of 1 a day, that's less than two weeks of flights. If they're way off their mark, one launch a week is 2.3 months.
Not that I would take your bet, but it's not unthinkable.
The Boeing Starliner was supposed to fly uncrewed in 2018, then October 2019, and now Boeing is shipping it to the launch site but not giving a date.
Are there others where you don't have to put money into predicting?
Fundamentally, humans could have flown to ISS with the Dragon 1 capsule, but hopefully, the Dragon 2 flies manned next year.
But as Elon said, progress with Starship should be faster, as they can fly the first human-rated one many times in a short time to demonstrate its safety. The space shuttle did 135 flights over its entire life-time. A single Starship could do that in a year, if needed.
He was giving you literally the picture in his head of what could theoretically be possible if everything came together perfectly.
Then people go and quote just the last sentence which was ...[so that could mean there’s at least a chance we might even see] humans in orbit on Mk4”, take the last part out of context, and run wild with it.
It’s like the “1 million robotaxis” comment. What Elon was actually trying to explain in that moment is that the day the software is ready, they push it to the fleet and every Tesla with AP3 can immediately be a robotaxi. The point is to convey the enormity of the architecture that’s been built and what it enables if the software can be made to work.
I think the way Tesla is managing safety relevant things is the way forward for automobile safety which can save 30,000 lives a year, and not to mention countless maimings, injuries, and hundreds of billions in property damage. Roads are dangerous and lethal for humans, and IMO Tesla will be the company which makes them orders of magnitude less so.
In both sectors, aerospace and automotive, you simply cannot ignore existing regulations. Regardless if they are stupid or not. If you try look no further than the 737MAX to see what you get.
Regardless of feasibility and everything else concerning Tesla, Musk and SpaceX all this is at least a risky way to do business.
Curious thing is that while the pro-faction of these arguments accepts all this and the other side doesn't. And everyone is calling the others out for it.
Of course, the non-reusable boosters had an advantage too where they were only subjected to the insane stress of a launch once, but I'm guessing that's a smaller advantage than what I said above or else we wouldn't have modern airlines.
Can anyone expand on that, assuming it's the truth..
I haven't run the numbers, but he's right: it's pretty hard to get something that can carry itself to orbit. It has to climb out of the atmosphere directly against gravitational force and atmospheric drag, and then as early as possible turn sideways and start accelerating to around 28000kph while making sure the rocket is pointed in the right direction and holding together. You need a lot of propellant to get to that state, which means you have to carry it around until you need it, which means the machine needs to be much bigger than just the cargo, which means that all of your challenges just magnified by many orders of magnitude.
More payload means more fuel. More fuel itself means more fuel.
Maybe this is obvious, but two rockets can get twice as much payload to orbit using twice as much fuel. You can that up linearly all day long. (It holds for "twice as much", but the same argument doesn't work for "twice as fast" or other metrics.)
If X is 500t and Y is 5t, you now need 51,000t of fuel to achieve 2 * Z speed.
But yes, you still require more energy (exactly sqrt(2) times as much) to "escape" Earth's gravity entirely than to orbit it with a circular orbit.
So if you can get off the planet you can get anywhere... but that doesn't mean cost-effectively. If your planet is such that it takes a Saturn V to launch a cubesat, it may simply cost too much to make it to the Moon.
mass of the rocket with fuel = mass of the payload * exp(escape velocity / engine exaust velocity)
That is because the faster you need to go, the more fuel you need to use, but now, you also need even more fuel to accelerate the fuel that you just added. So, it becomes exponential.
So, if the earth was bigger, its escape velocity would increase, and the amount of fuel needed to power a space rocket would increase (exponentially) so much that it would become unpractical. Vice versa, with a smaller planet it would require exponentially less fuel to reach orbit.
The only solution would be to have an engine with a higher exaust velocity. With the current technology, ion engines have very high exaust velocity but low thrust are very energy hungry. The thermal nuclear engines have both high exaust velocity and high thrust, working prototypes have been built, but all projects were boxed 60 years ago because of the fear of an accident.
A fully fueled and loaded Saturn V weighs about 3,000,000 Kg, and has a payload of about 40,000 Kg to the moon.
So that means once you've put all the bits of the rocket together that collectively give you sufficient thrust to get you to the moon, you've only got about 1.3% left for actual payload.
S if earth's gravity had been ~1.3% stronger, then the weight of the "getting us there" bits of the rocket would have left no room for payload. Any more gravity, and we wouldn't even be getting to the moon.
Equally, if the earth's gravity had been 1.3% weaker, we could have doubled our payload to the moon (or done things way easier).
Contrast that with a Boeing 747 which has 50% of total mass as payload, and so is relatively insensitive to changes in gravity.
Someone else posted somewhere that if the Earth was about 3x heavier, we wouldn't be able to use chemical rockets to escape.
Yeah, but they wouldn't be, because the extra mass would have influenced their evolution.
So basically in your example, if the Earth gravity was 1.3% stronger, payload would be ~37.8t instead of 40.
I think the Jovian Moon Io is very low, look up an eclipse photo from Juno; it would be key to exploring low Jovian orbit, just like Venus kicks PSP and Jupiter kicked Voyagers.
Voyager 1/2 and New Horizons are at escape velocity and leaving the solar system.
The problem is not how do we get up high, but rather how do we get going really, really, really fast.
Unlike the more modern ship launched SM3 that is part of the Ageis system, the older ASM-135 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ASM-135_ASAT was designed to be air launched in a supersonic zoom climb to get maximum speed and altitude from the aircraft in order to maximise its capabilities.
For an even better comparison, you can compare air launches ASAT missiles with sounding rockets, they have a greater similarity in their trajectories/launch profiles, so it’s easier to see what the air launch “gains” over the ground launch.
> If the radius of our planet were larger, there could be a point at which an Earth escaping rocket could not be built. Let us assume that building a rocket at 96% propellant (4% rocket), currently the limit for just the Shuttle External Tank, is the practical limit for launch vehicle engineering. Let us also choose hydrogen-oxygen, the most energetic chemical propellant known and currently capable of use in a human rated rocket engine. By plugging these numbers into the rocket equation, we can transform the calculated escape velocity into its equivalent planetary radius. That radius would be about 9680 kilometers (Earth is 6670 km). If our planet was 50% larger in diameter, we would not be able to venture into space, at least using rockets for transport.
1 - https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/19852/where-is-the...
I can't find the video I saw, but here's a general link on the topic:
This comes with many problems, but it does bypass the rocket equation, while not requiring Project Orion levels of trouble.
Imagine how hard space exploration would be if the only practical rocket were a Project Orion.
This is all assuming yields and fuels we have now. If we lived on a more massive earth and we were trying to escape its gravity, I'm sure we'd be using more exotic and dangerous fuels (like all those fun fluorine and boron fuels Dr. Clark mentions in Ignition!) to do the job. We just happened to have the capability in the middle of the century to use a fuel we were already making (refined petroleum) for jet engines.
I think a dynamic structure such as a launch loop https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Launch_loop would work.
Also inflatable towers for launch assist https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ThothX_Tower
For even kookier options we've got lasers!
(Consider the difference in difficulty of riding a bike at 15mph vs 16mph and 25mph vs 26mph... 25->26 requires a hell of a lot more effort, all due to drag.)
Or you could fly a high-altitude airplane into a skyhook: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Skyhook_%28structure%29
He didn't actually say that. He was talking about "rapidly reusable orbital rockets" and "fully reusable orbital rocket[s]" being the "critical breakthrough" that's necessary, the "holy grail of space" and the "fundamental thing that's required".
So fully and rapidly reusable.
Very interesting that the only intelligent species we are aware of is on a planet that we can leave.
I wonder to what extent higher gravitational planets could sustain love that couldn't leave it. An interesting answer to Fermi's paradox.
This diagram has some exoplanets on it for size comparison-
What if it’s just like fossil fuels and there’s enough energy there for us to smear ourselves out? Oh cool, kinda like fission then!
Spaceflight is about velocity and energy.
It's also about gravity, since gravity is what you are fighting against.
We have a launch window to Mars open from July 2020 - September 2020, the tail end of which is almost exactly one year away. Starship will have to be orbit capable well before this window, such that the flight and maneuvering characteristics are understood well enough to reasonably justify taking a crack or two at an unmanned cargo Mars mission within the 2020 window. Musk might not have explicitly mentioned it in the presentation, but I would bet that the Starship teams are internally being driven to these targets.
FTA, Musk is quoted in 2017, saying SpaceX was targeting uncrewed Mars missions in 2022, but given his ambitions and depending on the progress of the Starship/Super Heavy, I can see them actually aiming for 2020 such that any failures would still guarantee a path to making the 2022 window.
All of this is my own amateur speculation, would love to hear corrections or other ideas.
It is likely that Starship will be capable by then, but the wow factor is missing. I don't think an interesting mission would be ready. Don't forget that Musk's Tesla was already launched to "Mars". So it would be safer and just as impactful to have an interesting mission planned using Falcon Heavy. The only mission I can think of which might be viable is Starship landing on Mars. However I don't think SpaceX would have proven Starship enough to get approval for that.
STS needed to open doors or get back down cause she would have cooked. The ISS has 2 triple sets of huge radiators!
I don't think that Elon has clarified yet whether or not the Starship tiles will be ablative, but keep in mind that Dragon currently uses a single-piece ablative heatshield which is theoretically good for several reuses.
Starship has the ability to dip in and out to control heating on the tile and limit the heat, keeping them within a heat corridor during reentry.
But given the hull is stainless steel repairs are much easier. Any experienced welder can spot repair divots and holes or weld in much larger patches. No need to worry about the specially constructed parts required for evaporative cooling. Fix the hull then install replacement tiles.
However still the primary problem is still to have some surface that can handle the heat without deterioration over multiple flights.
1. oldspace and its supporters, if they have a clue, should be even more terrified than before by the scale of the vision. Even if only a percentage is achieved the disruption should be shattering
2. the unspoken juxtaposition between Musk on the one hand - on the face of it unpolished and light-hearted to the point of flippancy about a topic no less grand than the destiny of humanity, yet in reality visionary, fiercely determined and stunningly successful, and proceeding with at least as stated altruistic goals; and oldspace on the other - polished, solemn, pompous, claiming the sole capability and privilege to act as gatekeepers to space, yet in reality outdated, inefficient, outclassed, and acting like a resentful dog-in-the-manger in response to SpaceX. There's something tragicomic, almost Shakespearean about it all
SpaceX's improved launch capabilities will not kill off "oldspace" companies. Mainly because access to space is a national/military security issue. The launch providers for China, Russia, India, and the EU will continue to exist, if only because those entities don't want to be beholden to SpaceX for their access to space.
If anything I would expect an increase in funding to some of those "oldspace" launch providers as countries try to catch up with SpaceX's technology.
Not so sure about that - ESA's saltiness suggests they are not thrilled: 'Asked about how the Ariane 5 compares to lower-cost alternatives on the market today, such as SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket, Stefano Bianchi, Head of ESA Launchers Development Department, responded with a question of his own. “Are you buying a Mercedes because it is cheap?”
Ranzo, sitting nearby, chimed in and referenced the India-based maker of the world’s least expensive car. As he put it, “We don’t sell a Tata.”'
You are correct that it won't kill off oldspace, but the pressure to change will be inexorable: it's not difficult to foresee a scenario where commercial work all goes to SpaceX, apart from situations where companies are forced to use a national provider; but even then, those companies will thus be forced to eat the cost of subsidising an inefficient provider, which will lower their profits making them less competitive, etc. There could be a similar pressure when one considers military payloads, i.e., the cheapness of launching with SpaceX offers the US a game changing capability to put materiel in orbit.
It might be the most amazing feature that Youtube has.
It's not aimed at the kind of person who prefers a flashy presentation over substance, which in this case is extremely rapid progress towards the most capable rocket humanity has ever built.
In fact, he has actively put spaceflight back 50 years by making everyone disinterested in going to mars.
What we need are more people in suits who give us made up numbers.
His product reveals could be so much more impactful and inspiring did he not jump between points he's trying to make and stutter his way through the entire presentation.
So basically, public speaking skills are important for people who have nothing remarkable to say.
 There have since been allegations that he mixed a nontrivial amount of fiction in with his nonfiction.
Take this as inspiration that’s its not just all smooth talking bullshit artists who get to become billionaires.
That's how you get WeWork.
Giving "hundreds of these presentations" is not a measure of one's ability to present well.
So, yes. On delivering them. He's really hard to follow. Musk is a bad speaker.
That fact doesn't diminish in any way what he has accomplished.
> Take this as inspiration that’s its not just all smooth talking bullshit artists who get to become billionaires.
Well, sure. I'd rather have more Musk than more Neumann; but that literally has nothing to do with the opinion I was expressing.
You're just judging him by the most superficial attribute: the cadence of his speech.
An attribute that he cannot change, btw, because that's how he speaks.
The content was great.
He knows what's he's talking about, he's direct, he doesn't bullshit and what he talks about is inspiring.
Starship presentation was 10x better than, say, the polished and perfectly delivered Apple keynote full of cliches like "this is the best Foo we've ever done".
What SpaceX/Tesla/Elon Musk accomplished is truly awe-inspiring.
His delivery makes it really hard to follow, that is all.
It's a bit like singing competitions - it's as if everyone thinks that to be a public speaker you have to do it the same way as everyone who is in 'The voice' or whatever - being cast from the same mould. He's more like the Mark E Smith of presentations.
You should look at his very first presentations way back in the day, and you will see how much he has improved in terms of public speaking.