Elon’s Mars Plans

He’s going to announce changes from last year’s plans tonight at 21:30 PDT (tomorrow afternoon in Adelaide). It will be streamed.

[Update early afternoon]

The liberating effects of retiring from NASA: Former astronaut Terry Virts is criticizing Deep Space Gateway and SLS/Orion. Combined with Elon’s pending announcement, Marshall (and Shelby) can’t be happy.

[Update a few minutes later]

Chris Bergin:

[Update mid-afternoon]

Bob Zimmerman has some thoughts on Lockheed Martin’s DSG and Mars plans:

All these public relations announcements suggest to me that the Trump administration is getting close to unveiling its own future space policy, and they all suggest that this policy will be to build a space station around the Moon. My guess is that Lockheed Martin and SpaceX are vying for a piece of that pie in their announcements today.

Let me also note that Lockheed Martin’s concept above illustrates nicely what a lie Orion is and has always been. They have been touting it for years as the vehicle that will get Americans to Mars, but now admit that it can only really be a small part of a much larger interplanetary ship, and will be there mostly to be the descent capsule when astronauts want to come home. They also admit in the video at the first link that their proposal for getting to Mars is only a concept. To build it would require many billions of dollars. I wonder will it as much as Orion and SLS ($43 billion plus) and take as long (18 years plus) to build? If so, it is a bad purchase. We can do this faster, and for less.

But there are insufficient opportunities for graft in that.

[Update a couple minutes later]

Lockmart reveals its refuelable reusable lander. Looks like initial plan is to fuel in orbit, though, not on the surface. And of course:

While it is unclear whether NASA’s Deep Space Gateway mission will include landing on the moon, Lockheed Martin said its lander would also be capable of a lunar mission if required.

It’s a dessert topping and a floor wax.

[Update a few minutes later]

Watch the Lockmart presentation live, when it starts in a few minutes.

[Friday-morning update]

OK, so I guess the big news is that he thinks he can pay for it with point-to-point rocket trips. Briefly (for now), I’m skeptical.

[Update a while later]

Here‘s Eric Berger’s take on it. Yes, he’s recognizing that the near-term government market is more likely to be the moon than Mars.

[Update a few minutes later]

Here‘s Jeff Foust’s report from Adelaide.

[Update a while later]

Clark Lindsey has videos.

[Update mid morning]

Ken Chang and Adam Baidawi say that the financials are “murky.” Well, yeah. As is the regulatory situation.

[Update a few more minutes later]

Loren Grush’s take.

[Update a while later]

Scott Manley analyzes it.

[Update a few more minutes later]

Bob Zimmerman, in response to Chris Gebhart’s write up, says that BFR is an affordable version of SLS. Except that it doesn’t satisfy the primary requirement of SLS, which is to keep Huntsville and the Cape rolling in taxpayer dough.

[Monday-morning update]

The non-technical hurdles for Elon’s plans.


67 thoughts on “Elon’s Mars Plans”

  1. some of the brightest people that I know, and they have tried as best they can to shepherd our human spaceflight program through the past decade

    There really does seem to be an unaccountable effort by NASA to do what they want rather than what they are supposed to do. This “shepherding” is why we have the Ares V posing as SLS.

    The author is confusing strategy and goal. The strategy is the larger picture with long term aspirations that he mentions. Projects are tactics that support the strategy. What he really wants is more clarity on the short term things that will enable this.

    I cannot envision a new technology that would be developed or validated by building another modular space station

    There are new station technologies that can be developed but the station itself isn’t as important as the activities supported by that station. Prospecting the Moon, a lunar village, and setting up telescopes on the far side of the Moon are things that would count as technological progress.

    Without a specific goal, we’re unlikely to ever identify one.

    Space nerds make this mistake all the time. The more reasons you have to do something, the stronger the argument. A single reason to do something is not as strong. This is especially true with activities in cislunar space because there are a lot of groups other than NASA that want to participate.

    The problem with the shuttle wasn’t crew and cargo. There isn’t anything inherently wrong about pairing the two. SLS also doesn’t have to be the single vehicle that creates a DSG or anything else. The author ignores SpaceX, BO, and other groups other than NASA that want to do stuff in space.

    SLS is terrible but not because of a DSG or because of pairing crew and cargo but because it is incredibly expensive to operate, has a low flight rate, and the opportunity cost of using it over alternatives is astounding. The development costs are terrifying too but they are sunk costs.

    1. The other key flaw of SLS/Orion is that it has no customer other than NASA while the companies that make other vehicles retain control over them and are able to market them to other customers.

      The real challenge here is how to apply these lessons to a DSG and the variety of activities needed to construct and support it. To me, it looks like a COTS like approach is needed and that control of a DSG needs to be in the hands of people who can market the station to customers other than NASA and other governments. A COTS like approach might even mean there is more than one station.

    2. “There isn’t anything inherently wrong about pairing the two.”

      Perhaps not. But with the technology developed to date, there are very few architectures where pairing the two in the same launch makes sense.

      With the Shuttle system we actually got, it made no sense.

  2. Ouch. That’s gonna leave a mark. Me, I think he’s right, mostly. I expect the first elements of DSG will be wearing out before there’s anything to do with the thing besides have astronauts stay there for a week a year, and it will be a dead-end. But I fear it’s going to be built simply because in the current… swampy… political climate, it’s the only thing that can get past Congress.

    And did you notice how this suddenly became the program of record, yet I don’t believe it’s even been funded beyond some repurposed study money, has it?

  3. It seems less bad than other proposals I’ve heard. But I would rather they use the money to make a real lunar exploration program with existing launchers.

    1. Right.

      There’s only so much funding to go around.

      And as it is, the HSF budget that’s available might only barely support a lunar surface program *if* NASA makes aggressive use of commercial (and almost certainly international) partners. Or it might support a DSG, barely. But not both. It certainly won’t support a Mars program, with or without a DSG.

      I’d rather spend the money on a lunar program. There’s much more to be gained. The DSG as it is being advertised now looks like a dead end, a concept NASA grabbed on to because its avoidance of any gravity well made it look affordable (barely) as something to do with SLS and Orion.

  4. That Lockmart lander design is nifty. I’d have never have thought of putting a door on top and using a hundred foot elevator to get back and forth to the surface. I’d have designed the Mars lander with a helipad on top and then used a small powered lander to fly from the top of the big lander to the surface, because that’s more aerospacey.

    The elevator is inevitably going to be out of order when they need to return to the crew cabin, but fortunately the lower gravity on Mars should allow them climb hand over hand after they manage to bust out an upper window with a rock and then snag the frame with a grappling hook. I guess they could make a remotely operated door so they could try to throw the grappling hook right into the airlock, though. That would probably be a better option because the external windows will no doubt be too small to crawl through in a full space suit.

    Of course, you could put the crew cabin beneath the fuel tanks instead of on top of them, getting rid of the elevator altogether, but then it would be hard to safely eject the crew onto the surface of Mars, killing them hours or days or weeks before they would otherwise die on the surface of Mars after an abort.

    1. I like that the crew has to free climb across the hull to go from the hatch to the elevator. Adversity builds character.

    2. The elevator is inevitably going to be out of order when they need to return to the crew cabin, but fortunately the lower gravity on Mars should allow them climb hand over hand after they manage to bust out an upper window with a rock and then snag the frame with a grappling hook.

      I bet the design on a Batman-style ascension belt closes in 1/3 and 1/6 g. You know, for emergencies only.

  5. Anywhere to anywhere in 35 mins or so. Yeah this actually makes sense. Sub-orbital make much better than grappling with the heat, and complex engine tech of air-breathing hypersonic.

    I can almost see how this could be the bridge. Can you thrust throughout the flight to keep the non-0g crowd happy? Some people would enjoy 0g for a portion of the journey, but given a choice I think most folks just interested in getting from a to b would want to skip it altogether….

    1. Thinking to myself the infrastructure build out of this is going to be expensive. Does he (Elon) think he can bridge to the bridge by subsidizing the p2p passenger business using sats to LEO/GEO/SSO? And uses the p2p passenger business to subsidize Space Ops.

      I don’t see a (commercially) viable moon base operation unless it is to supply propellant (i.e. selling fuel) to NASA or others for Deep Space. But why go to all that trouble unless the Delta V is really really worth it? Otherwise simply launch the refueling tankers from Earth.

      I also found it interesting that he want’s to use a two stage BFR/BFS config for p2p. I guess the BFS although it could do it on Mars at <1g can't do it on Earth at 1g.

      If you are planning on building the BFS anyway, than having the ability to ferry more people in a single hop is probably key to keeping the ticket prices down.

      1. While expensive, they already developed two capsules and two launchers off of investors, the government, and satellites. If they put the F9 in development stasis with the Block V and then get to the same point with FH, they will have some money to play with.

        Did he say they had a pure cargo variant? Initial construction of anything on Mars or the Moon would benefit greatly from that and it would be incredibly useful in general.

        The p2p version could even use up more of the cargo space on seating since the flight is so short, people wont need as much room.

        I guess that gets away from keeping everything similar though.

  6. I mean its 2017. C’mon! We should at least have a moon base by now! – E. Musk

    I’m thinking about making that my new .signature quote.

    1. Yeah, the problem is there is absolutely nothing of any economic value on the moon, so there is no profit motive for going there. That means the only reasons are pure science and national prestige and that requires tax money, but the political will to do that just hasn’t been there for fifty years.

  7. Maybe Í misunderstood what he was saying but I just don’t see how you support the current market with a 150t-to-LEO vehicle… manifesting 6(?) comsats in one launch sounds like a challenge to me.

    Shure, he did say that F9 etc. would be available to cover the transition phase, but I’d guess it would take 5 years or more for the market to ‘evolve’ towards this step-up in launch capacity.

    1. The launch rates he mentions going forward earlier in the presentation are staggering. I guess that is where you’d take issue? If it ramps as he suggests, he must be assuming filling a 6 slot BFR would be an issue. But I get your point. Not sure I can see the mirrors thanks to all the smoke.

      1. Yes, that was exactly my point: I can well believe BFR can deliver the cheapest specific launch cost *IF* it’s flown full and often. But the volume of traffic required to do this is at least an order of magnitude greater than today… and he needs this quantum jump in demand to happen in a relatively short period of time if he’s to make any money on it!

        I wish him all the luck in the world and hope he realizes this goal, if only because it would mean that I see the sort of space activities I dreamed of in my youth before I shuffle of this mortal coil. Nevertheless, I did find his presentation rather disappointing because he effectively said nothing new, though he did show some cool videos. As for the idea of point-to-point transport, just google ‘Phil Bono Pegasus’ and you may well get the feeling of déjà-vu.

    2. Others mentioned this in the comments at the various links but if the price of the BFR is competitive with current F9 prices, then it doesn’t matter what the total possible payload is. You don’t have to launch the maximum possible. Since you aren’t throwing away the vehicle, each mission doesn’t have to be a min/max.

      Of course, with excess capacity, people will want to find a way to utilize it.

      1. Construction costs are amortized over the vehicle’s lifetime. Each stage is reusable so the only recurring costs are maintenance and fuel. The maintenance costs for F9 are like a couple million aren’t they? So just say $5 million on refurb after every mission.

        That means they can set a very low price and with such a low price, why wouldn’t customers take advantage? But if they didn’t want to, the price is still lower than anything available today.

        The cost of launching cargo will be very cheap. It looks like the largest cost will be compliance costs dealing with NASA when launching humans. Some of this might be subsidy, but servicing NASA is considerably more expensive than launching for other customers.

    3. Do you remember a couple months ago when SpaceX launched a very small satellite by itself on a Falcon 9? While inefficient, a large booster doesn’t necessarily have to be at full capacity. If they achieve their goal of full reusability with minimal maintenance required between flights, it would still cost less per mission than even a Falcon 9 with partial reusability. The operative phrase is “up to 150t to LEO.”

      While no analogy is perfect, suppose you were someone who had a pallet of goods to ship. You ask various shippers for quotes. One says they can do the job in a panel van just big enough to hold your one pallet. Another shipper may have an 18-wheeler that’s deadheading with no payload that can carry your pallet for less than the cost of the dedicated van. That shipper can quote you a lower price even though his vehicle won’t be anywhere near capacity.

  8. Here is what I don’t understand. Why don’t Elon Musk build an SSTO spacecraft? If you want to use a rocket to go from point A, to point B on Earth, then you should use an SSTO spacecraft. Also make it smaller. Say capable of delivering 2.5 tons to low Earth orbit, or about 25 passengers. If NASA had went with DC-X, instead of the X-33. But NASA wanted a larger spacecraft. I think they are fixated on big spacecraft.

    The same with Musk, and Bezos. What we should do is build single stage to orbit spacecraft, capable of doing 2, or more launches a week. But we should start small. Instead of 10 tons to LEO, we should start at 2.5 tons. Build lots of them, and have hundreds of launches a year. Then start building SSTO spacecraft that can launch 5 tons to LEO. Once we test that spacecraft out, we then lots of them. Then start having several hundred, to a few thousand launches a year. After that we start building spacecraft that can launch 10 tons to LEO.

      1. But if you don’t build an SSTO spacecraft, then you won’t have airplane like. efficiency. You need to launch the spacecraft over, and over, and launch it as many times you can. Once a week, twice a week, or if possible more than twice.

        So which of these will make the performance better?
        Build it out of Starlite?. That is a plastic that can with stand heat of up to 10,000 degrees celcius. The inventor of the plastic died 6 years ago. And he never sold, or licensed the plastic.

        Metallic hydrogen? I saw that mentioned in a YouTube video. I then looked it up. There are reports that some were made this year. Not sure if that is true.

        Maser thermal rocket? That would involve using microwaves to launch spacecraft. You will need an SPS to launch a lightcraft. But lightcraft are still in the R&D phase.
        So when do you think we will be able to build SSTO?
        There is one I didn’t mention. That is Polywell fusion. Robert Bussard was working on that when he died.

        1. I think to build an SSTO you will need to use beam propulsion or some kind of altitude compensating nozzle and more lightweight construction than what we have now.

          It will happen eventually. What can be done right now though, is a suborbital SSTO for point-to-point Earth travel.

  9. SSTO is much harder than TSTO. Two stages hugely eases the mass ratio requirements of each stage. Jerry Pournelle used to talk about a zero stage for a spacecraft like DC-Y which may have been jet powered if the thing was having trouble making orbit with any kind of payload. If you are going to that trouble you may as well do what SpaceX is doing.
    After the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster recoveries, which are becoming routine, I think SSTO will remain in the future. IIRC Falcon 9 booster was originally planned for parachute into the ocean type recovery.That they can be readily flown back and landed vertically is somewhat amazing.
    The boosters are just like tugboats taking the big ships out of harbour and returning.
    That point to point transport idea – are these the semi- ballistics from Heinlein’s “Friday”?

    1. I think something like a jet aircraft wouldn’t do it. But something more akin to LACES or the Reaction Engines SABRE engine could work as that zeroth stage. But the technology is still too green at this point.

    2. –The boosters are just like tugboats taking the big ships out of harbour and returning.–

      I would say the first stage is mostly about negating or dealing with the gravity loss of launch to orbit or escape velocity.

      Or a rocket has about 1 to 2 km/sec of gravity loss and this borne almost entirely by the first stage rocket.

      If didn’t have gravity loss, SSTO would be fairly easy.
      Or with Mars SSTO are easy to do, one has the major element of less orbital or escape velocity needed but also one only needs a modest amount of acceleration [about 1 gee] for there not to be much gravity loss to get to orbit or escape.

      1. Getting the ship to LEO is a one time cost per ship. So they build ten ships and just one BFR to put them all in orbit. So my next prediction is a very cheap crew transfer ship so the GPS never returns to the earth’s surface. BFR would be such overkill for launching this that it provides fewer fuel launches per GPS. One ship getting a fraction of it’s fuel with each crew launch.

  10. With a direct flight back from the Moon, it leads one to conclude that a DSG isn’t needed and LEO could remain the staging ground for other destinations.

    The BFR also opens up the possibility of private entities launching much larger structures than the ISS. Perhaps more people would be willing to squeeze in a cabin on the BFR if the destination was much closer. The ISS could easily be replaced for less cost than it took to build it. Crew rotations would be drastically cheaper than they are now.

    Direct return from Mars is great but the launch costs could mean that someone could build an interplanetary ship to maximize the launch rate and limited stock of the BFR.

    The best part is the prices could very well be low enough that going to Mars is not that much more expensive than going to the Moon or someplace else, meaning everyone gets their cake.

  11. I’ve been excited about the idea of point to point suborbital transportation ever since the X-Prize. I want to stand in the course of Bush Intercontinental Airport and hear the announcer’s stentorian voice come over the loudspeakers with something to the effect of, “Trans World Airways . . Spaceliner . . suborbital service, Houston to Tokyo, now boarding at gate eleven.”
    I would also like to see FedEx’s commercials in Asia, making a joke about the international date line. “FedEx, when it absolutely, positively, has to be there yesterday!”

  12. Years ago I said the next step was to replace the second stage of an F9 and/or FH with a max mass to LEO refuelable General Purpose Ship (GPS.) I called it a stretch Dragon. Elon did it better. It may not get to mars in 2022 but it will be flying by then.

    How was I to guess he’d go with a BFR to make it even larger (but still a GPS?) I said it would essentially be a fuel depot (a variation will be.)

    The day this ship is refueled in orbit will be the day history records as the beginning of the space age. I thought I’d die before seeing this. This is exciting.

    1. A few days ago I commented, over in a YouTube thread dealing with the last SpaceX launch, that while the Dragon is a very exciting development, because of it’s cost and fundamentally private nature, its capability is so limited in comparison to the Space Shuttle that I expected it to be many years before we saw true spaceships again. Evidently, I was wrong, and boy, am I happy about it.

  13. I suspect that the specific price ($/kg) of BFR will be significantly lower than F9, assuming it flies full and frequent. However, I also suspect that the absolute price ($/flight) of BFR will be significantly higher than F9, if only because it will need significantly more propellant and the specific price of LOx will be the same for both because it’s already so widely available the additional demand is unlikely to reduce its price.

    Assuming the absolute price per flight for BFR is $20m once development costs have been fully amortised (i.e. equal to the price of a fully mature/amortised F9, with maximum reusability) it could fly almost empty (i.e. one 6t comsat and 144t of ‘ballast’) and still be competitive. So, ignoring any technical challenges still to be overcome in order to field BFR, the real question is just how much BFR will cost to develop, which will then give some idea of how long it will take to achieve the fully amortised price.

    My guess for BFR development cost would be at least $1b, if not double or more. Assuming that this is recovered back by charging a higher price than the $20m/flight assumed above, we can say that if SpaceX charge the current F9 price (i.e. $60/flight) it will take at least 25 flights to amortise the development cost, which would take about a year if we assume the 30 flights that Musk projected for 2018.

    So, based upon these very rough numbers, it seems that SpaceX may have a reasonable chance of recovering BFR development costs within the first few years of operation *IF* they can keep them below a few billion dollars and don’t ‘over-price’ it too much by dropping F9 prices too soon (i.e. down to their projected minimum of $20m/flight).

    I’m not sure this proves anything but it does put some perspective on the commercial challenge Musk is setting SpaceX.

    1. They have no incentive to drop the price of F9 until some other company becomes competitive which is unlikely to happen during their remaining life. The second stage GPS will have development costs but the main cost, engine development is essentially done.

      This could happen very quickly and the tell will be when F9 production ceases which should be several years before their final flights.

  14. Mars is a pretty big place. Has there been any information as to where he wants to land, or found his city?

  15. Betting the farm on BFRs makes me anxious. It’s hard to imagine a BFR being competitive with smaller rockets for launching communication sats and other commercial payloads.

    Happy to hear Musk talking about the moon. I suspect Berger’s right, Musk has listened to Bridenstine and read the writing on the wall.

    I am hoping and expecting Bezos to play a more prominent role.

    Worst case scenario: What if it turns out Spudis’ hopes for exploitable lunar volatiles are bogus? LEND data doesn’t seem to support Spudis’ dreams of 2 meter thick (or thicker) glaciers in the cold traps. The best data we have is the 5.5% water in the LCROSS ejecta (which was downgraded to 1%).

    Still, I think there is a chance that game changing lunar ice deposits exist. I hope Bridenstine and Bezos get a chance to take a crack at it. Musk too, since he seems to be getting with the lunar program.

    1. –Hop David
      October 2, 2017 at 6:36 AM

      Betting the farm on BFRs makes me anxious. It’s hard to imagine a BFR being competitive with smaller rockets for launching communication sats and other commercial payloads.–
      BFRs make sense if could do the sub-orbital stuff.
      It’s also exciting if BFRs could transfer rocket fuel in orbit.
      And if one BFR can transfer fuel to another BFR, why couldn’t it
      also transfer the fuel to something which isn’t a BFR.
      And maybe one could want the rocket fuel from the BFR at lunar orbit rather than having BFR land on the Moon.
      Or Musk might want to focus on a one size fits all, but it seems it opens
      the field for others who want to specialize the spacecraft for a specific task.

      1. It’s so hard to imagine a super tanker making money when a speed boat with jerry cans is so much cheaper?

        1. One could say a super tanker needs such things as speed boats with jerry cans.

          It seems to me what is important is whether or not the Moon has minable water.
          It seems like we heading in the direction of finding out. But I am not encouraged to think this going to happen as quickly as I think it could be completed.

    2. “Worst case scenario: What if it turns out Spudis’ hopes for exploitable lunar volatiles are bogus? LEND data doesn’t seem to support Spudis’ dreams of 2 meter thick (or thicker) glaciers in the cold traps. The best data we have is the 5.5% water in the LCROSS ejecta (which was downgraded to 1%).”

      A 2 inch layer of ice, somewhere within top 2 meter of regolith, would nice- it should be would minable. But seem best case to expect, seems likely to be one mine and process a cubic meter and get 10% water- 100 kg of water. If you could just remove the regolith and just process the nearly pure water, it’s probably easier.
      Anyhow 100 kg water per meter or 100,000 tonnes per square km is more water than one could use or sell within a decade.
      Due to require of lot’s of electrical power needed and lack of near term market for rocket fuel, it seems bootstrap approach of starting with small operation and having exponential growth in rocket fuel production- 100, 200, 400, etc tons of water mined per year made into rocket fuel seems likely.

  16. “Betting the farm on BFRs makes me anxious. It’s hard to imagine a BFR being competitive with smaller rockets for launching communication sats and other commercial payloads.”

    That’s a good point. A lot hinges on what the market really is, or will be, once a competitive, commercially produced launch system of this size is available.

    I do think it’s a good development, though. It reminds me a little of Steve Jobs, and others, who urged, paraphrasing a little, “make the best possible product on the market, and then design something good enough to cannibalize your own market.”

    Some have pointed out that after development is amortized, SpaceX could launch just one communications satellite instead of six, and still make money. I can see this kind of formula working, but I still have one concern. Unlike design and development, some costs never go to zero: what about insurance? Perhaps I’m naive, but I assume it will be more to insure a BFR than for a Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy. Am I wrong?

      1. Hmmm, I guess I’m not sure of the difference. I meant what does it cost SpaceX to insure against loss of the launcher (BFR, F9, FH), either as an actual insurance premium or the self-insured replacement cost.

        In my mind, this leads to another assumption of mine: won’t the cost of one more BFR be more than the same (production/replacement) cost of F9 or FH?

        1. That’s hull insurance. Launch insurance is to cover the loss of the payload (though, with reusable vehicles, unlikely to lose payload without losing the vehicle too). Cost of hull insurance will be dependent on replacement cost and reliability, and no one knows what those will be (OK, well, SpaceX will know their cost).

        2. Not much more. Recurring cost is what dominates a reusasable vehicle which in this case is the cheapest bulk fuel. Plus, for apple’s to apple’s you have to consider payload.

    1. One of the requirements of a truly reusable vehicle is that it must be highly reliable in order to ensure it isn’t lost before it can amortised its cost. At the very least, this means that it must have sufficient contingency/abort modes to enable vehicle recovery in the event of all credible failures.

      So, assuming it can demonstrate these qualities during its test flight campaign, I’d expect BFR insurance to be much less than F9.

  17. Jumping the non-hurdles.

    Planetary protection is not about protecting planets or life but that doesn’t mean they can’t produce legal challenges. The solution is simple: Elon builds his ship and puts it in orbit. No P.P. issue there. He then lands it on the moon. PPers will complain but not with any credibility because we’re just returning after fifty years. Now the space community, which has simply ignored the PPers until now, will realize Elon is actually going to mars and will clobber the PPers with arguments they haven’t much spent any time on until then.

    Terraforming: Don’t create a problem where none exists. Ignore this issue until realizing it’s a stupid idea for some long future people to decide.

    Space policy is unavoidable. Just deal with it by mostly ignoring it. Like Patton asked once he’d achieved his objective after being ordered to hold…”Do you want me to give it back?’

    Climate change? Seriously? I’ve heard the argument made but never thought it had any substance.

    4 up. 4 down. A capable fully fueled ship in orbit changes every thing. Just think of how much more useful the I.S.S. will be with dozens of researchers instead of the current (maybe one?) All thanks to a mobile life support enhancement to anyone they dock with?

    1. What matters more, that Mars has 25 trillion tonnes of CO2 in it’s atmosphere or that Mars has a lot of water.

      One could say Mars with it’s 25 trillion tonnes of CO2, isn’t helping Musk very much. He can land and take off from the Moon and needs rocket fuel to leave Mars. And apparently needs Mars water for this rocket fuel made on Mars.
      The 25 trillion tonnes of CO2 in Mars atmosphere is a critical aspect if you want to grow food at low cost. Low cost being cheaper than price of shipping food to Mars.
      On Mars growing food = CO2 and water. Cheap food will be related to cost of water.
      On Mars the cost of water is not related to cost of rocket fuel, it’s related to cost of food.
      Water on Mars can also be related to another thing- pressure.
      On earth 10 meter of water is 14.7 psi, on Mars it’s roughly 1/3 of this-
      10 meter of water is about 5 psi.
      And greenhouse need some pressure. They also need something transparent to sunlight. And need constant temperature above freezing.

      A cubic meter of water weighs 1 ton. And empty volume of cubic meter requires 1 ton to push under water. On Mars it requires about 1/3 of a ton. So reinforced hoop to anchor to and held under water with plastic dome filled with air is greenhouse on Mars. The top of dome could be above the water or just below the water. If below the water one increase pressure lower under water and lowering deeper requires same force as when top of dome is just below the surface

      Living structures can also be under water. And swimming between structure [and greenhouse] can done without a pressure suit.

  18. The non-technical hurdles mentioned all relate to dealing with lefty religiosity. Kind of funny considering its coming from the sciency crowd, especially the one about establishing humans elsewhere because their might be a climate apocalypse. That’s their line don’t steal it!

    There are only three options here, pay indulgences, repent and cease your sinful ways, or be a pagan.

  19. One issue mentioned here is concern about SpaceX retiring the F9 and relying on BFR.

    I don’t see that as too big a concern, even if the market does not expand. It all hinges on cost; can they, as claimed, launch BFR for less than F9? If so, you’d always want to use a BFR instead of an F9, even for a small payload.

    1. Exactly right CJ. But it will take a while for the bulb to light in the dino brains. Even with Elon plainly stating that operating cost of the BFR will be less than F1 (not a typo.) SpaceX has already ordered tooling! This is going to happen fast.

      FH will happen for the same reason they built then destructively tested the ITS fuel tank. Because of what they will learn.

  20. Apropos space, does anybody know if Edward Wright of Citizens in Space is still alive? I think his Twitter is/was @usrocketacademy, the last post is over a year old. He used to comment on this blog to tell people they’re wrong.

  21. MECO is reporting that the FH launch may be pushed into next year but because of the launch manifest, way into next year. Delays in the space industry are to be expected, so this wouldn’t be too surprising.

    Are there many payloads scheduled on the FH?

    If the BFR is really so close on the horizon, it could make sense to cancel the FH altogether. However, Musk said he wanted to build a stockpile of F9’s, so maybe it could be good insurance to keep the FH as well. It would not be at all surprising to see the FH delayed, just as it would’t be surprising to see the BFR delayed.

    Unless the FH supports development of the BFR or something else, it might not make sense to keep it because it wouldn’t fly for too many years before BFR comes online. This is probably where an internal IRR decision takes place.

    I suspect they will stay with the FH because of the uncertainty with the BFR and because turning a profit off of FH for a few short years is better than waiting an unknown number of years for BFR. And who knows, maybe they will try a FH approach with the BFR with some added cores?

  22. This still looks like overkill. But there is plenty more detail here this time than in their last presentation. To me the tank section and the propulsion section on that 2nd stage proved particularly interesting.
    I think it had 4 large engines (for boost) with 2 small engines (for recovery) in there. This might be an engine configuration they could use to replace the Falcon 9 first stage.

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