Fear, Uncertainty, And Doubt

Blue Origin and ULA (and they may soon be the same company) are pretty clearly threatened by SpaceX.

On the other hand, there have never been launch operations at this scale, anywhere. SpaceX should be getting on to sea launch as soon as possible, particularly given the much greater flexibility of orbital destinations this will give them.

[Update a while later]

More from Stephen Clark.

[Tuesday-afternoon update]

More from Jeff Foust. I was amused at this: “Ariane 6 is an answer to their needs. We’ll go through the inaugural launch, we’ll serve those customers, and we will continue to innovate.”

“Continue” to innovate? I’m still waiting for them to start.

[Bumped]

[Update a few minutes later]

Meanwhile, in French Guiana:

19 thoughts on “Fear, Uncertainty, And Doubt”

  1. There is a superficial case to be made by BLULA here, but only based on what are, thus far, crude, back-of-the-envelope computations of overpressure radii based on instantaneous explosion of an entire Starship prop load. That is not a realistic worst-case scenario in the real world. Even if an exploding Starship has three times the energy of an exploding Saturn 5, the increase in overpressure radii is not linear. I suspect SpaceX can do some plausible “pencil whipping” of these numbers, especially as they have considerable prior experience at Boca Chica with large-scale methalox explosions of actual vehicles to draw on as a base.

    More to the point, in terms of potential interruption to the work of other launch providers at Kennedy/Canaveral, it should be noted that the interval from start of prop load, through launch and booster return and catch would be about 45 minutes. Starship presents no blast hazard before prop load starts and none after a booster returns. If BLULA are worried about their on-site people, they can straightforwardly build enough blockhouse capacity for them to shelter in for an hour at a time during the putatively dangerous parts of SpaceX Starship launch ops.

    1. The blast radius goes as the cube root of the energy released. So a Starship Super Heavy would, at three times the energy of a Saturn V, have 1.44 times the destructive radius. Spectators (including U.S. Presidents) were allowed to be, unsheltered, 3.5 miles away from a Saturn V launch. (I was one of those spectators at the Skylab Workshop launch. It was remarkable how puny the Saturn V looked at that distance, but astounding at how loud it was.) So a 5 mile exclusion zone would suffice. In reality, these things don’t explode in such a fashion, and the “range safety” risks are hugely overstated. I know. I was Chief Engineer of FAA/AST for ten years. Add to that the fact that this vehicle will have been tested far more than the Saturn V by the time it departs from the Cape, and these objections will be swept aside.

      1. All three Starship/Vulcan/NewGlenn are using fully miscible LOX-LNG propellants with high explosive potential. (I’ve seen the videos of drop testing at Dugway Proving Grounds. They were… spicy.)

        But even at full perfectly-mixed yield the effects at other launch sites are not catastrophic, if a vehicle falls back on its pad their own facilities will be badly damaged, but no-one else’s. Quantity-Distance limits *work*.

      2. Exactly Michael, you will never get a 100 percent homogeneous fuel/oxidizer mix in the event of a worst-case failure. Such an event would have to be deliberately engineered.

        Any mixing will cause an explosion that in unconfined space, ultimately blow the blob of CH-4/O2 apart. At a certain point, the CH4 will fall below the LEL for whatever altitude/pressure it’s at and that is the edge of the blast.

        1. Plastic 2 liter soda bottles make for lousy Molotov cocktails*…

          *Attempted yellow jacket nest removal. I figured as much but an experimental curiosity follow-up to proof of concept.

          **Contact me via Signal if you want a better recommendation…

      3. From what I’ve read about fuel/air explosives, a LOT of work went into tank, charge and timer design to insure optimal mixing prior to detonation. Things not likely to happen for a Starship/SuperHeavy RUD. In fact several Starship RUDs have already happened at BC. Still going strong. I’d put that cube root as an upper bound.

        Don’t ask me why I have an interest in this stuff…

        1. The trouble with LOX/LNG isn’t gas-phase mixing, but liquid-phase mixing. The LNG is only a little bit warmer than the LOX, both are non-polar, and have low viscosity. When a common bulkhead ruptures they can mix AS LIQUIDS producing a binary explosive with energy density greater than TNT.

          Spicy.

  2. “the up-to-492-foot-tall rocket will be too untested, too dangerous and too potentially disruptive for the nation’s busiest spaceport and the surrounding environment.”

    It is tested more than BO and ULAs launchers. Starship is disruptive, both to their business model and operations should they even start launching but in this case, SpaceX will have a complaint about slowing their launch cadence so BO or ULA can squeeze one out.

    They are very effective at using the right appeal to the right audience. They know climate cult appeals work on those who control government and are also likely to get buy in from activists, who coincidently are influenced by Russia and China but in a good way because it is to save the planet by weakening the USA. A goal shared by those who control our government.

  3. If SpaceX plans for Starship pan out long term, SpaceX can offer to BUILD LC-39C and LC-39D and NASA is free to lease them from time-to-time. Thus impinging on nobody.

    A launch cadence cap is about the dumbest thing going. Doubt if military will stand for it.

    1. The military certainly should not stand for it. And the military figures more prominently in the future prospects of BLULA than it does in the future of even SpaceX.

  4. The Ariane 6 launch had so little payload that they deliberately wasted a lot of the core stage performance. For much of the core’s burn after SRB sep it was pitched up to around 60 degrees, eating huge gravity and steering losses. It still went up to 474 km altitude, extremely lofted as you would expect for a 2.5 stage hydrogen vehicle optimized for GTP/GSO missions.

  5. It would be a shame if all that rocket noise bothered those other people who claim to be running a space program.

  6. Of course, BLULA are fighting hard to keep SpaceX in the bucket with them and the other crabs….because they know they cannot compete on merits or price.

    All that aside, I found the clip of the Ariane-6 launch funny to watch. I get that everyone has a 10Megapixel or better camera they carry around all day…but seriously, these folks all work there, they have access to the professionally staged, filmed, produced video of the entire event. Why try and capture it on your phone? This is the daytime equivalent of tourists taking pictures of city lights on the approach to LAX at night…with their flash on, inside the coach section.

  7. There are still supposed experts claiming 5000 tons of methane and liquid oxygen == a 5kt nuclear weapon. The damage that began at the outset of the Cold War continues to pay dividends. The propaganda is, if Starship exploded on liftoff at Boc Chica, up to two million people will be killed when Brownsville and Matamoros are flattened.

    This is all compounded by the reality that the actual facts, as generally expounded here, are slightly counterintuitive to the innumerate majority. I call myself innumerate, but I can at least do arithmetic, with a little algebra, geometry, and trig. Strangely, I have friends who excelled at math and now can’t remember a thing. They studied hard, got A’s and B’s, passed, graduated, and dumped the residue.

  8. Apparently, the idea that one might actually launch rockets from a rocket launch facility is novel to some of the respondents, or at least that such might happen immanently. Noisy neighbors are a nuisance everywhere, won’t someone think of the children?

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