Explained as only Randall Munroe can.
I would note (as always) that the vast majority of the mass of that vehicle is propellants, that could be delivered to space on much smaller vehicles.
SpaceX seems to be firmly in the heavy lift camp, first with the Falcon Heavy and now with the MCT:
“MCT” is rumored to stand for “Mars Colony Transport”.
Obviously, heavy lift can make sense if you plan to operate it at a high flight rate. My objection to heavy life is not to heavy lift per se, but to NASA’s chronic economically insane approach to it. For as paltry as the agency’s (and moreover Congress’s) ambitions are, it can be done with existing rockets, much more favorably for the taxpayer.
As long as Elon is spending his own money, and not mine, I’m not going to tell him how to get to Mars.
I object to heavy lift per se because there are a lot of launchers with excess production capacity already in the world, and there are no foreseeable revenue sources from payloads to justify high enough flight rates for heavy lift.
Elon can do whatever he wants, but i wish he would get over his Mars-itis.
Note also that SpaceX is actually doing R&D work for reusables – grasshopper – but they dont seem to be in a rush to build pads and infrastructure for anything very heavy.
The new engine project might make sense regardless of whether the MCT ever gets built, though. Based on earlier powerpoints, it seems like the plan is to replace the 9 and 27 engine clusters on the Falcon 9/Heavy with one and three of the new engine, and then build a BFR (excuse me, MCT) based on a cluster of the new engine just as the Falcon 9 was derived from the Falcon 1.
Would a single big engine work for a re-usable Falcon 9, i.e. as both launch and landing engine? I’m more excited about the prospect of a high flight rate reusable orbital launcher than a new expendable super-heavy lifter.
Now that you mention it, I recall that the Grasshopper testbed SpaceX is using for that has a single Merlin engine… I had assumed it was just because a Merlin couldn’t throttle down deeply enough to do the short hops they wanted on a downsized first stage, but maybe there’s more to it.
I think there is room in the commercial market for larger launchers. Some satellite operators prefer to have larger satellites with more complex payloads because of the reduced number of orbital slots available. Government payloads which work better on heavies include space station segments or space telescopes, reconnaissance satellites, and their ilk. However once you get past the payload of a Delta IV Heavy the market starts getting real thin indeed. Perhaps you could still find a market for something twice the Delta IV Heavy size but something of the size of SLS will not find people in the present commercial market willing to use it. The less a rocket is launched the more significant the fixed costs get and you may never get enough launches to justify the required R&D costs to begin with.
Government payloads which work better on heavies include space station segments or space telescopes.
You’re talking mainframe technology.
The grounded-based European Extremely Large Telescope will have 6x the resolution in the mid-IR as the James Webb Space Telescope at 1/6 the cost.
To get really high resolutions, we need optical interferometry with widely spaced components, not giant monolithic mirrors.
And can we please drop the “Skylab was cheaper than ISS so all space stations should be launched as a single huge chunk” argument? The single-datapoint fallacy is becoming tiresome.
My commercial space business plan executive summary:
“We will build a big metal tube, and fill it with explosive chemicals. Then we’ll get people to pay to sit inside, and go up in the air.”
How come that failed to attract investment?
You may want to pick non-explosive propellants, then.
Yep. It’s all in the marketing.
Sign this contract and you will get an all expense paid, free 9 month vacation in zero gravity recreational facility followed by a 6 minute thrill ride to your new luxury underground mansion with an open air garden and a spectacular view prepared just for you and we will throw in a million dollars of real property for a lifetime of personal pursuits with no government breathing down your neck and no taxes for the rest of your life.
Must be willing to lose weight regardless of any food you eat.
OK, so we’ve had atomic physics in Anglo-Saxon, and now rocketry in Basic English. So, an introduction to computer science in classic Greek? Or maybe Elvish…
Yes, if only US Patents were written in the “ten hundred words that people use the most.” Or ASME and IEEE scholarly journal articles.
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