Highlights From Musk’s Ask Me Anything Session on Reddit

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk conducted an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on Saturday. Below are selected responses to questions. A full list of questions and answers is located here.

BFR Development

Will be starting with a full-scale Ship doing short hops of a few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance. Those are fairly easy on the vehicle, as no heat shield is needed, we can have a large amount of reserve propellant and don’t need the high area ratio, deep space Raptor engines.

Next step will be doing orbital velocity Ship flights, which will need all of the above. Worth noting that BFS is capable of reaching orbit by itself with low payload, but having the BF Booster increases payload by more than an order of magnitude. Earth is the wrong planet for single stage to orbit. No problemo on Mars.
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Update on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo

Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses was at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) conference in Las Cruces, NM, this week updating everyone on the company’s effort to fly people into suborbital space aboard SpaceShipTwo.  Meanwhile, the spacecraft’s mother ship flew in to make an appearance at it’s future home, Spaceport America (see video, above).

Unity has been performing very well, sometimes better than models predicted,” Moses said. “Things are right on track where they need to be.”

Next up will be powered flight testing. While Unity is being tested, two more vehicles are being built to increase the fleet once it’s proven in powered flight. That, Moses said, is an indication of Virgin Galactic’s commitment to have multiple vehicles ready when commercial manned flights begin at Spaceport America.

Crews are putting final touches on the propulsion system and “pretty soon” will be evaluating supersonic boost. Virgin founder Richard Branson, in Helsinki last week, told Business Insider “We are hopefully about three months before we are in space, maybe six months before I’m in space.”

When questioned about that statement by ISPCS session moderator Ariane Cornell, Moses took a more conservative tone.

“Richard always poses a challenge, he likes to push us pretty hard,” Moses said. “Sometimes I wish he wouldn’t talk so much. We hope to be in space by the end of this year. We’ll take our time with it. We’re going to fly when we are ready.”

Read the full story.

NASA Statement on National Space Council Policy on American Space Leadership

The following is a statement from acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot about the results from the first meeting of the National Space Council on Thursday:

“It was my pleasure today to attend the first meeting of the new National Space Council. The council includes government leaders from civil and military space, and the group also heard from space industry leaders. The council has historic roots in the earliest days of the Space Age, and it has been established by the president to streamline and coordinate national space policy.

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Branson Muses About SpaceShipTwo Flight in April, Point-to-Point Travel

Screenshot, Business Insider Nordic

Ah, yeah…about that….Maybe if Virgin Galactic was already in powered flights. As it is, they still have at least one more glide flight to conduct. And they haven’t conducted one of those in two months.

It’s possible they only get one powered flight test off the ground by the end of the year. Would that leave them prepared to begin commercial flights by April? Probably not. There are a lot of variables involved — number of test flights, pace of testing, problems they discover — but six months would be pushing it.

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Commercial Crew Schedule Slip Slides to the Right

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — The next generation of American spacecraft and rockets that will launch astronauts to the International Space Station are nearing the final stages of development and evaluation. NASA’s Commercial Crew Program will return human spaceflight launches to U.S. soil, providing reliable and cost-effective access to low-Earth orbit on systems that meet our safety and mission requirements.

To meet NASA’s requirements, the commercial providers must demonstrate that their systems are ready to begin regular flights to the space station. Two of those demonstrations are uncrewed flight tests, known as Orbital Flight Test for Boeing, and Demonstration Mission 1 for SpaceX. After the uncrewed flight tests, both companies will execute a flight test with crew prior to being certified by NASA for crew rotation missions.

The following schedule reflects the most recent publicly releasable dates for both providers. [Emphasis mine]

Targeted Test Flight Dates:

Boeing Orbital Flight Test: August 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test: November 2018

SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1: April 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): August 2018

Editor’s Note: Note the careful wording of this latest press release: “most recent publicly releasable dates.” So, how far are the latest slips? Here is where they were in July.

Previous Targeted Test Flight & Milestone Dates (July 20, 2017):

Boeing Orbital Flight Test: June 2018
Boeing Crew Flight Test: August 2018
Boeing Operational Readiness Review: September 2018
Certification Review: October 2018

SpaceX Demonstration Mission 1: February 2018
SpaceX Demonstration Mission 2 (crewed): June 2018
SpaceX Operational Readiness Review: August 2018
Certification Review: September 2018

SpaceX’s flights have slipped by two months. The Boeing automated flight has slipped by two months and the crew flight by three months. Boeing officials said last week that the second flight could slip in 2019.

The operational readiness reviews and certification reviews are necessary before the companies can begin flying astronauts to the space station on a commercial basis.

A Niche in Time: First Flight

Richard Branson addresses the crowd before SpaceShipTwo’s glide flight. (Credit: Kenneth Brown)

Part 5 of 5

By Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The morning of Dec. 3, 2016, began like so many others in Mojave. The first rays of dawn gave way to a brilliant sunrise that revealed a cloudless, clear blue sky over California’s High Desert.

This was hardly newsworthy. For most of the year, Mojave doesn’t really have weather, just temperatures and wind speeds. It had been literally freezing overnight; the mercury was at a nippy 28º F (-2.2º C) at 4 a.m. As for Mojave’s famous winds – an enemy of roofs, trees and big rigs, but the lifeblood of thousands of wind turbines that cover the landscape west of town – there really weren’t any. It was basically a flat calm.

In other words, it was a perfect day to fly.

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UAE to Form Astronaut Corps

The UAE has announced it is forming its own astronaut corps in time for the 50th anniversary of the nation’s founding in 2021.

In a panel discussion at the 68th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) here Sept. 28, officials with the country’s new space agency said that the country sought to develop a “sustainable” human spaceflight program with scientific applications, rather than simply the prestige of flying humans in space.

“This is an initiative from the UAE government to have a sustainable human spaceflight program,” said Salem Humaid Al Marri, assistant director general at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre. “When we talk about sustainable, that means that we are not looking at launching an astronaut for a week or launching a tourist flight, but we’re looking at a program that is based on science.”

Al Marri said later that the government will formally request applications from astronauts by the end of this year or the first quarter of 2018. He didn’t disclose what criteria the space agency had developed for its astronaut program.

That will be followed by a selection process that he estimated will last from six to ten months before choosing between four and six astronauts. “Probably towards the lower end,” he said of that range of four to six, “because obviously all of the astronauts that we train we would also look to fly them at some point.”

Officials have not announced with vehicles UAE astronauts would fly on.

Read the full story.

A Niche in Time: One Chute

SpaceShipTwo after being released for its final flight on March 31, 2014. (Credit: Virgin Galactic/NTSB)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury heard the sound of hooks disengaging and felt a sharp jolt as SpaceShipTwo was released from its WhiteKnightTwo mother ship. Relieved of a giant weight, WhiteKnightTwo shot upward as the spacecraft plunged toward the desert floor.

“Fire,” Siebold said as the shadow of one of WhiteKnightTwo’s wings passed across the cabin.

“Arm,” Alsbury responded. “Fire.”

The pilots were pushed back into their seats as SpaceShipTwo’s nylon-nitrous oxide hybrid engine ignited behind them, sending the ship soaring skyward on a pillar of flames.

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Drop Tests at NASA Langley Help Boeing’s Starliner Prepare to Land Astronauts

https://www.nasa.gov/langley/feature/drop-tests-at-nasa-langley-help-boeing-starliner-prepare-to-land-astronauts

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — At NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, a mock-up of the Boeing Starliner spacecraft has endured a series of land landing qualification tests to simulate what the actual spacecraft and crew members may experience while returning to Earth from space.

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The Everyday Astronaut Looks at Elon Musk’s BFR

Video Caption: Elon Musk revealed the update to SpaceX’s highly anticipated and ambitious rocket, the BFR or the Big (FALCON) Rocket. We compare this version of the BFR to last year’s version as well as speculate about SpaceX’s mind blowing plans to head to the Moon, Mars as well as anywhere on Earth within one hour!

Video About Virgin Galactic Ground Crew

Video Caption: The Virgin Galactic ground crew plays an essential role in our commercial spaceline operations. Meet our spaceship mechanics and watch them prepare our vehicles VSS Unity and VMS Eve for a flight — right up until they pull chocks for taxi and take-off.

13 Years Ago in Mojave…

Editor’s Note: SpaceShipOne would fly one more time, on Oct. 4, 2004, to claim the $10 million Ansari X Prize, before being retired and shipped off to be placed on permanent display the National Air & Space Museum.

Do you remember the optimism then? Do you recall promises by Burt Rutan and Richard Branson that they would soon inaugurate the era of space tourism with SpaceShipTwo? How it would all happen by 2007 or 2008?

Thirteen years, four deaths, three hospitalizations, one wrecked spaceship and numerous inaccurate predictions later, there has not been a single human suborbital space flight. Not one.

The very elements of SpaceShipOne that Rutan promoted as the safest innovations to come out of the program — the hybrid engine and feather reentry system — figured in the fatalities of the SpaceShipTwo program.

SpaceShipOne was a tremendous engineering achievement. And Scaled is justifiably proud of it.

But, it also turned out to be an extremely fragile thing upon which to base a commercial suborbital space tourism program. It bred a dangerous overconfidence and enshrined some poor engineering choices into the design of SpaceShipTwo.

The hybrid engine took a decade to scale up for SpaceShipTwo. It also claimed three lives in an explosion because Scaled had misplaced confidence in the safety of nitrous oxide.

Scaled Composites also lacked the required expertise to properly address pilot error in a human spaceship. When that was pointed out by FAA safety experts with experience on the space shuttle, George Nield issued a waiver instead of making Scaled perform the analysis properly. Whether a proper analysis would have prevented the loss of SpaceShipTwo Enterprise and Mike Alsbury is something we will never know.

So, this is a rather bittersweet anniversary. Scaled can certainly take pride in its accomplishments. It was the apex of Burt Rutan’s career. But, that pride is mixed with knowledge of all the pain and frustrations that occurred in the decade that followed. The loss of valued colleagues and the destruction of a ship engineers spent years building.

Great Overview of the Technical Aspects of Elon Musk’s BFR

Video Caption: Elon Musk presented the latest updates on SpaceX’s long term plans for their ‘BFR’ at the IAC in Adelaide. I now have an inbox of messages asking for my take on it all so – let’s talk about the plans that he presented.

The main points are the BFR (Big Rocket) is now a lot smaller than the original design, it still uses 2 stages and refuels in orbit enabling it to go to Mars, but now it’ll also be setup as a satellite launch vehicle, cargo ship able to visit ISS and the surface of the moon. But most surprisingly, and perhaps least realistically, he pitched a new passenger design intended to carry people halfway around the Earth at hypersonic speeds.

Meet the Son of Shuttle: Elon Musk’s BFR Will Do It All

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk introduced a renamed version of his Martian colonial transport vehicle on Friday that was simultaneously shrunken somewhat in size but much larger in its ambition.

The big change in the newly renamed BFR  — for big effing rocket — involved reducing the number of first stage engines from 42 to 31 engines. Despite the reduction, the second stage booster/spacecraft would still be capable of carrying up to 100 people to the Red Planet.

The biggest change involves BFR’s scope. Not only would it the basis for building a Mars colony and moon base, it would completely disrupt terrestrial transportation by taking passengers between any two spots on Earth in less than an hour.

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Lockheed Martin Reveals New Details to its Mars Base Camp Vision

DENVER, Sept. 28, 2017 (Lockheed Martin PR) — Today, at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Adelaide, Australia, Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) experts are revealing new details of its Mars Base Camp concept including how it aligns with NASA’s lunar Deep Space Gateway and a Mars surface lander.

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