Elon Unbound: Musk’s Giant Leap to Mars

A view from martian orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Since Elon Musk unveiled his Big [Expletive] Rocket (BFR) in Adelaide last month, there has been a lot of analysis of the engineering aspects. Musk’s Ask Me Anything session on Reddit was an engineer’s dream, with the billionaire providing detailed answers about the Raptor engines, thrust to weight ratios and a host of other technical issues.

Amid all the technical talk, there has been little attention paid to what a giant leap this venture is for Musk, SpaceX and possibly the entire human race. Not only will BFR be larger and more powerful than any other rocket ever built, the audacious things Musk wants to do with it – ranging from point to point transportation on Earth to satellite delivery to sending colonists to the moon and Mars – are on a scale never before attempted. They are certainly beyond anything contemplated by the world’s space agencies.

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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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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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Doubts Raised About Elon Musk’s Point-to-Point by Rocket Plan

BFR crew vehicle propulsion (Credit: SpaceX)

John Logsdon has spotted a potentially showstopping problem with Elon Musk’s plans to fly people point-to-point using his humongous rocket.

“It is a very attractive prospect, but I think extremely unrealistic in any relevant time frame,” Logsdon told CNBC in an interview….

Passengers on a spacecraft are subject to forces that are as much as five times the force of gravity as they accelerate into space, then are in microgravity or zero gravity for the duration of the flight. They get hit with the G-force again on landing, he said.

“The idea that a typical airline passenger would be able to go through the experience just doesn’t compute,” he said. “Musk calls all of this ‘aspirational,’ which is a nice code word for more than likely not achievable.”

However, Logsdon did say Musk’s presence and his work is healthy for the industry overall.

“I think the phenomenon called Elon Musk is fascinating and serves as a kind of beacon of hope that there is a better space future ahead of us,” he said, “and the transition from that beacon to reality will almost certainly take longer than Elon and his supporters hope.”

Read the full story.

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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Stephen Hawking to Help Name Virgin Galactic’s Second SpaceShipTwo

Stephen Hawking (Credit: NASA)
Stephen Hawking (Credit: NASA)

UPDATE: Looks as if the unveiling will be on Friday, Feb. 19, here in Mojave.

Stephen Hawking will name the second SpaceShipTwo vehicle when it is rolled out of its hangar next month in Mojave, Calif.

Sir Richard has invited the theoretical physicist and cosmologist Stephen Hawking to name the new plane at the unveiling. He has already offered the scientist Virgin Galactic’s only free ticket into space – which Professor Hawking has accepted, provided his health allows it.

“Obviously, we had a year’s delay after the accident and it’s tremendous that Stephen Hawking has agreed to come and name the new spaceship,” Sir Richard said.

“He has made it very clear that he thinks mankind and womankind need to work very hard to try to colonise other planets and that space is very important for people back here on Earth,” he said.

Hawking has a free ticket on SpaceShipTwo which now costs a cool $250,000 (up from $20o,000 in 2013). The PR benefits of having the world-famous physicist involved in the roll out ceremony is probably well worth the cost. And it’s the least Hawking can do for such a generous gift.

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Branson: Virgin Galactic Leading the Way in Clean Spaceflight

SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)
SpaceShipTwo in powered flight. (Credit: Virgin Galactic)

Richard Branson is once again talking up how clean his space program is despite all objective evidence to the contrary.

“We are doing everything we can to try to work towards turning the world into a place that’s run by clean energy, not dirty energy. We’ve managed to reduce the amount of energy, of carbon output, to get somebody into space … to less than a round-trip, economy class, from London to New York,” he said.
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Video: Branson Predicts New York to Tokyo in Under an Hour

Virgin Group Founder Richard Branson was on CNBC’s Squawk Box the other day talking up his plans to follow up Virgin Galactic’s suborbital space tourism flights with hypersonic point-to-point transcontinental commercial passenger service.

IFG Leads Florida Pathfinder Flights Project to Promote for Space Tourism

Starfighters
MIAMI (IFG PR) — InterFlight Global (IFG) has partnered with Starfighters Aerospace at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) to lead, design, develop and conduct a Space Tourism Point-to-Point Pathfinder set of flight missions using Starfighters’ supersonic F-104 jet aircraft. IFG intends to promote, develop, enhance and position Florida as the world’s leading Space Tourism hub.

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Front Range Airport Executive Director Departs

Front_Range_AirportDennis Heap has been dismissed as executive director of the Front Range Airport near Denver after 19 years in the position, the airport authority said in a terse, two-paragraph press release.

The Front Range Airport Authority announced today that Ken Lawson, assistant director of aviation, will serve as interim aviation director. Dennis Heap’s last day of employment with the airport was Monday, Aug. 19, 2013.

“The Front Range Airport Authority appreciates the many years of dedicated service that Dennis provided as aviation director,” said Stephanie Takis, chair of the airport authority. “However, the Authority decided to move in a new direction.”

The Denver Business Journal reports:

Lawson on Tuesday told me that the authority and Heap parted ways due to a personnel, contractual matter.

“The authority and Heap could not come to an agreement on an employment contract,” Lawson said. Heap’s current contract was due to end on Dec. 31, Lawson said.

Front Range Airport is currently seeking a spaceport license in the hope of becoming a major center for point-to-point suborbital travel.

 

Move Over, Jet Engines! Here Comes SABRE!


The Biggest Breakthrough in Propulsion Since the Jet Engine
Reaction Engines Press Release
November 28, 2012

Reaction Engines Ltd. can announce today the biggest breakthrough in aerospace propulsion technology since the invention of the jet engine. Critical tests have been successfully completed on the key technology for SABRE, an engine which will enable aircraft to reach the opposite side of the world in under 4 hours, or to fly directly into orbit and return in a single stage, taking off and landing on a runway.

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Reaction Engines Says Tech for Sabre Engine in Place


Reaction Engines announced today that tests have verified that the technology is in place to build its Sabre engine, which lies at the heart of its reusable, single-stage-to-orbit Skylon spacecraft.

The news brings the promise of not only routine, affordable access to space but also point-to-point travel at Mach 5 and major improvements in fuel efficiency for existing airliners. The announcement featured a major endorsement of the technology by ESA, has has worked with the British company to evaluate the results of the tests, Reuters reports.

“ESA are satisfied that the tests demonstrate the technology required for the Sabre engine development,” the agency’s head of propulsion engineering Mark Ford told a news conference.

“One of the major obstacles to a re-usable vehicle has been removed,” he said. “The gateway is now open to move beyond the jet age.”

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