back to article Rocket Lab boss Peter Beck talks to The Reg about crap weather, reusing boosters, and taking a trip to Venus

As Rocket Lab sought to get its Electron booster back into action, The Register spoke to CEO Peter Beck about finding faults, recovering rockets, and missions to Venus. "It's rubbish at the moment," observed Beck of the weather at the New Zealand launch site as the privately owned company looked to return to flight this week …

  1. Stork Silver badge

    He complains about the weather in NZ

    - and wants to go to Venus?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: He complains about the weather in NZ

      Yes, weird.

    2. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: He complains about the weather in NZ

      I'm in New Zealand right now, and it's nearly 400°C here at the moment.

      Or 14°.

      One or the other.

    3. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

      Re: He complains about the weather in NZ

      I'm pretty sure Peter Beck is actually Tom Baker from another dimension. If he doesn't like the weather, surely he could just hop into his Tardis and go some(place/time) else.

  2. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Boffin

    15kg for the return chute?

    Colour me impressed - my emergency chute is over two kilos and I neither mass as much as a rocket nor (usually!) arrive at orbital speeds.

    1. Robert Grant Silver badge

      Re: 15kg for the return chute?

      The chute doesn't slow it down from orbital speeds :)

    2. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: 15kg for the return chute?

      An extra 15kg in stage 2 would reduce the payload by 15kg. The the parachutes go in stage 1 so they can be considerably heavier and only reduce the payload by 15kg.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: 15kg for the return chute?

        Doh... I should have known that. It's still impressive though.

    3. fishman

      Re: 15kg for the return chute?

      The payload is reduced by 15 Kg. Usually for every 5-10Kg added to the first stage, the payload is reduced by 1Kg. So the parachute and other equipment added to the first stage for recovery could weigh as much as 150Kg.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge
        Unhappy

        Re: 15kg for the return chute?

        In Tori Bruno's tour of the ULA factory he mentions the "exchange rate" for Atlas (7000 series Aluminum isogrid) as about 7:1 for booster mass increase Vs loss of US payload.

        So a 15Kg payload loss equates to 105Kg of additional equipment on the booster.

        This is probably still too much to make the Vulcan booster reusable in its entirety :-(

        OTOH they do have the highest performance US in the world with pressure stabilized steel tanks and LH2 fuel.

  3. Chris G Silver badge

    Venus

    I have always wondered why there are not more probes sent to Venus, I know Mars is interesting because it offers more potential for life and colonies but Venus is close and has a lot of organic chemistry going on.

    It would be amazing if some kind of extremophile life was found in the clouds.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I have always wondered why there are not more probes sent to Venus, ...

      The Mekon?

    2. Matthew Brasier

      Re: Venus

      Venus probes tend to have a very short lived lifespan, and it has a much less hospitable environment for radio signals. Simply put, for the same cost as getting a little data from venus, you can get a lot of data from mars. However it is starting to get to the point where a little data from venus offers more unique insights than "yet more data from mars".

    3. logicalextreme Silver badge

      Re: Venus

      I've stared at the Venera surface photographs many times. Mars, not so much.

      It's certainly a lot more challenging to get a probe to survive long enough to do anything useful over there.

      1. Youngone Silver badge

        Re: Venus

        Amazingly Venera 9 sent pictures back from the surface of Venus in 1975.

        Boggles the mind really.

        1. Lon24

          Re: Venus

          Why? Those amazing years between 1960 & 1975 saw a rapid advance in technology and achievement that, imho, has not been matched since,

          Not only spaceflight but aircraft, computers and, even more importantly, MUSIC. Oh and remember Venus in Blue Jeans? Yep, girls were much prettier then.

    4. Maelstorm Bronze badge

      Re: Venus

      The reason why we don't send more probes to Venus might have to do with the fact that the surface of the planet is hot enough to melt lead. Yes, around 400°C. The only photographs from Venus (that I'm aware of) are from Russian probes back in the 1960s. As for having life in the clouds, sulphuric acid isn't exactly conductive to life...although we have microbes that can survive in highly acidic environments here on Earth.

      Actual photo from the surface of Venus from Soviet probe

    5. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Venus

      The tendency to melt/breakdown/fail within minutes has a lot to do with it

      IIRC one probe turned into a puddle of slag when the environmental chamber was opened

      There have been a number of proposals for balloon probes, but slowing things down enough to deploy them is one problem and the sulfuric(*) acid cloud composition won't be kind to devices either

      That said: If there WAS life on Venus it's likely to still be there and most likely in the clouds or several tens of metres underground. Extremophiles will ensure that's the case

      (*) It's the correct internationalised spelling, unfortunately :(

      1. TheProf Silver badge

        Re: If there WAS life on Venus

        If there WAS IS life on Venus

      2. MyffyW Silver badge

        Re: Venus

        "Extremophiles"

        I'm just waiting for the Daily Mail headline...

    6. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Venus

      Is deltaV also a factor? Odd as it sounds to send something towards the sun, and then decelerate, can actually be harder than sending something outwards. Not sure about Venus, but I've heard it touted as a reason why it's so damned hard to get in orbit around Mercury.

      1. the spectacularly refined chap

        Re: Venus

        Things are a lot easier at Venus, the Russians were doing it decades ago. A manned orbital mission was touted by some as the logical next step after Apollo. It has the advantage over Mars in that you can be there and back in under a year.

  4. heyrick Silver badge

    Venus is under appreciated

    Might have something to do with the fact that one can drop something on Mars and it'll trundle around until it gets stuck or dies of old age.

    Venus, on the other hand, it's impressive if a probe can make it to the ground before melting, which - I'm sure you can understand - makes it rather difficult to perform all those important on-site tests and examinations that would be necessary to help us understand Venus.

    1. Sceptic Tank
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Venus is under appreciated

      He just wants to go there because that's where the girls are.

      1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge
        Mushroom

        Re: Venus is under appreciated

        The *really* hot ones, I assume.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Venus is under appreciated

          Just make sure it's not the kind that like to visit the Collosseum:

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/20_Million_Miles_to_Earth

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Venus is under appreciated

      Don't bother with the ground, we need a balloon about 55km above the ground - temperature about 27C and pressure about 0.5 atmospheres (roughly the same as the top of Mont Blanc)

      Pity about the sulphuric acid

      1. Mike Richards Silver badge

        Re: Venus is under appreciated

        The Soviet Union included a couple of balloon probes in their two Vega landers. These explored the upper Venusian atmosphere for a couple of days before their batteries died. The two balloons were made of PTFE-coated plastic to protect them from sulfuric acid (and the hydrofluoric acid they discovered) and floated at just about the altitude you suggested, not just because it is a good pressure, but because it has the strongest winds. More info here:

        https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/2019/06/dear-vega-forgotten-soviet-mission-that-flew-around-venus/

        https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraft/display.action?id=1984-128F

        A shame there haven't been any further missions along these lines; if only to try and pin down whether Venus has lightning and perhaps to listen for infrasound from any volcanoes that might be grumbling away down there.

    3. logicalextreme Silver badge

      Re: Venus is under appreciated

      I think the probes get crushed by atmospheric pressure before they have a chance to get too melty. It's a delightful planet.

  5. Persona Silver badge

    Venus is a terrible place

    https://what-if.xkcd.com/30/

    1. Youngone Silver badge

      Re: Venus is a terrible place

      I love this bit: The upshot is: Your plane would fly pretty well, except it would be on fire the whole time, and then it would stop flying, and then stop being a plane.

      Understated.

  6. MacroRodent Silver badge
    Alien

    Climate change

    > boffins also reckon that the proximity of the planet to the Sun made the water evaporate,

    That's what they tell us. In reality the Venusian civilization burned all their coal and oil... Drill baby drill...

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Climate change

      the sun has warmed up enough in the last 4 billion years that earth is now sitting perilously close to the inner edge of the goldilocks zone.

      In 500 million years we will face the same fate as Venus, without AGW. AGW could just make it happen "sooner" (or could cause a Permian Reset)

      1. MacroRodent Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Climate change

        > In 500 million years we will face the same fate as Venus,

        I once saw a proposal about what could be done about it. It involves steering an asteroid to make regular fly-bys of Earth, arranged so that it gradually nudges Earth to a higher orbit. This has to go on for thousands of years, because each nudge has a very small effect.

        Of course, this is utterly infeasible. The technical problems of finding and steering a suitable asteroid could probably be solved (Orion engines!), but there is no way we can finance and run a global, technically sophisticated organization for thousands of years to take care of it. So the 500 million years is the limit of our existence. Too bad.

        1. Paul Kinsler

          Re: nudge Earth to a higher orbit.

          Well, there's always this ... :-)

          The 'Earth Rocket': a Method for Keeping the Earth in the Habitable Zone

          Mark A. Wessels

          The Sun is expected to increase its radiant output by about 10% per billion years. The rate at which the radius of the Earth's orbit would need to increase in order to keep the present value of the Sun's radiant flux at the Earth constant is calculated. The mechanical power required to achieve this is also calculated. Remarkably, this is a small fraction (2.3%) of the total solar flux currently intercepted by the Earth. Treating the Earth itself as a rocket, the thrust required to increase the orbit is found, as well as the rate of mass ejection. The Earth has sufficient mass to maintain this rate for several billion years, allowing for the possibility that the Earth could remain habitable to biological life for billions of years into the future.

          https://arxiv.org/abs/1711.08550

        2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

          Re: Climate change

          From what I remember there are a couple of other factors to take into account:

          • The sun's gravity is slowly reducing due to enthusiatically ejecting matter into the solar system which is reducing it's mass by 0.4 trillionths of a percent per year.
          • Earth is slowly moving away from the sun at a rate of about 15cm a year.

          Quite how these compare in 500m years time...

    2. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Climate change

      Venusian Cows, reared for their delicious burger meat, ultimately farted the civilisation into oblivion.

  7. HildyJ Silver badge
    Pint

    Good news for Rocket Lab

    The FAA has approved Rocket Lab's application for US launches. iI can now officially operate from their LC-2 pad at Wallops Island, Virginia.

    A pint of Becks for Mr. Beck.

    And best of luck with Venus. The unknown UV absorbers in the clouds have been speculated as being microbes since Carl Sagan.

    I, myself, am hoping for blimp-like filter feeders.

  8. First Light Bronze badge

    Venus creatures

    I'm hoping for tardigrades.

  9. This post has been deleted by its author

  10. Scott 26
    Alien

    Venus life

    So long it's not a blue crystalline structure

    1. Maelstorm Bronze badge
      Terminator

      Re: Venus life

      If it is, then we might be able to explore other worlds without using FTL drives.

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Happy

    Exciting times.

    BTW until Electron started flying Beck reckoned doing recovery on a launcher this size was impossible.

    After about 12 flights (and actual telemetry) that started to change. And should continue to improve as they leverage Li ion cell improvements in the market.

    With pad turnaround times at 31 days. (and hopefully continuing to drop) Flight 17 flies by early December.

    Actual in flight catching could follow as soon as flight 18

    However actual reflight of the recovered stage is likely much further off. SX, who like it or not are the only benchmark for this, took roughly a year to refly their first recovered booster. OTOH Electron is much smaller and presents a smaller inspection target.

    By Dec 2021 we could be looking at 2 partially reusable launch vehicles one of which is 100x bigger than the other.

    That means anyone looking to get funding for yet another TSTO ELV without 1st stage reuse had either better have their funding already committed or have one hell of a sales pitch, because there's no real reason to bother otherwise. :-(

    Caveats. This assumes no further launch mishaps leading to stand downs and ocean recovery reveals no show stoppers needing either extensive re-design (making it uneconomic) or issues with the physics that make it impossible at this scale. As always, hope for the best but plan for the worst.

    All of which means pretty exciting times for those of us interested in this sort of thing.

  12. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Oh, one last point.

    This also assumes that Flight 17 (provisionally entitled "I'm not sure what we'll call this one yet") is recovered in the first and does not sink like a stone in very deep water.

    IOW Although they are looking good (RTF in less than 3 months is pretty sharp) it's not a done deal by a long way.

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