back to article Elon Musk's ambitions for Starship soar high while reality waits on launchpad

Elon Musk took part in an interview at the International Astronautical Congress this week and demonstrated a reality distortion field that would make even the most ardent Steve Jobs fanatic take a step back. The interview, which seemed more of a platform for Musk to extol his vision for interplanetary spaceflight rather than a …

  1. Andy 73 Silver badge

    At some point...

    People will realise that all of the real work is being done by engineers bought by Musk, and that his "direction" of those engineers does as much damage as it does good. In some cases, more.

    1. aerogems Silver badge

      Re: At some point...

      You may recall about 2-years ago when Twitler had a bunch of people fired because they signed a letter requesting he be sidelines because he was becoming a distraction from the serious work they were doing. The engineers at SpaceX already know.

      https://techcrunch.com/2022/06/17/spacex-said-to-have-fired-employees-behind-company-wide-letter-criticizing-elon-musk/?guccounter=1

      1. TheMaskedMan Silver badge

        Re: At some point...

        "You may recall about 2-years ago when Twitler had a bunch of people fired"

        I do recall. I also recall being amazed that such allegedly smart engineers didn't see their inevitable departure coming before they signed the letter.

        See, his Muskiness owns the company. He does the telling, everyone else does what they're told. That's how it works. I'm sure that, on matters within their expertise, their views are at least heard if not actually acted upon. But how the company is run is far from their remit, and if they really don't like it both they and the company benefit from their immediate departure. While he is undoubtedly a pillock, it is not for anyone else to demand that he runs his company in a way that pleases them.

        Musk time may not have much to do with reality, but it doesn't seem to be doing SpaceX any harm. I have no doubt that Starship will continue to explode, to the gleeful delight of onlookers, until it eventually doesn't. At that point they're off to the races.

        1. aerogems Silver badge

          Re: At some point...

          While what you say is certainly true, there's also a lot of wisdom in allowing your employees to express themselves freely. Even if it makes you look bad from time to time. There's only so many rocket engineers out there, and considering they need to also be able to get a security clearance, which doesn't come cheap, you limit the pool even more. Pretty soon you'll be like Amazon where you've already fired everyone willing to take a job in your shitty warehouse and find yourself without anyone left to hire. You can potentially automate a warehouse, but you can't really automate designing and building rocket engines... yet anyway.* Then if you fire all your best people and they go to work for Blue Origin or some other company, how much longer can SpaceX's technical lead hold out?

          The phrase "cutting off your nose to spite your face" seems to apply here. There's nothing illegal about it, it's just incredibly shortsighted and stupid.

          * Bootnote: Now I'm curious what an AI would come up with if tasked with designing a rocket to get a person to Mars and back

          1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

            Re: At some point...

            It would probably look superficially like a rocket, but have a hand with seventeen fingers clipping through the nose cone.

          2. MyffyW Silver badge

            Re: At some point...

            I think the AI would bring Mars suspiciously closer to Earth, cue a '50s B-movie plot with artful painted backdrops and heaving, rocket-cone shaped busts

        2. Andy 73 Silver badge

          Re: At some point...

          I think you missed the point of the letter. Putting things like that out in the public are how workers in a company try to build support for changing company policies - or even senior management. In other companies, this is how unions become organised.

          Yes, this group lost the bet - but their bet was either change of behaviour or they didn't want to work there. Just because Musk "called their bluff" doesn't mean it wasn't ultimately the best choice for them.

          Musk's great skill is selling a vision to people with money that is not entirely linked to reality - that does the companies he's bought no end of good, and allows them to spend their way to workable products. The danger for those companies is if his visions lead them on wild goose chases, or people eventually feel defrauded when they realise their money has not gone towards the vision they were sold, but building a distinctly less revolutionary business that ultimately only benefits Musk.

        3. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

          Re: At some point...

          One rocket not exploding is not the same as all subsequent rockets not exploding.

          Musk would have to demonstrate a track record of many rockets not exploding before anyone sensible is going to trust them with a payload that they don't want to run the risk of being destroyed in a sudden runaway thermodynamic disassembly event.

          Admittedly, non-living payloads can be insured and replaced, so chances with possible explodification can be taken. Once you start talking about putting humans on board, the rules are very different.

          1. Gordon 10

            Re: At some point...

            To be absolutely fair to his Muskiness (if I must) SpaceX has the best non-explody rocket record in the business.

            They have a similar % success rate for *landing" rockets (~95%) as Ariane does for launching them. Gobsmacking really.

            1. MachDiamond Silver badge

              Re: At some point...

              "To be absolutely fair to his Muskiness (if I must) SpaceX has the best non-explody rocket record in the business."

              Not when it comes to Starship where the non-exploded count is 1. The Falcon is a completely different product line and had already gone through a bunch of failures before getting to where it is now.

        4. MyffyW Silver badge

          Re: At some point...

          Starship will continue to explode, to the gleeful delight of onlookers, until it eventually doesn't

          Upvote for that beautifully crafted sentence, sir. Made me giggle.

    2. Groo The Wanderer Bronze badge

      Re: At some point...

      Musk's only "benefit" is having the MONEY to hire them. Every time he opens his mouth, he seems to be contradicting them, contradicting reality, and generally demonstrating a state of mind so detached from what normal people consider "real" it is mind-boggling.

  2. Brian 3

    Musk's timelines are inverse Montgomery Scott. So... multiply by 4 to get closer to the real timeline.

  3. aerogems Silver badge
    WTF?

    I really just don't get how people can still be blind to the fact that the whole Mars thing is just a grift to fund SpaceX. But, if I had my way, I'd tell the FAA to grant Twitler's license(s) on the conditions that

    1) He be a passenger on the maiden flight

    2) The landing test is conducted on Mars, not Earth

    As far as I'm concerned, it doesn't matter if the rocket suffers some kind of catastrophic failure along the way or everything works perfectly; Twitler is no longer our problem, so a net win for society as a whole.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      All future US launch contracts should be given to ULA on a cost+plus basis with the actual amounts classified fore national security.

      Because the CEO of SpaceX is a dick and the President of LockheedBoeingMartinBAe is a saint

      1. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

        This is the problem, people worshipping ceos. Notice the reply is all about the leader, and nothing else.

  4. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Alien

    Getting people to Mars seems relatively easy

    It's getting them back that's hard.

    1. abend0c4

      Re: Getting people to Mars seems relatively easy

      I think you've just triggered Suella Braverman.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Getting people to Mars seems relatively easy

        On the plus side, don't think she can organise a pissup in a brewery - but that won't stop her being a serious candidate to replace Sunak in the eyes of the ones that voted in Truss.

        What hope for Mars when her government just gave up trying to get a high speed rail line built from London to Manchester. Though getting to Mars would be cheaper

        1. Elongated Muskrat Silver badge

          Re: Getting people to Mars seems relatively easy

          Well, she'll be at least entertaining as an opposition leader for a couple of years before she gets the boot for another fruitloop.

          1. CountCadaver Silver badge

            Re: Getting people to Mars seems relatively easy

            People said the same about Hitler.....

    2. Ian Johnston Silver badge

      Re: Getting people to Mars seems relatively easy

      Getting people to Mars seems relatively easy

      Getting them there alive is somewhat harder. What sort of radiation shielding does Mr Musk's huge erection sport?

      1. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

        Re: Getting people to Mars seems relatively easy

        What sort of radiation shielding does Mr Musk's huge erection sport?

        His ego. Proof against *anything*

  5. gecho

    Mars Taxation

    Since Musk gets US tax breaks on his plans to abandon Earth, does the US get to tax Mars profits?

    1. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: Mars Taxation

      "does the US get to tax Mars profits?"

      This is where it all falls down.... what profits? The surface of Mars could be littered with precious metals whose mining can be done with nothing more than a rake and it could still be a losing venture. A Mars expedition done by a state entity or several nations in collaboration would concentrate on science and that will be worth the price paid in a sense. The technology spin-offs from NASA every year benefit all of society. While the Apollo missions were very expensive, the work done in metallurgy and electronics advanced the state of the art quite a bit. None of that tech transfer would take place with a private company. It would be held secret or delayed until patents expired.

      What's the business case for sending people to Mars? Anybody, Bueller, Bueller?

  6. Orv Silver badge

    A lot of the N1's problems were quality control related. One launch failed because someone left a bolt inside a propellant tank and a turbopump ingested it and grenaded, for example. They weren't even testing every engine before flight, something I believe SpaceX is doing. However, the two spacecraft do have a rushed development process in common.

    1. Andy 73 Silver badge

      Isn't the attendant problem very high numbers of points of failure, and very bad modes of failure? Saying N1 failed because "they just weren't trying hard enough" might be slightly missing the reason designs like the N1 are not common.

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Andy 73,

        You might be right, and the N1 wasn’t possible with the available technology. But the Soviets never got to find that out because of their quality control problems. Not testing every engine for example seems like a very bad decision.

        1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

          N1 Engine tests

          N1 engines could only be started once. If you tested one - pass or fail - it could not fly because some of the valves were actuated by explosives.

          Raptor engine parts and subassemblies are tested non-destructively. All raptor engines are test fired at McGregor before being installed at Boca Chica. For some reason some commenters like to say raptors have a high failure rate because of failures on the super heavy launch. A more reasonable guess at the time (later confirmed in the mishap report) was a system level issue rather than an engine issue. (Leaky pipes on the booster started a fire that burned the connection between the engines and their control computer)

        2. Catkin Silver badge

          The Soviets also laboured under the weight of ossified, territorial design bureaus who refused to offer up their engines for N-1 because they had their own pet rocket projects.

    2. Martin Gregorie

      Mars taxation

      Spot on.

      I used to fly free flight models (F1A gliders and F1J power models to be precise) in competitions where assorted Soviet model flyers used to turn up (and were expected, complete with their KGB keeper) through the '70s and 80s, though by the '90s and into the Gorbachev era the 'minders' had vanished, so I got to know some of them quite well. They were all cynics to a man and the stories that came out as the vodka started to flow were amazing. One of their common sayings was:

      "The State pretends to pay us and we pretend to work".

      The contrast between the quality of Soviet manufactured goods and that of the free flight models they'd designed and built had to be seen to be believed: all this took place when the FAI Free Flight Competition Rule contained a rule requiring all competitors to have built their own models, so we knew that their beautiful and innovative models were their their own work, including engines and timers.

      1. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

        Re: Mars taxation

        F1A, that takes me back to childhood and Barkston Heath...

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You couldn't static-fire NK-15 engines at all, because the valves were activated by pyros, and thus were one-time-use-only.

      And speaking of bolts, there was the Proton that did launch gymnastics because an accelerometer had been installed upside down - using a hammer to defeat the bracketry specifically designed to stop such an event. To quote the Beastie Boys: Sabotage?

      And of course, the Soviets lacked the necessary number of Nazi Rocket Scientists.

    4. mostly average
      Windows

      Rushed?

      I believe they prefer the term, "agile."

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Rushed?

        "agile" is very important - especially if you're anywhere near the launch pad

    5. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

      There may have been quality control, but the N1 failed because they didnt have the funds to do testing of the entire stack on the ground to discover problems that only happen when you have lots of engines firing. For example most problems only exhibit themselves in flight, like the vibration or pogo problem, one engine fired on the ground is not the same as firing many in flight.

    6. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      N1 was rushed - Starship/Superheavy are deliberately hardware rich.

      There is a significant difference.

  7. HereAndGone

    A brief look back

    What NASA Risks By Betting On Elon Musk's SpaceX

    Loren Thompson

    Senior Contributor May 23, 2011

    https://www.forbes.com/sites/beltway/2011/05/23/what-nasa-risks-by-betting-on-elon-musks-spacex/?sh=695f927c6eb2

    "Even a cursory review of SpaceX programs and plans reveals reasons for doubt. The questions begin with a business strategy that isn't just disruptive, but downright incredible. Mr. Musk says that he can offer launch prices far below those quoted by any traditional provider -- including the Chinese -- by running a lean, vertically integrated enterprise with minimal government oversight that achieves sizable economies of scale. The economies of scale are possible, he contends, because there is huge pent-up demand for space travel in the marketplace that cannot be met within the prevailing pricing structure. By dropping prices substantially, this latent demand can then be unlocked, greatly increasing the rate of rocket production and launches. When combined with other features of the SpaceX business model, the increased pace of production and launches results in revolutionary price reductions.

    There isn't much serious research to demonstrate that the pent-up demand Musk postulates really exists, nor that the price reductions he foresees are feasible. He has suggested in some interviews that launch costs could decline to a small fraction of current levels if all the assumptions in his business plan come true, and he has posted a commentary on his web-site explaining how SpaceX is already able to offer the lowest prices in the business."

    "So far, SpaceX's track record is decidedly mixed, with three launch failures in seven attempts, sizable schedule delays, and some fairly substantial price increases above what were originally proposed. With regard to launch failures, the company did not succeed in launching its initial Falcon 1 vehicle until the fourth try, about five years after it originally proposed to demonstrate the system."

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A brief look back

      "There isn't much serious research to demonstrate that the pent-up demand Musk postulates really exists, nor that the price reductions he foresees are feasible"

      Whilst I'm reluctant to side with Musk on anything, it's pretty clear from the rate of increase in satellites in orbit that there is and was a substantial pent up demand for for launches. If anyone posits that past performance does not predict the future, take a look at satellites per capita and form the obvious conclusion. As for economies of scale, well they're a thing whether airhead journalists understand or not. Economies of scale are the key enabler of the industrial revolution, and as such the basis of all the technology we enjoy today.

      Musk, well he's still a pillock, but that wasn't the basis of the article that was quoted. I might also add that many famours entrepreneurs and technologists have been opinionated, sometimes difficult people. My own dad worked on gas turbines at Pyestock, and knew Frank Whittle. He characterised Whittle as a miserable old sod. But Frank is still a man that history will remember, and rightly so.

      1. HereAndGone

        Irony

        That was entirely the point!

        I didn't think I needed to overtly explain the irony of the article in light of events proving it wrong.

        Sigh ....

      2. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: A brief look back

        "it's pretty clear from the rate of increase in satellites in orbit that there is and was a substantial pent up demand for for launches"

        What is it when you deduct all of the Starlink debris being sent up by Elon? It's about the same except for more Cubesats on rideshare missions.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A brief look back

        Whittle was a tech guy but he never headed Power Jets alone. There were other aeronautical types and businessmen in the running it - including Helena Bonham-Carter's grandfather

    2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
      IT Angle

      Re: A brief look back

      Musk is a pillock, and more than likely a complete pain in the ass to work with.

      However, its not the people who played it safe history remembers.

      Plus hes saving the US taxpayer millions by having a cheaper launch option than ULA ever produced, such as the falcon heavy costing less to fly in full on throwaway configuration than a ULA rocket of the same lifting ability(and if the falcon heavy can land the sideboosters and core stage its even cheaper)

      Spacex have also proved the reliabilty of their rockets as they've lost 2 in 200+ launches (one to a helium tank failure and 1 to a manufacturing fault in the helium tank asembly)

      As for starship, all they've proved with that is that it can fly with multiple engine failures, an APU failure, a flight control failure,its strong enough to survive the flight termination system, and it would be great for digging big holes really quickly if you got it to hover at 40 foot from the ground.

      heres looking forward to starships next launch.

      PS Musk is still a pillock even with the above going for him

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: A brief look back

        "such as the falcon heavy costing less to fly in full on throwaway configuration than a ULA rocket of the same lifting ability(and if the falcon heavy can land the sideboosters and core stage its even cheaper)"

        Now add up how many F9H's have flown..... four (aside from Martin Eberhard's Roadster being sent on the first flight as a big FU).

        Rockets have been landed since the 1960's. It hasn't been a technical issue, it's been financial. The added risk and the low launch demand aren't there for a big market in reusable boosters. There's about a 40% performance hit to make a booster reusable and breakeven is on the order of 10 uses. Frankly, it's been cheaper to just drop the boosters into the ocean to this point. Elon is launching so many Starlink sats that reuse is important since Starlink, as advertised, is going to be hard pressed to ever make money so they need to save money on launches if they can.

        1. Ciaran McHale

          Re: A brief look back

          Elon Musk owned two Roadsters. One was with an early VIN number, I think the one that Martin Eberhard wanted. The other Roadster was a later, improved model. It was that later-model Roadster that was sent into Space.

          The ability to cut costs dramatically by reusing rockets is important not just for Starlink, but also to help SpaceX provide lower prices to customers for getting cargo into Orbit, and eventually for Elon's so-ambitious-it-seems-impossible goal of establishing a colony on Mars. As an example of lowering costs, a US Air Force general claimed that SpaceX has saved the US government $40 billion (source: https://spacenews.com/nelson-criticizes-plague-of-cost-plus-nasa-contracts/).

          As for your claim that there isn't a big demand for rocket launches... SpaceX's launch rate has been growing exponentially over the past few years, and it now accounts for 80% of the worldwide cargo being sent into orbit.

          1. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

            Re: A brief look back

            $40B ?

            SpaceX has done about 100 flights, that would mean every flight is saving tax payers $400M. The cost of flights using Boeing and the others arent even $400M each ?

            These figures are total bullshit - but hey words are free, providing evidence is a bit harder.

      2. bazza Silver badge

        Re: A brief look back

        >Spacex have also proved the reliabilty of their rockets as they've lost 2 in 200+ launches (one to a helium tank failure and 1 to a manufacturing fault in the helium tank asembly)

        That was back in the days when Elon Musk had more influence, and didn't care to pay for quality control. The first - when the helium tank came loose in flight - was because it turned out SpaceX wern't bothering to do any QC on the struts that attached the tank to the walls. The second - when the thing exploded on the pad during fuelling - happened because they were filling it with superchilled O2 (to get more O2 on board), but had never bothered testing the CF-wrapped helium tank immersed in such cold LOX. Turned out that the coating failed, pure O2 started infiltrating the carbon fibre weave, and kablooie. The fact that they blamed that particular incident initially on a sniper operating from the roof top of a ULA building tells you a lot about the maturity of the company at the time.

        What happened since was that, to get rated for crewed flight, NASA obliged SpaceX to do their QC home work properly. This came about following what was reported to be something of a train wreck of a meeting bewteen SpaceX and NASA, in which the company rolled out Elon's vision of "reliability demonstrated by means of having launched lots of of them successfully". NASA said nope, and kept saying nope. NASA's input into the Falcon 9 program is what's resulted in it becoming a highly reliable launcher.

        >As for starship, all they've proved with that is that it can fly with multiple engine failures, an APU failure, a flight control failure,its strong enough to survive the flight termination system, and it would be great for digging big holes really quickly if you got it to hover at 40 foot from the ground.

        That is being generous! That first flight is a still on going disaster for SpaceX, though few realise it.

        Firstly, to get a license for the second launch the company is having to persuade the FAA that they know what they're doing. Thing is, it's the same people who claimed to know what they were doing first time round. The FAA, rightly, can ask "so, what's changed to make it reasonable for us to believe you?".

        Secondly, the FAA itself. Their job is to vet license applications, and act as technical experts of last resort to ensure that companies really do know what they're doing. And, as the litany of things that went really badly wrong with the first launch shows - particularly the failure of the FTS to disintegrate the vehicle - the FAA failed in their role as tech experts of last resort; they believed SpaceX. The questions they should be asking themselves is, what went wrong in our assessment of the first launch license application, and how have we (the FAA) changed to ensure that we don't get it wrong a second time.

        This second one really, really matters because with a vehicle like this and an outcome like the first launch had, there is a very real possibility that a future launch could go just as badly wrong and end up wiping out Port Isabel or some other urban conibation. It's the FAA's job to prevent that. If the FAA decides that it cannot be competent enough to guarantee that, then they can't grant a license.

        Thirdly, the design itself. The failure of the flight termination system means they're going to need a bigger, better one. Thing is, Star Ship itself sitting on top also needs a FTS, and this too failed (despite Star Ship being fully loaded with LOX and LMETH - you'd think it'd have gone up immediately but it didn't). Also, Star Ship cannot afford to carry this FTS up into space. It needs to be dumped before reaching orbit, because it cannot afford to have lumps of explosives strapped to the outside when it re-enters the atmosphere for a landing. But, if a larger more comprehensive FTS means that dumping it becomes difficult, then the whole Star Ship concept could be toast.

        I think there is a real possibility of this; they used point charges to punch holes through the tank walls, and that failed to set anything off, and Star Ship did not disintegrate on command. Point charges can themselves be easily detached. If instead they're forced to have linear cutting charges strapped up the length of Star Ship, to be able to cut the thing open end to end, I don't see how they can then also detach those. If that's what they have to have, and they cannot detach them, then Star Ship won't be able to reenter the atmosphere and land without blowing itself to smithereens in the process. So it won't be re-usable. So the launch tempo would depend on manufacturing, not simply refurb / refuelling it. So, the rate at which Star Link V3 can be deployed is limited and more costly. Which probably risks the entire show.

        This analysis shows just how fragile a position SpaceX is probably in, and how dependent they are on the good will of the FAA to say "yes". Insulting the FAA is simply going to incline them to say "No", when there's probably still / already a ton of technical reasons to say "No" anyway.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          They don't dump the FTS

          FTS is simply disarmed, you routinely hear the call-outs during falcon 9 lauches ("Stage 1 FTS safed", "Stage 2 FTS safed").

          Stage 1 / boosters reenter with the FTS still on the booster, but disarmed.

          It would not exactly be in the interest of any launch provider to have a FTS that uses unstable explosives that can randomly detonate through vibration or heat...

          1. bazza Silver badge

            Re: They don't dump the FTS

            Falcon 9 is totally irrelevant. The Stage 1 never gets fast enough for atmospheric heating to be an issue. Stage 2 get disposed of.

            Name an explosive that is guaranteed not to detonate when heated to 2,500C (the temperature it would have to survive, still attached to the outside of StarShip on reentry).

            1. Mishak Silver badge

              Re: They don't dump the FTS

              There are plenty - plastics only explode when a detonator is used to initiate them. In fact, they burn nicely (and slowly), and make very good fuel for cooking on.

              1. bazza Silver badge

                Re: They don't dump the FTS

                There's a big difference between a blob of plastic with a match put to it, and the same stuff contained in a linear cutting charge with a detonator embedded in it getting very hot.

      3. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: A brief look back

        Plus hes saving the US taxpayer millions by having a cheaper launch option than ULA ever produced, such as the falcon heavy costing less to fly in full on throwaway configuration than a ULA rocket of the same lifting ability

        Your making the critical error of just looking at the ULA as a rocket. It's primarily a pork barrel delivery system designed to divert money to particular interests.

      4. RobDog

        Re: A brief look back

        My upvote was for everything but the pillock part. I don’t think he is. Every company needs a visionary, and every industry needs a disruptor. I’m ok with all of it.

    3. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: A brief look back

      "SpaceX's track record is decidedly mixed, with three launch failures in seven attempts"

      With Starship, they had one vehicle land and not blow up before launching the full stack. It wasn't a full up Starship, though. It was an empty hull test article with only 3 engines.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A brief look back

        Every starship test article launched OK, they just (mostly) didn't land. Zero launch failures until the full up test stack.

      2. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: A brief look back

        That was an article pre Falcon9

    4. Ciaran McHale

      Re: A brief look back

      According to a senior figure, SpaceX's ability to provide significantly lower cost (than competitors) for its services has saved the US government $40 billion: https://spacenews.com/nelson-criticizes-plague-of-cost-plus-nasa-contracts/

    5. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: A brief look back

      "and he has posted a commentary on his web-site explaining how SpaceX is already able to offer the lowest prices in the business.""

      Odd that SpaceX needs to raise hundreds of millions of dollars each year to keep the doors open. The Italian space agency just made a substantial investment in SpaceX. This smacks of a financial system that can't feed itself from generated revenue. Nor can they continue expensive development of new systems from earned income.

  8. theAltoid

    420

    Musk moved the Starship launch date up so he could watch the rocket go high into the air on 4/20, triggering a chain of events that lead to the big sky boom. What a tool.

    1. DS999 Silver badge

      Re: 420

      That's what you get when a stoner with a five year old's sense of humor is in charge. At least he leaves SpaceX alone most of the time since it has its own highly competent CEO unlike Tesla, or Twitter's powerless figurehead CEO.

      I bet Ms. Shotwell was very happy when Elon bought Twitter, because she knew he wouldn't have time to mess with SpaceX's operations for a while (other than changing that launch date, I guess)

    2. FeepingCreature Bronze badge

      417

      Once again, the launch was initially scheduled for 417. Like what, did Musk do a cheeky little weed-based rain dance?

  9. Gary Stewart

    The first experimental launch attempt of the starship used first generation hardware that was obsolete when it was launched. The entire reason for this launch was to find out how far they could go with this kit and what would be needed to make the next attempt work better. SpaceX was required to address all of the know problems (around 1000) with the first launch before they could attempt a second launch which they have now completed according to SpaceX.

    After watching these two videos I believe that the launch pad problem may be fixed! They are kind of long but the engineering and effort (and money) used to fix the launch pad is truly amazing and well worth the watch.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09DDpHdIYgU

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqVLP3DKOk4

    As I have said before, Musk lost me with the pedo incident and IMHO he has only spiraled downward since then. Luckily SpaceX has continued changing the future of space launch systems with and without him. They just launched and landed their 67th Falcon 9 and launched 3 Falcon Heavies as well this year. Two Falcon 9 boosters have now launched and landed 17 times. As an old timer that goes all the way back to the Mercury program this is like sci-fi to me, except of course it is really happening. For all his faults he has still managed, with a lot of help, to turn the space launch industry on its head.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Launch Pad Fixed?

      They've not done a full power test of it. By definition, it has not proven to be fixed.

      Every rocket engineer knows how to launch rocket such as this without destroying the pad or damaging the rocket. That they've not done so is, probably, asking for significant an on-going regulatory difficulties.

      >For all his faults he has still managed, with a lot of help, to turn the space launch industry on its head.

      Ha. Falcon 9 became reliable only after the child in the room was sidelined and the grown ups started listening to what NASA was saying about mandatory QC, if they ever wanted to get it rated for crewed flight. The credit really should go to NASA, who didn't actually have to help SpaceX fix Falcon 9 but did indeed help.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        Re: Launch Pad Fixed?

        "The credit really should go to NASA, who didn't actually have to help SpaceX fix Falcon 9 but did indeed help."

        NASA was under a lot of pressure. They chose SpaceX to construct a crew capsule to get astronauts to and from ISS and it was delivered 4 years late. In the mean time, NASA had to pay the Russians an increasing amount of money per set to send people up on Soyuz. Starting over with another company to get a ISS compatible crew capsule built and tested was going to add even more delays. Even with NASA's help, the first descent of a manned Dragon capsule almost lost the heat shield.

        SpaceX was going to be the sole provider for a lunar lander, but NASA is slowly learning not to trust Elon and his "optimistic" time lines so they've contracted with more companies to have options or the Artemis program could sit idle for years waiting. SLS is already a massive money pit. To have to put it on hold indefinitely would be an even bigger embarrassment.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Launch Pad Fixed?

          "and it was delivered 4 years late" maybe so but remind me how well the "old space" competitor has performed the same job...

          PS I'm defending SpaceX, not Musk: starting with the cave rescue pedo thing he's increasingly demonstrated he's a horrible person, and his Twatter train wreck is demonstrating he's no business genius either.

        2. bazza Silver badge

          Re: Launch Pad Fixed?

          > NASA was under a lot of pressure.

          They were, which rather illustrates the bad set up for How Space Is Done in the USA (political motivations...).

          The more sensible thing would have been to turn to the Europeans, and get them to do have done a crew capsule. Ariane 5 was crew-rated (though never flown as such), and the ATV was also crew rated, lacking only seats, a conical shape and a heat shield to have become a up-and-down capsule. All the necessary avionics / thrusters were already done (and these are the hard, expensive bit), and it could autonomously dock with the ISS (unlike Dragon).

          I guess it was a case of it had to be a US solution, and it was better that it was 4 years late than foreign!

          I think part of SpaceX being 4 years late was that you have to do an awful lot of qualification for a crew-rated vehicle. And the qualification is not just for the vehicle, it's the fitness-for-purpose of the organisation doing the work that gets qualified first (i.e. is its approach to QC and assurance right?). That sounds a bit meta, but one will not successfully build a crew-rated vehicle unless the organisation is right. Afterall, look at what one (deliberate?) lapse did in Boeing with the 737MAX.

          I suspect it took quite a while for SpaceX to adjust from the Muskian gung-ho approach to the necessarily mature approach NASA was needing to see before they'd let anyone get inside one of their products.

          >Even with NASA's help, the first descent of a manned Dragon capsule almost lost the heat shield.

          I hadn't heard that. Crew inside it? I think I'd have got pretty cross if I'd been onboard that one.

          1. MachDiamond Silver badge

            Re: Launch Pad Fixed?

            "I think part of SpaceX being 4 years late was that you have to do an awful lot of qualification for a crew-rated vehicle."

            No, Elon was off doing other things and there is video of at least one NASA director asking where the heck the crew capsule was. Elon boasted from the start of the Dragon capsule program that it was being designed from the ground up to be man-rated. This was even before they got the contract from NASA to get crews up and down from ISS. Apparently, that might have been an exaggeration.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Launch Pad Fixed?

          SpaceX was picked as the backup supplier. Boeing were the prime choice (and given a lot more money) as they were considered the reliable supplier.

          Good job they had this backup option or astronauts would still be hitching rides with the Russians.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    What has Mars ever done to us?

    I can’t stand the thought of imposing his Muskiness on a near pristine planet like Mars.

    Leave it as a robot empire.

    Mind you, I’m quite certain Musk or his agents won’t actually get to Mars, apart from maybe a very rapid landing.

    1. Norman Nescio Silver badge

      Re: What has Mars ever done to us?

      ...very rapid landing.

      The term of art in the industry is, I believe, lithobraking.

  11. MachDiamond Silver badge

    All not good

    SpaceX's first launch of Booster/Starship was a dog and pony show. Mismatched hardware, obsolete systems already in the process of being replaced on the next iteration and known issues in many different areas. They knew on the day that three engines (maximum failures for a mission, so no margin left) were not going to light. 85 seconds into flight the steering was off-line having lost the hydraulic system. The Flight Termination System that was supposed to be automatic turns out to be manual and completely ineffective. The final events were the booster and Starship blowing up of their own accord and showering Mexican territorial waters with debris. Digging a huge crater was an issue and made worse by the "not a deluge" system not ready in time for a 4/20 launch. There had to be some engineers that knew the concrete had no chance of surviving even one launch. Chances are marginal that the rocket bidet can survive. Even if it does, the fresh water contamination of the site is an ecological no-no.

    A rocket lander I worked on over 10 years ago is still in one piece with over 200 launch/landing cycles. At the time I was with the company, we won a NASA prize for that vehicle (second place). John Carmack of Doom fame won first place with his company, Armadillo Aerospace. Rumor has it that Elon saw the competition and that's what got him going on SpaceX's Grasshopper program.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: All not good

      If the first flight was just a vanity shot, it could end up back firing spectacularly. There's a good chance that all those failures - particularly the FTS - add up to the FAA not permitting a second flight.

      For me, the FTS is a real danger to the whole project. If the FTS has to become linear cutting charges to open it up along its entire length, Star Ship likely cannot also reenter the atmosphere with that still attached. I don't know how you attach linear cutting charges such at that they're not going to fall off during the launch, but can still be jetisoned when they're no longer required. Re-entering the atmosphere with explosives still on the outside sounds like a non-starter.

      The whole concept is novel. There's never been a re-entry vehicle that's also had to have a launch FTS attached to it. Shuttle's FTS was on the SRBs and external tank; the Shuttle itself didn't need any (because it carried no fuel as such). Apollo - none (Saturn V - yes), and so on. Star Ship carries large tonnages of fuel up into orbit, and therefore needs a launch FTS, which might mean it cannot safely re-enter.

    2. MachDiamond Silver badge

      Re: All not good

      Here's a very small (1,000lb thrust rocket motor) digging a hole during a test:

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIMY5Qx37oA

      The concrete was bog standard and 6-8" thick. Fondag doesn't hold up any better under the blast of a rocket motor even though it can handle a bit more temperature.

  12. Philo T Farnsworth

    As much as I'd love to see Elon Musk permanently leave this planet. . .

    . . . for Mars (or elsewhere), I would strongly oppose a human landing on Mars before all the science by the robot explorers is complete and we have some reasonably definitive answer as to whether there is or, more likely, was life on Mars.

    The instant a human sets foot on Mars, that research is immediately compromised, since it is virtually impossible to make the exterior of a life support suit clean enough to avoid spreading human microbes willy nilly across the planet's surface. The robotic systems we've sent and will send are difficult enough to make clean enough and even then we have to be very careful where we land them.

    Hey, Elon. I hear that the asteroid Eris is nice this time of year.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: As much as I'd love to see Elon Musk permanently leave this planet. . .

      It's probably too late. The Tesla roadster they launched ended up in a Mars-crossing orbit. It was supposed to reach just short of Mar's orbit.

      Basically, the treaties these days add up to anything capable of reaching Mar's orbit or travelling beyond are supposed to be sterile to a very high standard. SpaceX / Musk went ahead without that, as it wasn't supposed to reach Mar's orbit. Having underestimated the performance of the first Falcon Heavy (despite knowing full well the performance of its constituent parts - Falcon 9's). Thus SpaceX put the US in the embarassing position of having not lived up to its treaty obligations...

      Eventually, that thing will crash on Mars, potentially contaminating it, unless it hits something else first. It's aphelion only just exceeds Mar's orbit, so I suspect that if it ever did hit Mars it'd do so quite gently (so far as these things are concerned). Possibly it won't burn up completely in Mar's thin atmosphere, so arguably the chances of contamination are maximised...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: As much as I'd love to see Elon Musk permanently leave this planet. . .

        "Eventually, that thing will crash on Mars,"

        No, it won't. Even though it does get out as far as Mars, it's in a different orbital inclination and so can never "crash on Mars".

        1. bazza Silver badge

          Re: As much as I'd love to see Elon Musk permanently leave this planet. . .

          Pretty sure that, like most other bodies in the solar system, the inclination will get flattened out by the gravitational attraction of the planets. That's why the solar system has an orbital plane.

  13. werdsmith Silver badge

    $ years

    I'm wondering what Solar System phase Musk is basing his 4 years on. Mars oppositions are every 26 or so months. Next is early 2027 so a bit over 3 years. Then there is another 2029, which is actually a bit closer. None of the upcoming ones are as close as the 2020 opposition.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: $ years

      You forget that a genius such as Musk laughs at opposition.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: $ years

        Well, it looks like two people completely missed the joke, then.

        Or were Musk fans - I don't judge either way.

  14. s. pam Silver badge
    Alert

    Pop goes the weasel...hopefully

    If Musky Boy's rocket is so superior and safe, then why isn't the great one himself going in it for a ride one wonders!

  15. Lee D Silver badge

    I would love Starlink, but I refuse to give Musk a penny.

    When Bezos gets his up and running, I will seriously consider it.

    It comes to something when I actually prefer another billionaire's plans over a particular billionaire.

  16. Lee D Silver badge

    "Billionaire Elon Musk in 2011 had said that he would put a man on Mars in the next 10 years"

    https://www.ndtv.com/world-news/elon-musk-in-2011-promised-to-put-man-on-mars-the-internet-remembers-3027617

    So I'd take anything this man says with a pinch of salt so humongous it's probably visible from space.

  17. CowHorseFrog Silver badge

    How will starship operate on Mars or the Moon with no base or platform or mechzilla to grab it ?

    1. Oneman2Many

      Beem many years ago that lunar lander variant has landing legs. They will need to ensure that it lands somewhere relativily flat. Be interesting to see if landing engines will be at the top to avoid kicking up debris or at the bottom.

      1. MachDiamond Silver badge

        "Be interesting to see if landing engines will be at the top to avoid kicking up debris or at the bottom."

        Not on Starship. Engines at the bottom just like they've always been shown.

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