As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues to rage on, the war is being fought on multiple fronts — and one of these fronts is the internet. Russian forces have severely disrupted internet functionality in Ukraine, and there are legitimate concerns about the country (or large parts of the country) being essentially severed from the internet.
In desperation, Ukrainian First Vice Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov tweeted to Elon Musk for help with his Starlink fleet.
Remarkably, it worked. Within hours, Musk replied: “Starlink service is now active in Ukraine. More terminals en route.”
Fedorov tweeted his thanks to the billionaire, with the country’s official Twitter account @Ukraine also acknowledging Musk’s actions, tweeting “Thanx [sic], appreciate it”.
While costly to deploy, satellite technology can provide a much-needed internet source for people who live in remote, rural, or disrupted areas. The technology could also serve as a backup in the case of a natural or man-made disaster — which is exactly the case in Ukraine right now.
Starlink satellites are able to provide broadband Internet connections from space, and having the satellites deployed above Ukraine means parts of the country may enjoy internet connectivity without the risk of Russian interference.
This does not mean Starlink internet is live for all of Ukraine. The move can only provide internet to those with Starlink’s special receivers — these are the “terminals” Musk was referring to.
We could not verify how many such terminals are in Ukraine right now or how many more are “en route”. This remains a key question, and it is unclear whether Starlink can make a significant amount of terminals available to Ukraine on such short notice.
Without too many terminals, this is quite possibly a symbolic move rather than one that will make a major difference, but with Ukrainians with their backs against the wall, it could at least make a difference for some people.
Meanwhile, the situation of embattled Ukraine remains critical, and having Internet connectivity and ensuring vital communication is quite possibly crucial for the fate of the country.
In early 2018, SpaceX tested its new Falcon Heavy rocket by launching a very unconventional cargo in space. Elon Musk, eccentric billionaire and SpaceX founder, wanted the payload to consist of a Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin called “Starman” dressed in an astronaut suit sitting in the driver’s seat.
After the initial hype of the publicity stunt wore off, Starman faded into obscurity. But this begs the question: What’s going on with that wacky space Tesla?
Well, it’s still in one piece, that’s for sure. Although the last time the Tesla Roadster was directly observed was in March 2018 (telescope directors aren’t too keen to award valuable observation time to a billionaire’s space junk), the object is still being tracked by NASA just as it does with thousands of car-sized asteroids.
According to the whereisroadster.com website, the Tesla is currently 234,483,948 miles (377,381,556 km) from Earth, moving away from us at a speed of 3,460 mi/h (5,568 km/h). However, overall, the car has traveled over 2 billion miles (3.2 billion km) during all of these years on an oblong orbit around the sun, whose edges intersect with Earth’s and Mars’s orbits.
So far, it has completed 2.6 loops around the Sun, making it the car with the largest mileage in history, by far. The vehicle has exceeded its 36,000-mile warranty almost 55,000 times while driving around the Sun.
During its closest approach to Mars, Starman and his Roadster passed within 5 million miles (8 million km) of the red planet, or about 20 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. It won’t brush against Mars again until 2035 and it won’t pass within a few million miles of Earth until 2047. By the time the car will return to our planet’s vicinity, Tesla might not even exist anymore, nor Musk for that matter. Just as well, Tesla might become the most valuable company in the world and Musk could be sipping a martini in his new Martian colony.
In any event, the roaming space Tesla could travel for millions of years from now on. In a 2018 study, scientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough found that the probability of the vehicle colliding with Earth or Venus in the next million years was just 6% and 2.5%, respectively. The risk of colliding with Earth within the next 15 million years is about 22%. That’s a pretty low risk, which means the Tesla could be still orbiting the Sun even after humans, in all likelihood, could cease to exist.
Social media platforms have long been seen as a “signal” generator for traders and investors of the crypto space. Due to the relatively small size of Bitcoin ($BTC) and other coins (in terms of market cap, compared to many other stocks or commodities like gold), public opinion can quickly and significantly move crypto markets. But things are going way too far.
Imagine if a few decades ago, you would have told one of the richest people in the world they can control the price of an asset, and make it rise and fall drastically, by merely writing a few words. Their eyes would have flickered and small, green, dollar signs would have appeared in front of each pupil. Well guess what — that’s kind of what’s happening now.
Elon Musk, the billionaire behind Tesla and SpaceX, has the power. In the past few months, cryptocurrencies like Dogecoin and Bitcoin have fluctuated wildly based on Musk’s tweets. While the tweets may have not been posted for his own financial gain (and in truth, Musk doesn’t really need to tamper with the market, at a net worth of some $160 billion), they did send the crypto market on a wild rollercoaster.
Sometimes, the tweets were semi-relevant to the crypto market, like when Tesla stopped taking Bitcoin (after previously bragging that it does accept Bitcoin), or that time SpaceX launched a Dogecoin-funded satellite into orbit. But other times, it’s just plain silly — like when he posted a meme about breaking up with Bitcoin.
Dogecoin, essentially a meme cryptocurrency that somehow picked up a lot of popularity, was at one point 1,400% up compared to the start of 2021. Now, after a peak value right before Elon Musk hosted Saturday Night Live (SNL), the coin dropped by 75%, after the show failed to live up to the hype.
While Musk is the main exponent of the effect social media can have on cryptocurrency markets, he’s far from the only one.
Crypto and social media go back a long time
Crypto and online discussion boards go back as far as Bitcoin’s creation. Shortly after it was brought to the world, Bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto founded the popular forum BitcoinTalk, where most crypto-related discussions took place.
Shortly after Satoshi chose to disappear forever in 2010, we saw a parallel between an increase in online mentions of Bitcoin and its growth and price. The more people talked about it, the more it seemed to be worth. The platforms that stood out in terms of community building and valuable information was Reddit and Twitter, which are also some of the most bitcoin-friendly social media platforms.
Later, Discord and Telegram caught up to the trend as well, since privacy-oriented discussions and closed groups started to increase in popularity. These platforms of course experienced quite a bit of volatility from users after their use in ICO scams deemed them less trusted as information sources.
For crypto traders, keeping an eye on social media became the norm — a way to track the overall market sentiment, but also anticipate scenarios based on Musk-type interventions and try to anticipate the ebb and flow of prices. When you see that the public starts to feel overwhelmingly positive about Bitcoin (to the points that you see Twitter accounts adding laser eyes to their profile pictures) it may be time to sell. When the same audience starts bashing Bitcoin, writing it off as dead, it might be time to buy bitcoin.
Of course, actually analyzing social media sentiment is not easy. You can scroll through Twitter or Reddit, but you just won’t have enough time for it. You can also harvest data and try to analyze it in bulk, but that may miss out trends. You can also look at all the things niche-related influencers are talking about and try to determine how the public will act based on this information, or even use specialized tools to aid your quest.
This is not what was promised
Bitcoin, and cryptocurrency in general, promised to change the world, but it kind of hasn’t. It’s made some people some money, it’s cost others some money, but the impact on society has been negligible. When you take into account the fact that mining and trading cryptocurrency produces emissions comparable to a medium country, the issue becomes even more thorny
Part of the problem stems from the fact that we’re not really sure how much Bitcoin (or any cryptocurrency really) should be worth. As long as the price runs on emotions, memes, and influencer whims, cryptocurrency will continue to fluctuate wildly and trust will dwindle due to this volatility.
In truth, the same can be said about stocks. The market isn’t perfectly rational and oftentimes, it’s anything but rational — we’ve seen this happen time and time again. But crypto is a relatively new happening, and no one is really sure just how high or low it will go.
In an ideal world, people like Musk would lose their power, and cryptocurrency, freed from such nefarious influences, would drift towards a realistic value. People would trust it more and use it more widely; it would become incorporated in humanitarian projects, where its decentralized nature can work best, and act as a viable alternative to existing currency. Alas, we don’t live in an ideal world, and who knows what Musk will tweet next?
Neuralink, a startup founded by Elon Musk that makes brain-machine interfaces, just posted a video showing off the power of its implants. It shows a 9-year-old Macaque monkey fitted with two implants playing Pong solely with its mind.
Musk hinted at this milestone achievement during a Clubhouse meeting in February when he casually mentioned “We have a monkey with a wireless implant in their skull who can play video games using his mind.” Now we have actual proof.
According to Neuralink, the monkey named Pager was first trained to play Pong with a joystick. Each time it complied and engaged with the game, Pager received a much-deserved banana smoothie treat.
During this training round, Pager’s brain activity was recorded, which included information about which neurons fired. Later, the joystick was removed and Pager could play the game with his mind since the computer could decode the brain signals that corresponded to imaginary hand movements.
That’s mighty impressive, although we don’t have any peer-reviewed paper that other researchers might independently verify. But even though we only have a video to go for, there’s no reason to believe the achievement isn’t genuine.
Pong is the go-to demonstration game for brain-machine interfaces, even non-invasive ones such as those that simply use EEG caps to record brain activity. We’ve seen humans play Pong just with their minds and we’ve also seen paralyzed individuals control robotic arms and other prosthetics using a brain-machine interface.
Neuroscientists have, in fact, been recording brain cells in conscious animals since the 1950s. At the turn of the 21st century, brain signals from monkeys were used to control an artificial arm. And in 2006, the BrainGate team began implanting arrays of 100 electrodes in the brains of paralyzed people, enabling basic control of computer cursors and assistive devices.
So, all of this is well within the realm of possibility.
Neuralink’s most immediate goal with its products is to “give people with paralysis their digital freedom back: to communicate more easily via text, to follow their curiosity on the web, to express their creativity through photography and art, and, yes, to play video games.” Indeed, Elon Musk himself tweeted soon after the promo video with Pager was released, claiming the first product “will enable someone with paralysis to use a smartphone with their mind faster than someone using thumbs.”
The Neuralink implants were first unveiled to the world in 2019, during an event presided over by Musk himself. The implants consist of thousands of electrodes much thinner than a human hair, which relay brain signals to a computer. According to Musk, even healthy people could one day get an implant connected to an AirPod-like device mounted behind the ear, which would wirelessly connect to a smartphone app, allowing the user to control the smartphone by thought alone.
The company will launch the first all-civilian mission to space, transporting four private individuals on a Crew Dragon capsule into orbit around the Earth. The flight will be carried out sometime in the fourth quarter of the year and represents a major step forward for private spaceflight and the budding space tourism industry.
The project is fully funded by Jared Isaacman, an entrepreneur behind the US payment processing startup Shift4Shop, who will be the mission commander. In a statement, he described the venture as “the realization of a lifelong dream” and a “step towards a future in which anyone can venture out and explore the stars. Anyone, that is, with millions of dollars to spend on the ride.
Isaacman and SpaceX dubbed the mission Inspiration4, with the “4” referencing the number of crew members. Isaacman said he wants it to mark a “historic moment to inspire humanity while helping to tackle childhood cancer.” He pledged to donate $100 million to St. Jude hospital as part of a push to raise $200 million more dollars for the organization.
Three other individuals will travel alongside Isaacman on the SpaceX rocket. A seat will be donated to an “ambassador” of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and another one will be given to a member of the public. The fourth is reserved for the winner of a contest of Isaacman’s company, who will have to launch an online store on Shift4Shop platform.
It’s not clear when the winners will be chosen, Isaacman said on a conference call with reporters. Still, crew members would start their training led by SpaceX within 30 days. They will prepare for launch atop one of the company’s Falcon 9 rockets. Musk said the mission’s length of time and other parameters are up to Isaacman.
“When you’ve got a brand-new mode of transportation, you have to have pioneers,” SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk told NBC. “Things are expensive at first, and as you’re able to increase the launch rate, increase the production rate, refine the technology, it becomes less expensive and accessible to more people.”
The first time a tourist went to space was in 2001 when American multimillionaire Dennis Tito was launched to the International Space Station on an eight-day expedition. Only six other private citizens have flown in space ever since. But the space tourism industry is predicted to expand, with companies such as Space X, Blue Origins, and Virgin Galactic rolling out ambitious plans — and many see it as a fresh start for a new industry.
SpaceX has said over the years that it would be willing to sell seats to tourists on its Crew Dragon capsule, which became operational last year and is mainly used to send NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. Musk has even previously expressed interest in joining a SpaceX mission himself. But this won’t happen with this year’s mission with Isaacman, he said.
The company signed a deal in 2018 with billionaire Yusaku Maezawa to fly on the Starship rocket on a trip around the moon in 2023. Last month, it also announced that the first private space station crew, led by former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, will launch to the International Space Station next January. Lopez-Alegria will travel with three men who are each paying $55 million
On Friday, Elon Musk tweeted he tested twice positive and twice negative for COVID-19 after taking four different rapid tests. “Something extremely bogus is going,” he started his tweet, which caused a lot of people who actually know how these tests work to shake their heads. This wasn’t the first time the SpaceX chief executive has made coronavirus-skeptic statements, and an academic was quick to point out why Musk was not only in the wrong, but also that he was essentially behaving like a ‘Space Karen’.
In a twitter reply, Emma Bell, a bioinformatics postdoc from Canada, lectured Musk on what rapid antigen tests are supposed to work like, explaining that his results aren’t unusual. She also quickly quipped that Musk is basically the ‘space Karen’ of the internet. ‘Karen’ is a pejorative slang term for an angry, entitled, sometimes racist white suburban woman who likes to be the center of attention and often blows a misunderstanding out of proportion.
Of course, the internet took over and had a blast. For instance, Karens are often depicted in memes by stock photos of white women with bob haircuts, which was hilariously photoshopped over Musk’s mug.
Rapid antigen tests look for fragments of coronavirus protein and typically give up a result in under half an hour. They’re also cheap, which makes them great tools for monitoring outbreaks in large groups of people. However, what convenience is traded for accuracy.
After he took his four antigen tests, Musk said he got the much more reliable P.C.R-based tests, which are considered the gold standard in infectious disease. But the billionaire still didn’t stop posting Karen like posts.
There are four coronaviruses that are known to cause the common cold. These are 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1, which usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses. But these are only four out of 200 or so different viruses that cause the common cold, most of which are rhinoviruses, a totally different class of patogen. The huge diversity of viruses is one of the reasons why we don’t have a universal vaccine yet for the common cold.
Musk’s reluctance to take this pandemic seriously isn’t surprising or new. In March, Musk tweeted to his 30-million followers that “My guess is that the panic will cause more harm than the virus.” Two months later he threatened to move his Tesla factory out of California when the company was ordered to shut it down due to the health crisis.
If thoughts, feelings and other mental activities are nothing more than electrochemical signals flowing around a vast network of brain cells, will connecting these signals with digital electronics allow us to enhance the abilities of our brains?
That’s what tech entrepreneur Elon Musk suggested in a recent presentation of the Neuralink device, an innovative brain-machine interface implanted in a pig called Gertrude. But how feasible is his vision? When I raised some brief reservations about the science, Musk dismissed them in a tweet saying: “It is unfortunately common for many in academia to overweight the value of ideas and underweight bringing them to fruition. The idea of going to the moon is trivial, but going to the moon is hard.”
Brain-machine interfaces use electrodes to translate neuronal information into commands capable of controlling external systems such as a computer or robotic arm. I understand the work involved in building one. In 2005, I helped develop Neurochips, which recorded brain signals, known as action potentials, from single cells for days at a time and could even send electrical pulses back into the skull of an animal. We were using them to create artificial connections between brain areas and produce lasting changes in brain networks.
Neuroscientists have, in fact, been listening to brain cells in awake animals since the 1950s. At the turn of the 21st century, brain signals from monkeys were used to control an artificial arm. And in 2006, the BrainGate team began implanting arrays of 100 electrodes in the brains of paralysed people, enabling basic control of computer cursors and assistive devices.
I say this not to diminish the progress made by the Neuralink team. They have built a device to relay signals wirelessly from 1,024 electrodes implanted into Gertrude’s brain by a sophisticated robot. The team is making rapid progress towards a human trial, and I believe their work could improve the performance of brain-controlled devices for people living with disabilities.
But Musk has more ambitious goals, hoping to read and write thoughts and memories, enable telepathic communication and ultimately merge human and artificial intelligence (AI). This is certainly not “trivial”, and I don’t think the barriers can be overcome by technology alone.
Today, most brain-machine interfaces use an approach called “biomimetic” decoding. First, brain activity is recorded while the user imagines various actions such as moving their arm left or right. Once we know which brain cells prefer different directions, we can “decode” subsequent movements by tallying their action potentials like votes.
This approach works adequately for simple movements, but can it ever generalise to more complex mental processes? Even if Neuralink could sample enough of the 100 billion cells in my brain, how many different thoughts would I first have to think to calibrate a useful mind-reading device, and how long would that take? Does my brain activity even sound the same each time I think the same thought? And when I think of, say, going to the Moon, does my brain sound anything like Musk’s?
Some researchers hope that AI can sidestep these problems, in the same way it has helped computers to understand speech. Perhaps given enough data, AI could learn to understand the signals from anyone’s brain. However, unlike thoughts, language evolved for communication with others, so different speakers share common rules such as grammar and syntax.
While the large-scale anatomy of different brains is similar, at the level of individual brain cells, we are all unique. Recently, neuroscientists have started exploring intermediate scales, searching for structure in the activity patterns of large groups of cells. Perhaps, in future, we will uncover a set of universal rules for thought processes that will simplify the task of mind reading. But the state of our current understanding offers no guarantees.
Alternatively, we might exploit the brain’s own intelligence. Perhaps we should think of brain-machine interfaces as tools that we have to master, like learning to drive a car. When people are shown a real-time display of the signal from individual cells in their own brain, they can often learn to increase or decrease that activity through a process called neurofeedback.
Maybe when using the Neuralink, people might be able to learn how to activate their brain cells in the right way to control the interface. However, recent research suggests that the brain may not be as flexible as we once thought and, so far, neurofeedback subjects struggle to produce complex patterns of brain activity that differ from those occurring naturally.
When it comes to influencing, rather than reading, the brain, the challenges are greater still. Electrical stimulation activates many cells around each electrode, as was nicely shown in the Neuralink presentation. But cells with different roles are mixed together, so it is hard to produce a meaningful experience. Stimulating visual areas of the brain may allow blind people to perceive flashes of light, but we are still far from reproducing even simple visual scenes. Optogenetics, which uses light to activate genetically modified brain cells, can be more selective but has yet to be attempted in the human brain.
Whether or not Musk can – or should – achieve his ultimate aims, the resources that he and other tech entrepreneurs are investing in brain-machine interfaces are sure to advance our scientific understanding. I hope that Musk shares his wireless implant with the many scientists who are also trying to unravel the mysteries of the brain.
That said, decades of research have shown that the brain does not yield its secrets easily and is likely to resist our attempts at mind hacking for some decades yet.
Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite navigation could eventually be subject to a major upgrade as Elon Musk’s SpaceX has launched a satellite that promises to make GPS three times more accurate. Nevertheless, this doesn’t necessarily mean that improvements will be seen overnight.
Usually taken for granted, GPS satellite navigation has become an essential tool for anything from military operations to a road trip. Every GPS device determines its position, navigation and timing information by receiving signals from a constellation of satellites orbiting the Earth 20,000 kilometers away.
The technology already works pretty well already and it feels like it’s always been there, despite its actually quite new, with the first such satellites launched in 1978 by the United States. Since then, many organizations have been involved in trying to refine it. Now, it was time for SpaceX to join that group.
Earlier this week, a Falcon 9 rocket delivered its first payload for the United States Space Force mission, carrying a state-of-the-art new GPS satellite. The mission sent up the third satellite for the so-called GPS III project, which seeks to upgrade the constellation of GPS satellites currently orbiting the planet.
“Your GPS just got slightly better,” Musk wrote on Twitter moments after the GPS III satellite was deployed. But that’s not actually true since GPS doesn’t get better automatically just because SpaceX launched a new satellite into space. Still, when more such satellites are deployed, the improvement should be more visible.
The current GPS technology can narrow down a location within 28 inches (about 71 centimeters). While that’s quite an achievement, GPS III technology will narrow that range down even further, offering accuracy within nine inches (about 22 centimeters). That’s almost three times as accurate as now.
Coverage will also improve. This might mean that the dreaded “searching for signal” message on a cellphone while trying to get to a restaurant or a party could eventually be something of the past. Or maybe even forget about the difficulties of getting a GPS signal when you are in a forested or mountainous region during a hike.
The new satellites have a 15-year lifespan, which is twice as long as the current ones. They can be launched two at once, making them cheaper. And, most importantly, they will be harder to jam. So far, only one of the three that are in orbit is fully operational and the manufacturer Lockheed Martin is now building ten more.
GPS technology essentially uses signals from satellites in the sky to pinpoint the location of a user. A receiver, usually a smartphone, measures how long it took for a given satellite’s signal to reach Earth and then multiplies the time by the speed of a radio wave to work out the distance.
Nowadays GPS applications aren’t limited to simple, though widespread, auto-navigation, or as personal mapping; they’re used by manufacturing industries, supply chains, drilling oil, various other logistics, banks, and virtually anything you can imagine. A report warned in 2017 that the world might depend too much on the technology.
While the United States’ GPS constellation first started in 1978, the US is just one player in this global field. In 1982, the Soviet Union launched GLONASS, or Global Navigation Satellite System, and China followed with Beidou in 2000. Then came the European Space Agency with its first experimental satellite positioning system, Galileo, in 2005.
Tesla founder Elon Musk has moved from calling the coronavirus panic “dumb” to repurposing his electric vehicle and solar panel factories into assembly lines for hospital ventilators, for which there is currently a shortage across the world.
Early in March, the business leader used his Twiter account to call the coronavirus panic “dumb,” leading to both negative and positive replies. Now, the story took a twist as Musk said that Tesla’s factory in New York will start producing ventilators.
New York currently has access to roughly 6,000 ventilators and if the virus keeps spreading at the current rate, the state would eventually need as many as 37,000 of them, according to estimations by Governor Andrew Cuomo. For patients suffering from the worst effects of the infection, a ventilator offers the best chance of survival. Simply put, a ventilator takes over the body’s breathing process when the disease has caused the lungs to fail. This gives the patient time to fight off the infection and recover.
“New York State is the most impacted state in the nation,” state assemblyman Sean Ryan wrote in a letter earlier this week, urging Musk to start making ventilators at the Buffalo plant, according to local newspaper, The Buffalo News. “It makes sense that increased ventilator production would happen here.”
Reacting to the request, Musk first said Tesla’s factory will reopen to manufacture ventilators “as soon as humanly possible,” adding he will do “anything in his power to help the citizens of New York”. Later he also added the company is “making good progress” with the ventilators.
Tesla had already started producing ventilators in its factory Fremont, California, in collaboration with the medical supply company Medtronic. Musk is using the factory’s capacity to manufacture one of Medtronic’s lower-end ventilators, which are easier to produce in an off-site facility than more sophisticated models.
Earlier this week, Musk also donated 1,255 ventilators — which he said he’d bought from “an oversupply” in China — to hospitals in California, where Tesla is headquartered.
The business leader is also moving fast on facemasks. He sent 50.000 N95 face masks from Fremont to the home of a doctor working for the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) in Seattle, shortly after learning that there’s a shortage of face masks in the area.
“It was just so, so fast,” doctor Adams Waldorf, who received the donation, told The Seattle Times. “I feel so, so good about being a small part of these donations. To be at this critical shortage of personal protective equipment is frightening. We can’t have our health-care system crumbling at this moment.”
Astronomers are expressing concerns over the plans of Elon Musk’s Space X to launch up to 42,000 satellites in a mega-constellation called Starlink. So far only 122 have been deployed — and astronomers are already reporting unwanted impacts.
With over 2,000 now active and orbiting Earth, satellites are key to modern life. Telecommunication satellites support mobile phone signals and mobile internet. As 5G services start to be deployed, a new set of satellites with the proper technology will need to be launched.
A recent incident with SpaceX raised concerns among astronomers over the consequences of Elon Musk’s plan. The 122 satellites launched by Starlink are brighter than most of the stars visible to the human eye and also move faster through the sky. This leaves a trail that can pollute astronomer’s data.
A group of 19 satellites of Starlink passed on November 18th near the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory’s site in Chile. It lasted for five minutes and it affected an image taken by the Dark Energy Camera (DECam). The image shows the satellite train entering into the camera’s vision.
“Wow!! I am in shock,” wrote CTIO astronomer Clara Martinez-Vazquez on Twitter.
Satellites are usually dark in the night sky, but sunlight can reach them right after the Sun goes down or early in the morning when the sky is black, making them visible through telescopes of binoculars.
The number of Starlink satellites already launched represents only 0.3% of those proposed, so the consequences for astronomers could be worst. Looking for faint objects, which is the main goal of observatories seeking objects that could harm Earth, would be hindered, astronomers claim.
Starlink’s satellites are located in elevations of over 1,000 km, which means their orbital decay would take millennia. This can create problems with other types of satellites. For example, in September, a satellite used for Earth observation was close to crashing with a Starlink satellite. “A full constellation of Starlink satellites will likely mean the end of Earth-based microwave-radio telescopes able to scan the heavens for faint radio objects,” Swinburne University astronomer Alan Duffy told ScienceAlert in May after the first launch of Starlink satellites.
The criticism of astronomers to Starlink’s plans was dismissed by Elon Musk and SpaceX, who claimed their satellites would have a minor impact on astronomy. They said SpaceX is working on reducing the albedo of the satellites and that Starlink would adjust the satellites on-demand for astronomical experiments.
Cees Bassa from the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy claims that up to 140 satellites of Starlink will be visible all times from observatories on Earth. But the difficulties could be overcome if the companies implemented some changes, according to Bassa.
Bassa suggested placing a moratorium on the launch of new satellites of Starlink until doing modifications, as well as also deorbiting the current satellites. He also said the company should redesign the satellites to reduce their reflectivity and should provide real-time information on their trajectory plans.
This week marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the first time a human being has stepped foot on the surface of a celestial body other than Earth. It was a monumental achievement that inspired generations to come, including SpaceX founder Elon Musk. Speaking to TIME space reporter Jeffrey Kluger, Musk shared some of his thoughts on human space travel, including going back to the moon. The highlight of the conversation was Musk saying that we could come back to the moon in less than two years.
“Well, this is gonna sound pretty crazy, but I think we could land on the moon in less than two years. Certainly with an uncrewed vehicle I believe we could land on the moon in two years. So then maybe within a year or two of that we could be sending crew. I would say four years at the outside,” Musk said.
But who’s ‘we’? Musk went on to clarify what he meant, implying that could very well be his company as long as his plans wouldn’t get bogged down by bureaucracy.
“I’m not sure. If it were to take longer to convince NASA and the authorities that we can do it versus just doing it, then we might just do it. It may literally be easier to just land Starship on the moon than try to convince NASA that we can.”
Artist impression of the Starship on Mars. Credit: SpaceX.
SpaceX’s ambitious Starship is designed to be the world’s first Mars-voyage ready vehicle. During a September 2018 event, SpaceX announced the ship’s first passengers— Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and a team of artists who will head to the moon and back. According to Musk, Starship is meant to be “an interplanetary transport system that’s capable of getting from Earth to anywhere in the solar system.”
Maezawa and colleagues are supposed to go to the moon in 2021 if all goes well — that is, if SpaceX manages to build its rocket on time and if they also receive launch approval.
“Obviously this is a decision that’s out of my hands. But the sheer amount of effort required to convince a large number of skeptical engineers at NASA that we can do it is very high. And not unreasonably so, ’cause they’re like, “Uh, come on. How could this possibly work?” The skepticism…you know, they’d have good reasons for it. But the for sure way to end the skepticism is just do it,” Musk said in this recent interview.
Meanwhile, NASA’s big plan is to send humans back to the Moon by 2024, a mere five years from now. To get there, NASA wants to use its own deep-space rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), which is capable of lifting between 57,000 and 88,000 pounds to the Moon. The mission is aptly called “Artemis,” after the Greek goddess of the hunt and the moon, the twin sister of Apollo.
Progress is slow, however. The first flight of the SLS was meant to occur as early as 2017, but this first flight will likely take off in 2021, according to NASA. Technically difficulties aside, there also some serious financial constraints. Project Artemis could cost $20 billion to $30 billion over the next five years, meaning that NASA will need Congress to approve some extra $4-to-6 billion to its budget per year to reach that goal.
In his hyperbolic style, serial entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk stepped onto a stage in San Francisco on Tuesday evening bearing a grand announcement: Neuralink (one of his many startups) has developed technology that is meant to be implanted into the brain of humans, enabling users to control smartphones, computers, and just about any compatible digital device with their thoughts alone.
Neuralink was founded by Musk in 2016 and has so far raised $158 million in funding, $100 million of which came from Musk himself. The company’s mission is that of averting what the entrepreneur considers a serious existential threat to mankind: artificial intelligence (AI) surpassing human intelligence. This goal would be achieved by employing technology in symbiosis with human biology to augment our intellect.
“I think this is going to be important at a civilization-wide scale,” Musk said at the event. “Even under a benign AI, we will be left behind. With a high bandwidth brain-machine interface, we will have the option to go along for the ride.”
Since the startup was incorporated, not much has been known about the technology it develops other than cryptic hints that it has something to do with “brain-computer” interfaces and esoteric mind-control and telepathic devices. This all changed last night at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco when Musk and Neuralink researchers stepped on stage to reveal progress in creating an implantable device that, allegedly, can read your mind.
Neuralink’s flagship technology consists of thousands of electrodes much thinner than the human hair, which can be implanted directly into the brain. These electrodes relay brain signals to an AirPod-like device mounted behind the ear which can wirelessly connect to a smartphone app, allowing the user to control the smartphone by thought alone.
In a white paper authored by “Musk & Neuralink”, the authors describe how they implanted the device into 19 rats, resulting in a successful implantation 87% of the time. The next big step for the company, Musk claims, is to perform a human clinical trial as early as 2020 for a version of the device that is intended for “patients with serious unmet medical diseases.”
According to Dr. Matthew McDougall, who is Neuralink’s head neurosurgeon, this first trial will target patients with complete paralysis and will involve installing four Neuralink implants. These implants would allow quadriplegics to independently manipulate robot arms to perform manual tasks like drinking. Neuralink claims that its implants, which have 1,000 times more electrodes interfacing with the brain than a currently FDA-approved brain interface device used for Parkinson’s patients, would make an important improvement to patients’ lives.
However, going from rats to humans is quite the leap — even for a person as famous for his overly optimistic deadlines as Elon Musk. A premarket trial which ought to involve at least 100 people typically requires a minimum observational period of two years and often can be as long as 7 years.
What’s more, Musk went off-script at the event, suggesting that Neuralink has also been tested in monkeys.
“We definitely need to address the elephant in the room, the monkey in the room,” Musk said. “A monkey has been able to control the computer with his brain. Just, FYI.”
What about regular people? Neuralink envisions a market where its products are used by anyone, for instance, people who would like to augment their abilities rather than makeup for a disability. In the future, Musk says that his startup’s devices would not involve drilling holes in the skull — as they do now — but would rather be very simple and easy to fix, just like Lasik or laser vision correction.
“One of the big bottlenecks is that a mechanical drill couples vibration through the skull, which is unpleasant,” Neuralink President Max Hodak said, “whereas a laser drill, you wouldn’t feel.”
In February this year, SpaceX tested its new Falcon Heavy rocket by launching some very unconventional cargo in space. The eccentric billionaire and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, wanted to do things differently — so the payload was comprised of a Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin dressed in an astronaut suit sitting in the driver’s seat. Now, according to a SpaceX tweet, the car has made it past Mars’ orbit around the sun.
In the eight months since it was launched into space, the ‘Starman’ mannequin has traveled over 370 million miles around the sun at an average speed of 35,000 mph. That’s quite the trek for a Tesla Roadster, which has exceeded its 36,000-mile warranty about 10,000 times. During its latest loop, Starman has even made it past Mars’ orbit, currently drifting 179 million miles away from Earth.
When a new rocket is tested, manufacturers typically send a dummy cargo into space — such as concrete or steel blocks. That was too boring for Elon Musk, though. In the process, SpaceX got the chance to test its spacesuit in real-world conditions while Musk secured great publicity for both of his companies in one move.
The successful test launch also marked the introduction of the world’s most powerful rocket currently in operation.
The Falcon Heavy is essentially made up of three Falcon 9s strapped together, which allows it to ferry roughly three times more payload into space than a single Falcon. Its design was first unveiled in 2011, but a series of setbacks have delayed the original launch plans.
The 224-feet-tall (68.4 meters) rocket is capable of delivering 54 metric tons (119,000 lb) of payload (satellites, cargo, astronauts etc.) into Earth’s low orbit, to the moon, or even to Mars. That’s the mass equivalent of a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage, and fuel. It can even carry up to 4,000 kilograms of payload all the way to Pluto!
But Musk has his eyes set on an even more powerful behemoth, the BFR. According to Musk’s initial plan, the 348-foot-tall (106-meter) BFR system is powered by 42 Raptor engines. It should be capable of carrying up to 100 people in a pressurized passenger space that’s larger than that of an Airbus A380 airplane. BFR consists of a 190-foot (58-meter) tall booster for its first stage, and a 157-foot (48-meter) tall spaceship that also doubles as a second stage.
As for the Tesla and Starman, the pair should keep orbiting around the sun. Each time the car comes close to Earth, it will get a gravitational kick that will send it into a wider or narrower obit — but where to and for how long? Physicists at the University of Toronto Scarborough actually crunched the numbers finding that the Tesla Roadster will collide with Earth or Venus over the next million years with a probability of 6 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. In all likelihood, however, the vehicle won’t make it that far.
According to Tom Narita, an astrophysicist at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, the Roadster could be obliterated by high-speed space dust and cosmic ray radiation. In only a couple of years, all the plastic and rubber in the car should get shredded into pieces by radiation while the metal structure itself can last for hundreds of thousands of years.
SpaceX’s founder and CEO published an academic paper earlier this month outlining his vision for a future where the Red Planet is permanently inhabited.
Illustration of Musk’s vision for a Mars colony. “The base starts with one ship, then multiple ships, then we start building out the city and making the city bigger, and even bigger. Over time terraforming Mars and making it really a nice place to be,” he said.
The paper published in the journal New Space is based on Elon Musk’s October 2017 talk that he gave in Australia. This is his second published academic paper. Previously, in 2016, New Space also published a summary of Musk’s first audacious vision for Mars.
If you followed last year’s presentation, as well as Musk’s SXSW appearance, you won’t be particularly surprised by the content of this paper. However, there are some juicy details as to how the entrepreneur plans to fly SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) fully reusable rocket system to Mars.
BFR has larger payload capacity than Saturn V, while being fully reusable. Credit: Elon Musk/SpaceX.
The 348-foot-tall (106-meter) BFR system is powered by 42 Raptor engines and should be fully reusable. According to the latest design outlined in the new academic paper, BFT will be capable of carrying up to 100 people in a pressurized passenger space that’s larger than that of an Airbus A380 airplane. BFR consists of a 190-foot (58-meter) tall booster for its first stage, and a 157-foot (48-meter) tall spaceship that also doubles as a second stage. Besides people, the launch system will be capable of ferrying cargo across the globe or to and from the International Space Station. A BFR flight could take a person from Los Angeles to New York in 25 minutes. Being capable of launching satellites, BFR will also become an important contributor to the company’s bottom line. Eventually, the BFT will make all other SpaceX vehicles obsolete.
“We want to have one system—one booster and one ship—that replaces Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon. If we can do that, then all the resources that are used for Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy and Dragon can be applied to this system. That’s really fundamental,” Musk wrote in his paper.
To propel it to Mars, the BFR will be fitted with a huge a 39-foot (12-meter) tank, which can fit 265,000 gallons (a thousand cubic meters) of liquid nitrogen. To contain the fuel, SpaceX engineers designed a new carbon fiber matrix that is much stronger and better suited for cryo than anything before. The tank will support refueling operations in orbit. This latter key step is currently being perfect in the Dargon capsule, which already has automated rendezvous and docking capabilities with the International Space Station.
In his most recent public appearance, Musk said that he’d like to see the first BFR take off for Mars as early as 2022. A second trip planned for 2024 would leave with a crew. “People have told me that my timelines, historically, have been optimistic,” Musk said at SXSW. The company plans on test-launching the first BFR on short “up-and-down flights” before the summer of 2019.
“We’ve already started building the system—the tooling for the main tanks has been ordered, the facility is being built and we will start construction of the first ship around the second quarter of next year. In about six to nine months we should start building the first ship. I feel fairly confident that we can complete the ship and be ready for a launch in about five years. Five years seems like a long time to me. The area under the curve of resources over that period of time should enable this time frame to be met, but if not this time frame, I think pretty soon thereafter. But that is our goal, to try to make the 2022 Mars rendezvous. The Earth-Mars synchronization happens roughly every two years, so every two years there is an opportunity to fly to Mars,” Musk wrote.
Musk did not address all the practicalities of how the first manned crew will establish a Martian colony in his new paper. At SXSW, however, Musk at least acknowledged that these first missions will not be for the faint of heart.
“For the people who go to Mars, it’ll be far more dangerous. It kind of reads like Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers. ‘Difficult, dangerous, good chance you’ll die. Excitement for those who survive.’ That kind of thing,” the entrepreneur warned.
“There’s already people who want to go in the beginning. There will be some for whom the excitement of exploration and the next frontier exceeds the danger,” Musk continued.
During a surprise Q&A session at the 2018 South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, famed entrepreneur Elon Musk made another audacious claim. He reckons that test flights for SpaceX’s “Big Falcon Rocket” (BFR) spaceship designed to ferry the first colonists to Mars could happen as early as the first half of 2019. BFR will not launch for Mars during this time but rather launch for near-Earth orbit to test propulsion and other vital systems.
“I think we’ll be able to do short flights, up and down flights, some time in the first half of next year,” he told an audience at the South by South West (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas.
The BFR concept was first unveiled in 2016 and later refined in September 2017, when Musk affirmed passengers will be able to make “most long distance trips” in just 30 minutes and go “anywhere on Earth in under an hour.” All for the price of an economy airline ticket to boot. Yes, Musk is no stranger to flabbergasting goals. To his credit, sometimes he delivers even though all odds seem stacked against him.
The BFR system, powered by 42 Raptor engines, will be partially reusable and capable of carrying up to 100 people or so in a pressurized passenger space that’s larger than in an Airbus A380 airplane. BFR consists of a 190-foot (58-meter) tall booster for its first stage, and a 157-foot (48-meter) tall spaceship that also doubles as a second stage. The second stage is currently not designed to be recoverable. Besides people, the launch system will be capable of ferrying cargo across the globe or to and from the International Space Station. Being capable of launching satellites, BFR will also become an important contributor to the company’s bottom line.
In case of nuclear armageddon, call Mars
First and foremost, however, BFR is all about getting people to Mars, where Musk hopes to eventually settle a one-million-people colony. At the SXSW panel, Musk said a Martian colony is paramount to human civilization. The SpaceX founder said the Martian colony will act as a backup for when, not if, World War III begins on Earth. “I think it’s unlikely that we will never have another world war,” Musk said. “This has been our pattern in the past,” he added rather gloomily.
Not wanting to appear too detached from reality, Musk admitted having rather optimistic timelines. “Sometimes my timelines are a little… y’know.” Regardless, Musk says once SpaceX proves BFR works, other companies and countries could follow. And that’s when the real progress might be made towards the lofty goal of settling a huge colony on Mars within our generation.
“We’ll start off building the most elementary of infrastructure: just a base to create propellant, a power station, glass domes in which to grow crops, all of the sort of fundamentals without which you would not survive,” Musk said of SpaceX’s near-term Mars goals. “Then there’s going to be an explosion of entrepreneurial opportunity, because Mars will need everything from iron foundries to pizza joints.”
Artist illustration of BFR taking off. Credit: SpaceX.
Musk did not address all the practicalities of how such a colony will be raised and how its colonists might survive there for years and years. Instead, he simply added that the first colonists will have their work cut out for them.
“For the people who go to Mars, it’ll be far more dangerous. It kind of reads like Shackleton’s ad for Antarctic explorers. ‘Difficult, dangerous, good chance you’ll die. Excitement for those who survive.’ That kind of thing,” the entrepreneur warned.
“There’s already people who want to go in the beginning. There will be some for whom the excitement of exploration and the next frontier exceeds the danger,” Musk continued.
Musk ventured a bit into the realms of interplanetary politics, asserting that the first Martian colony will likely be a direct democracy, where people vote directly on issues. The United States is a representative democracy where citizens vote for representatives to pass laws for them (a President and members of Congress).
Elon Musk’s personal cherry red Tesla Roadster that was recently shot into space on the most powerful operational rocket in the world will eventually collide with Earth or Venus — but that’s millions of years from now.
The car and an onboard dummy named “Starman” acted as a test payload for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy test flight on February 6. Not only was the launch a resounding success, with two of the reusable side boosters making a perfect, synchronized soft landing, it also provided both SpaceX and Tesla with great publicity.
Right now, the Roadster is set on crossing orbit between Earth and Mars, which will see it travel on an elliptical path beyond Mars and then back to Earth’s orbital distance from the sun. Each time the car comes close to Earth, it will get a gravitational kick that will send it into a wider or smaller obit. Over multiple iterations, Elon’s Roadster could end up on a pretty wild orbit — but where to?
It’s possible to rather easily determine where the roadster will end over a couple of orbital cycles. The thing is that there are so many variables that it becomes almost impossible to precisely predict where the car will end up after a certain number of cycles. It’s just like weather forecasting — scientists can come up with a fairly accurate forecast for tomorrow but for each additional day, the projection deviates from reality more and more.
You might have heard of the “butterfly effect”, which is to say that a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. Over time, minute changes compound so much that the expected outcome wildly differs from what you actually get. That’s why the weather forecast seven days in advance is not very accurate — but it’s still better than flipping a coin.
And just like weather forecasters perform dozens of parallel simulations and pick the likeliest outcome, physicists at the University of Toronto Scarborough studied a large number of simulations and arrived at a statistical distribution of possible outcomes. Their analysis suggests that the Tesla Roadster will collide with Earth or Venus over the next million years with a probability of 6 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. That’s about what scientists expect from the class of small bodies on Earth-crossing orbits termed Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs.
There's two reasons the Roadster's orbit is very uncertain compared to solar system spacecraft
(1) No radio transmissions, so it can't be tracked. (2) No *intentional* trajectory (at least one reported) beyond "as far as possible"
The first close encounter with Earth that the Tesla will have will be in 2091 when simulations suggest it will pass within few hundred thousand kilometers of the planet.
“Each time it passes Earth, the car will get a gravitational kick,” says Dan Tamayo, a postdoctoral fellow at U of T Scarborough who is a co-author on the paper that has yet to be published.
“Although we are not able to tell on which planet the car will ultimately end up, we’re comfortable saying it won’t survive in space for more than a few tens of millions of years,” he says.
Tamayo and Hanno Rein, also a physicist at U of T Scarborough, only calculated the Tesla’s trajectory for the next three million years but the two are confident that the most likely outcome for the electric car is to crash into Earth or Venus in about ten million years. There’s an 11-percent chance of it smashing into Earth after three million years.
If it does crash into Earth, there would be no danger since the Tesla won’t be able to survive atmospheric re-entry.
This is all actually very good news for many scientists who were concerned the Tesla might crash into Mars, contaminating it with Earth microbes. And what’s more, the car might not even get a chance to crash into Earth in the first place. According to Tom Narita, an astrophysicist at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, the Roadster could be obliterated by high-speed space dust and cosmic ray radiation. In only a couple of years, all the plastic and rubber in the car should get shred into pieces by radiation while the metal structure itself can last for hundreds of thousands of years.
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy will soon become the most powerful U.S. rocket to be launched since the Saturn rockets were retired in 1972. Its maiden flight is scheduled for next month — a great way for SpaceX to start off the new year. In anticipation of an important milestone, the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, recently shared a few of photos of Falcon Heavy.
Engineers are currently making the finishing touches to the rocket at SpaceX’s hangar at Pad 39A of NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It’s where the three photos shared by Musk were taken.
The stunning views manage to capture the immensity and raw power of this rocket.
The Falcon Heavy is essentially made up of three Falcon 9s strapped together, which allows it to ferry roughly three times more payload into space than a single Falcon. Its design was first unveiled in 2011 but a series of setbacks have delayed the launch.
The 224-feet-tall (68.4 meters) rocket is capable of delivering 54 metric tons (119,000 lb) of payload (satellites, cargo, astronauts etc.) into Earth’s low orbit to the moon or even to Mars. That’s the mass equivalent of a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage, and fuel. It can even carry up to 4,000 kilograms of payload to Pluto!
No other rocket will be more power once the Falcon Heavy enters operation. And like all the new SpaceX rockets, the rocket will be fully reusable, which might cut launch costs a hundredfold.
Earlier this year, in May, SpaceX fired Falcon Heavy’s core stage for the first time. The Falcon Heavy is expected to perform its first static-fire test on Pad 39A by the end of this year. One month from now, if everything goes well, the rocket will be prepared for the ultimate test: its maiden voyage into space. Its first payload? What else but Musk’s own cherry-read Tesla Roadster.
Once the Falcon Heavy finally enters in operation, the ‘most powerful rocket’ crown might not last long. That distinction will soon belong to NASA’s upcoming Space Launch System that will provide an unprecedented lift capability of 130 metric tons (143 tons) to enable missions even farther into our solar system.
It’s just a statement, but it’s a pretty clear statement.
The journey to Mars just got a bit hotter. Image via NASA.
Since the early 2000s, several entrepreneurs have started to develop competitive spaceflight alternatives, breaking what was, until then, a state monopoly. A few companies have managed to bring on significant innovations and reduce costs for some operations, encouraging NASA and other similar organizations to rely on private services more and more.
Boeing and SpaceX are two such companies, both of which have earned the rights to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station using their CST-100 and Crew Dragon spacecraft, respectively. The two companies are in a healthy but heated competition, with Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg declaring at the Boeing-sponsored tech summit in Chicago in October 2016 that he wants to be the first one to send people to Mars.
“I’m convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket.”
Recently, Muilenburg repeated that claim on CNBC, adding that he has a concrete plan for a test flight in 2019.
“We’re going to take a first test flight in 2019 and we’re going to do a slingshot mission around the Moon.”
Unlike last year, when SpaceX CEO and mastermind Elon Musk remained silent, this new statement drew a reaction. “Do it,” Musk dryly wrote on Twitter.
The truth is, both Boeing and SpaceX are quite far from being able to send people to Mars. NASA has already granted Boeing more than $10 billion for development of the Space Launch System rocket, part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans including a manned mission to Mars. Muilenburg might say that’s bound to happen in 2019, but NASA basically admitted that it won’t, saying that a 2019 launch is a “best case” scenario, and a slip into 2020 is much more likely.
Boeing also needs much more funding from NASA, and the newly imposed leadership of Mike Pence adds even more uncertainty. So there are a lot of question marks around the project, but Boeing is making a clear statement. They want to dance, and SpaceX is ready to rumble — which is thrilling to see, really.
The two companies are in a feverish competition, vying to take humanity where no man has gone before. It’s the kind of competition which leads to progress, and it’s the kind of progress we can’t have enough of.
To both Musk and Muilenburg, I can only say one thing: “Do it.”
When your name is Elon Musk and your companies promise to revolutionize space flight and renewable energy, people listen to what you have to say — even when they maybe shouldn’t. The CEO and founder of Tesla and SpaceX recently expressed a worrying idea: that we may all be living in a giant simulation. Some physicists were stirred and started contradicting him or discussing the idea, but by far, the most interesting back and forth was with Rick.
Credits: Adult Swim/YouTube, via ScienceAlert.
Rick Sanchez is the smartest man in the Universe — in the animated series Rick and Morty, that is. Musk has said he’s a big fan of the series, though he also said it disgusts him at points (which truth be told, is a good description of Rick and Morty). It’s not just Musk who loves the series, his boys are also fans of the alcoholic genius and his awkward nephew.
"Kinda" disgusting? Just wait. We'll have the whole Musk family fully disgusted by the end of the season.
But perhaps, just perhaps, there’s also a lesson to be learned from this. If Musk can be so self-deprecating about his ideas, then maybe we shouldn’t discuss the quantum physics aspects of everything he says, right?
Just one year after Elon Musk explained how SpaceX is going to turn humanity into a “multi-planet species,” the serial entrepreneur is at it again with yet another audacious claim. Speaking to a full house at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Musk said that the same rocket that will get people to Mars and the Moon will be used to ferry passengers around the globe too. During an on-stage demonstration, the SpaceX CEO claimed passengers will be able to make “most long distance trips” in just 30 minutes and go “anywhere on Earth in under an hour.” All for the price of an economy airline ticket to boot.
In the video demonstration, passengers get on a large boat at a dock in New York City which takes them to a floating launchpad out at sea, similar to the kind SpaceX already uses to land reusable Falcon 9s. They then board a spaceship strapped to a mega-rocket codenamed “Big Fucking Rocket” or BFR for short and launch into space. However, instead of leaving Earth’s atmosphere, the spaceship breaks off from the rocket and heads to Shanghai. Some 7,000 miles and 39 minutes later, the ship touches down on another floating pad, in Chinese waters. Other trips include Hong Kong to Singapore in 22 minutes, London to Dubai or New York in 29 minutes, and Los Angeles to Toronto in 24 minutes.
Essentially, Musk just proposed the fastest means of transporting people yet. Forget the Concorde — at its peak, this trip will take you around the world at 18,000 miles per hour.
“It’s 2017, we should have a lunar base by now,” he said during his 40-minute speech. “What the hell has been going on?”
“If we’re building this thing to go to the moon and Mars, why not go other places as well?” Musk casually remarked.
Is this madness?
The initial design of the rocket unveiled last year and supposed to carry people to Mars where they’d settle a ‘self-sustaining city within 40 to 100 years,’ was a tad too ambitious. It was supposed to be 254 feet tall (77.5 meters) or even an impressive 400 feet (122 m) high when combined with the crew spaceship. Powered by 42 Raptor engines, the transport system could fit 100 people, maybe up to 200. Now, in Australia, Elon Musk stepped down a bit and presented a resized, more reasonable version. The name was also changed from Interplanetary Transport System (ITS) to the BFR. It all sounds like a big fat joke really but Musk has enough credit to get off the hook.
The BFR system will be fully reusable and capable of carrying up to 100 people or so in a pressurized passenger space larger than in an Airbus A380 airplane. Besides people, the launch system will be capable of ferrying cargo across the globe or to and from the International Space Station. It will also be powerful enough to reach the moon and Mars. It will also launch satellites, an important funding source according to Musk.
At least two cargo ships would land on the Red Planet in 2022, tasked with finding water, he said. Humans would soon follow a few years later.
Concept image of spacecraft landing on Mars, next to a human settlement. Musk said early this Friday that he wants to make the Red Planet “a nice place to be. The plan is to reach a human colony with a population numbering around one million. Credit: SpaceX.
It’s interesting to note, however, that Musk — who has never traveled to Earth’s low orbit himself — seems to think passengers are enthusiastic about going into space as he is. Provided it’s all super safe, how many people will be willing to go through the hassle of boarding a spaceship just to save half a day of traveling? Perhaps this man’s vision is just too outlandish. Perhaps he’s just projecting the future as it ought to be. Perhaps it’s all just a mad fantasy.
When it will be ready, Musk told the audience gathered at the conference that all other SpaceX rockets and spacecraft will be replaced as they’ll become obsolete. Exactly ‘when’ is anyone’s guess at this point but Musk did claim that he hopes SpaceX will start fitting the first nut and bolt six to nine months from now.
“I feel fairly confident we can build the ship and be ready for the launch in five years. Five years seems like a long time for me,” Mr Musk said.
“I can’t think of anything more exciting than being out there among the stars,” he ended.