Tag Archives: SpaceX

It’s a date: SpaceX set for world’s first all-civilian spaceflight

Four private individuals will orbit the Earth on SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on September 15th, making it “the first all-civilian human spaceflight mission.” They will launch next week from NASA’s Kennedy Center in Florida, spend three days in space and then reenter Earth’s atmosphere for a splashdown near the coast of Florida. 

The crew members in a recent photo. Image credit: SpaceX

The crew will board SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and a Dragon capsule and then take off, reaching an altitude of 335 miles – 75 higher than the International Space Station and on par with the Hubble Space Telescope. The exact flight time will be chosen a few days before the launch, taking into account the weather conditions and the flight trajectory. 

SpaceX named the mission Inspiration4, with the “4” referencing the number of crew members. These are commander Jared Isaacman, pilot Sian Proctor, medical officer Hayley Arceneaux and mission specialist Chris Sembroski. The project is funded by Isaacman, an entrepreneur behind the US payment processing startup Shift4Shop

Isaacman pledged to donate $100 million to St. Jude hospital as part of a push to raise $200 million more dollars for the organization. He holds several world records, has flown in over 100 airshows and co-founded the world’s largest private air force, Draken International, which trains pilots for the United States Armed Forces. Arceneaux is a physician at St. Jude’s hospital, where she battled bone cancer, while Sembroski is an aerospace industry employee and an Air Force veteran. Also joining the launch, Proctor is an entrepreneur, educator, and trained pilot, born in Guam, where her father worked at NASA’s tracking stations during the Apollo missions.

Upcoming steps

In a press release, Space X said the four crew members will arrive in Florida on Thursday for the mission’s final preparations. They have been training hard for months after the team was officially announced in March. Their preparation included centrifuge training, Dragon simulations, Zero-G plane training, and medical testing. 

“Inspiration4’s goal is to inspire humanity to support St. Jude here on earth while also seeing new possibilities for human spaceflight,” Isaacman said in March. “Each of these outstanding crew members embodies the best of humanity, and I am humbled to lead them on this historic and purposeful mission and the adventure of a lifetime.”

US multimillionaire Dennis Tito was the first tourist to go into space, launching to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2001 on an eight-day trip. Space tourism didn’t pick up much after that, with just six other private citizens flying. Still, the industry is expected to expand soon, with big plans of companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. 

Space X has repeatedly said it would be willing to sell seats to tourists on its Crew Dragon capsule, which has been mainly used so far to send NASA astronauts to and from the ISS. The company’s founder, billionaire Elon Musk, has expressed interest in going to space, but reports said he might be doing that with a Virgin Galactic flight. 

Musk made a deal in 2018 with billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and a group of artists to fly on the Starship rocket on a trip around the moon in 2023. 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.” For now, the all-civilian spaceflight will already be a big step. 

SpaceX rocket aced a landing, then exploded so hard it launched again for a bit

Luckily, nobody was injured and the company seems to be taking the events in good spirits.

Image credits Official SpaceX Photos / Flickr.

SpaceX is a company that’s definitely not afraid to take risks and try new things. And a natural part of such an approach is that things will often not go according to plan, and sometimes they fail spectacularly. Yesterday was one such day, after one of the company’s Starship rockets touched down in Texas.

Post-landing problems

SpaceX wants to make going to space cheap enough that it’s practical. A large part of that plan involves cutting down costs by making rockets reusable. They’re hard at work doing that.

So far, they’ve run into their fair share of trouble. Their approach involves using the rocket’s thrusters in flight to orient the craft upright before landing. Two of their previous test flights ended in fireballs though, because, while the rockets maneuvered as intended, they didn’t decelerate fast enough before touching down.

The test yesterday went much better than those two. It used a full-scale prototype of the rocket, which launched, traveled around 6 miles (10 kilometers), and then headed in for a landing. The maneuvers worked like a charm, and the craft flipped upright after descending close enough to the pad. “Third time’s the charm as the saying goes,” quipped SpaceX commentator John Insprucker, referring to the previous trials, as the rocket touched down successfully.

A few minutes later, however, the rocket would explode, briefly sending itself upon a new flight path.

SpaceX has not issued an official statement on the event yet, but CEO Elon Musk did comment on his personal Twitter account with good humor.

Technically speaking, it did. The first time.

It’s all good to make fun of a bad situation, but even considering that the rocket exploded after landing, this is quite the feat. SpaceX’s approach was under question given how the last two tests panned out, but yesterday’s shows that the plan was sound after all. Most importantly, nobody was injured, and rockets can be rebuilt. Even a result like this — which was arguably, ultimately, a failure — brings us one step closer to the days when rockets are reusable and don’t explode on the landing pad. Both extremely desirable traits, as the Spaceship is earmarked to ferry people to and from Mars for SpaceX.

“SpaceX team is doing great work! One day, the true measure of success will be that Starship flights are commonplace,” Musk added in a later tweet. It is not yet clear why the rocket exploded, but according to the Independent, “observers speculated that it was the result of a rough landing combined with a methane leak”.

SpaceX launch aborted and postponed for today. You can still watch it live

One Falcon 9 rocket that was shuttling Starlink satellites into orbit for SpaceX has encountered problems before launch on Sunday night. The launch was aborted just 90 seconds away from taking off.

A batch of 60 Starlink satellites coming close to being deployed into orbit aboard a Falcon 9. Image credits Official SpaceX Photos.

The veteran rocket was scheduled to take 60 new Starlink satellites to orbit, helping the company establish its fleet of internet-providing orbiters. Still, not everything went according to plan and the launch was postponed to later today, March 1st.

Automatically aborted

“Overall, the vehicle and payload are healthy and remain in good health,” SpaceX production supervisor Andy Tran explained during live launch commentary. “The next launch opportunity is tomorrow, March 1, at 8:15 Eastern time.”

Safety systems aboard the Falcon 9 rocket activated just 90 seconds before the scheduled launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, Pad 39A. While nothing went really wrong, which would probably involve an explosion, this event doesn’t bode very well for SpaceX.

This was the latest in a series of delays for this particular mission (Starlink 17). It was originally slated for earlier in February but delayed due to poor weather and hardware issues. There are already around 1,000 Starlink satellites in orbit, which will work together to deliver high-speed internet coverage around the world, particularly to remote areas.

Today’s launch will be SpaceX’s 20th Starlink mission, and their sixth launch of 2021. The same rocket will be used as yesterday, a tried and tested veteran whose first-stage booster has launched off seven times to date — five times for Starlink, and once each to launch the Iridium-8 and Telstar 18 Vantage satellites.

If everything goes well this time, the rocket will touch back down on the drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX’s current Block 5 Falcon 9 rockets are designed to fly 10 missions before replacement — so its first-stage booster is nearing the end of its service life.

According to the U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, there is a 70% chance of good weather for a SpaceX launch on Monday night. Hopefully that forecast proves to be right so we can watch the rocket blast off on SpaceX’s live stream

SpaceX will fly the first civilian crew to space – and two seats are up for grabs

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.

Image credit: SpaceX

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

SpaceX bought two oil platforms to transform them into launchpads

The two former oil rigs (renamed Phobos and Deimos like the Martian moons) will now be used as launchpads for the SpaceX Starship rocket, which is designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

Valaris plc has had a pretty lousy 2020. Like all oil companies, it suffered as the price of oil declined sharply, but Valaris seemed to take it worse than others, filing for bankruptcy in July. Turns out, before doing that, it sold two oil rigs for $3.5 million each to SpaceX.

SpaceX has long eyed launch and landing sites for its Starship launch system, and a water-based seaport would fit the bill excellently, especially since the ship will have a large blast area and would create a lot of noise (a common problem for populated areas). The two rigs in the Port of Brownsville, near SpaceX’s Starship development facility in Boca Chica, Texas, will not pose that problem.

Although the oil rigs were sold half a year ago, SpaceX didn’t openly announce it. NASA Space Flight magazine pieced things together, noticing that at the time the rigs were sold, SpaceX started advertising positions around Brownsville, including crane operators, electricians, and offshore operations engineers. In particular, one job advert called for applicants who can “install enhancements and major upgrades to offshore vessel electrical systems.” At the same time, founder Elon Musk confirmed that SpaceX was “building floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth”. Now, the mystery has been lifted: the project involves SpaceX and its massive Starship, meant to send people to Mars and (maybe) back.

So far, the Starship prototype launched to about 40,000 feet (12,000 meters), but despite passing some of the checkpoints, it exploded when it reached the ground. It’s pretty much still a work in progress, although Musk has great hopes for it.

SpaceX plans to eventually send not one, but multiple Starships to Mars during a single launch window (the period when the orbit of Earth will help put the rocket on a trajectory to Mars — just a few weeks every 26 months). There’s still a lot of work to be done, but if everything goes smoothly, Phobos and Deimos can enter service in late 2021. Until then, the Starship launch system is already expected to become operational, for orbital flights.

“SpaceX is building floating, superheavy-class spaceports for Mars, moon & hypersonic travel around Earth,” Musk had previously tweeted in June 16, 2020

Based on the extensive work still needed to prepare the rigs, Phobos and Deimos will likely enter service after the initial orbital flights of the Starship launch system. The first orbital Starship launch from Boca Chica could occur in late 2021, pending successful Starship and Super Heavy testing throughout the year.

SpaceX also plans to eventually send multiple Starships to Mars during a single interplanetary transfer window. These flights will be in addition to perhaps hundreds of Starship missions to Earth orbit before carrying any people.

Early SpaceX Starlink users claim they’re ‘streaming 4K with zero buffering’

Starlink phase-array dish and WiFi router. Credit: Reddit/Tesmanian.

Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk has his mind set on enveloping the planet with thousands of low-orbiting satellites that can beam high-speed internet to any location, no matter how remote it may be. It’s an extremely ambitious plan rife with many challenges but early results are already very promising, according to beta testers of the broadband internet service known as Starlink.

There are at least 900 Starlink satellites currently in orbit, deployed over 14 launches of SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket. The company wants to launch dozens of such satellites every two weeks until the fleet numbers 12,000 or up to 42,000. When completed in mid-2027, the network ought to support half a million users simultaneously with a 100 megabit-per-second internet speed.

Animation of the Starlink satellite constellation in operation once it becomes fully operational by mid-2027.

Until that lofty goal is reached, Starlink is available to a few lucky beta testers who are part of the “Better Than Nothing Beta” test program. Some have shared their satellite internet performance on reddit and twitter, with pretty good results, according to reports by Tesmanian.

“As you can see from the title, we are trying to lower your initial expectations,” SpaceX wrote in a statement sent to its beta testers, “Expect to see data speeds vary from 50Mb/s to 150Mb/s [megabits per second] and latency from 20ms to 40ms [milliseconds] over the next several months as we enhance the Starlink system. There will also be brief periods of no connectivity at all.”

“As we launch more satellites, install more ground stations and improve our networking software, data speed, latency and uptime will improve dramatically,” the email continued. “For latency, we expect to achieve 16ms to 19ms by summer 2021.”

Seems like the email was on point. Writing on Twitter, Kenneth Auchenberg, one of Starlink beta testers, shared his experience with Starlink, claiming he was able to stream videos at “1440p and 4K with zero buffering on YouTube”. A screenshot of a speed test attached to the same posts shows that Auchenberg’s connection experienced a latency speed of 38 milliseconds (ms), a download speed of 134 megabits per second (Mbps), and an upload of 14.8 Mbps. Elon Musk himself later replied that “latency will improve significantly soon.”

Starlink internet users don’t connect to the satellite network directly. Instead, the signal is first sent to ground stations, which then distribute the connection to end-users through a 19-inch phased-array dish called “Dishy McFlatface”. Besides the antenna, the Starlink Kit also includes a Wi-Fi router and a mounting tripod for the dish.

Starlink Kit. Credit: Reddit user Akumzy.
Credit: Reddit user Rawku2.

Having the ability to setup a wireless internet connection virtually anywhere in the world is extremely appealing. But not everyone is welcoming the thousands of upcoming satellites. Astronomers, for instance, are worried that glare from this megaconstellation of sallites will ruin sensitive telescope observations. Other space companies and satellites operators are worried that the crowding of low-orbit with internet satellites will make it increasingly difficult to find a clear path through which to launch their own rockets.

Starlink satellite train zooming across the sky. Credit: SatTrackCam Leiden.

The Starlink Kit will initially cost $500, with a later target of $200 per terminal, while the monthly broadband service fee is priced at $99. If you want to learn more about Starlink and receive notifications about when the service will be available in your area, visit their website.

SpaceX makes history, launches its first crew mission to the ISS

Astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley launched towards the International Space Station on a Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket on Saturday, at 3:22 p.m local time, marking the first human spaceflight performed by a private-government partnership.

The launch performed at the historic Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida is the first piloted launch to orbit from American soil since the shuttle was retired nearly nine years ago. Since 2011, when the US Space Shuttle program was discontinued, all manned flights to the International Space Station were performed using the Russian Soyuz rockets.

After a 9-minute two-stage flight, the Crew Dragon capsule coasted for another 3 minutes, performing slight attitude adjustments before physically separating from the entire Falcon 9 rocket.

The Falcon 9’s first-stage rocket made a controlled landing 9 and a half minutes after launch on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.

History in the making

The SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 Launch: Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission is SpaceX’s most important test thus far and its success opens the doors wide open for human spaceflight through a government-private partnership.

Behnken and Hurley were originally supposed to head for the ISS on Wednesday, May 27, but the spaceflight was postponed due to bad weather caused by the Tropical Storm Bertha, just 16 minutes and 53 seconds prior to the much-anticipated launch.

Hurley and Behnken will monitor a mostly automated rendezvous with the ISS after approximately 19 hours of flight. They’re expected to dock at the forward port of the lab complex around 10:30 a.m. EDT Sunday.

After the docking process is complete, the two astronauts will board the ISS and officially become members of Expedition 63 Crew. Their tasks will involve performing tests on the Crew Dragon, as well as conducting research.

Behnken previously completed two space shuttle flights in March 2008 and February 2010, and performed three spacewalks during each mission.

Hurley completed two spaceflights in July 2009 and July 2011.

The mission is expected to last no more than 90 days, since the Crew Dragon capsule’s operating life is about 114 days. The spacecraft’s lifespan is limited by its solar panels that get damaged with time.

Once their mission is complete, the two astronauts will leave the ISS by boarding back into the Crew Dragon capsule and performing a deorbit burn lasting 12 minutes, followed by atmospheric re-entry. The capsule should splashdown somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean where it will be rendezvoused by the Go Navigator Recovery Vessel.

SpaceX delays next launch due to COVID-19 travel restrictions

SpaceX will be postponing its next launch due to international travel restrictions put in place to fight the current pandemic, the company announced. Two workers at the company’s headquarters have tested positive for COVID-19, it adds.

Image credits Official SpaceX Photos / Flickr.

SpaceX’s latest launch successfully delivered 60 satellites into orbit, which will underpin the company’s planned Starlink system. Their next launch was slated for March 30 and was supposed to carry the Argentine radar satellite SAOCOM 1B all the way to orbit. However, travel restrictions currently in place mean that the personnel from Argentina cannot travel to the launch site in Florida and ensure the satellite is running smoothly — as such, the mission was delayed.

But the coronavirus has affected SpaceX much closer to home, too. At least one of the company’s employees and one healthcare provider at their headquarters in Hawthorne, California, have tested positive for the coronavirus, CNBC reports, citing an internal company memo. They are now undergoing a 14-day quarantine, alongside a number of other personnel that were sent home just in case they also contracted the virus. The company One Medical, which provides on-site healthcare services at SpaceX’s headquarters and employs the second infected individual, has also asked any of their employees who feel sick to stay at home and get tested immediately.

So far, SpaceX has been putting a lot of effort into insulating itself from the outbreak, but it seems to have caught it in the end. Still, the company is and has been for some time now producing its own hand sanitizer handing out personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves to employees.

“While the delay is unfortunate, it hardly comes as a surprise at the same time dozens of countries around the world are considering – or already enacting – extreme countermeasures to mitigate the damage that will be caused by the COVID-19 pandemic,” writes Eric Ralph for Teslarati. “Thankfully, once Argentinian space agency (CONAE) employees are able to prepare SAOCOM 1B for flight, the mission is still set to make history, marking the first time a rocket launches on a polar trajectory from the United States’ East Coast in more than a half-century.”

“In the meantime, SpaceX – while not deriving any income – also has ways of potentially taking advantage of a bad situation and exploiting unexpected downtime as a result of customer delays.”

“Mighty Mice” arrive at the ISS to improve astronaut health

Credit: The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine (JAX-GM).

A successful SpaceX docking to the International Space Station (ISS) brought more than the usual supplies. Also aboard the Dragon capsule are 40 genetically modified mice, dubbed “Mighty Mice”, which will be used to test muscle loss in microgravity.

Jacked mice

Two challenges that astronauts face in weightlessness are muscle and skeletal atrophies which can cause heart disease and osteoporosis for long periods of time. This limited muscle growth is caused by a protein called myostatin.

The mice recently sent to the ISS have been genetically modified to lack myostatin and therefore display approximately twice the average muscle mass. The rodents will spend 30 days confined in an experiment which will study how microgravity affects their muscles and bones.

Scientists are hoping that the research will bring to light the method of blocking the protein which should counter the effects of microgravity as well as used to treat patients recovering from hip fracture hip surgery, intensive care patients as well as the elderly.

“This is a project that I’ve been trying to get off the ground, so to speak, for many, many years,” said researcher Se-Jin Lee, a professor at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine, who is leading the study.

“To see it all come together now is nothing short of amazing. The knowledge we gain about microgravity’s effects on muscles and bones will help us to enhance the health of astronauts – both in space and on Earth, and also better understand the promise that myostatin inhibitors hold for the elderly, people who are bedridden, and for people experiencing muscle-wasting related to diseases like AIDS, ALS, cancer, and so many others,” he added.

Lee discovered the myostatin gene in 1997, and was the first to show myostatin’s role in regulating muscle growth. His space-based project, funded by a competitive grant from the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space will explore the new angle on the role of myostatin.

The launch will be the 19th SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services contract mission for NASA and is also carrying a number of other experiments to the ISS, including malting barley in microgravity for beer, launching new communication satellites, understanding the spread of fire in space and measuring gravity.

The new Falcon 9 booster lifted the payload to the ISS from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Take-off was originally scheduled for Wednesday but was delayed almost 24 hours by high altitude winds and choppy seas that could have impacted the droneship landing pad in the Atlantic Ocean. The booster then had a successful landing aboard SpaceX’s Of Course I Still Love You platform.

Musk unveils SpaceX’s Starship on livestream

In a speech that was streamed live from SpaceX’s launch facility in Texas, Elon Musk unveiled the spacecraft that he hopes will make space travel a common affair.

Starship at SpaceX launch facility in Cameron County, Texas.
Image credits Spacex / Twitter.

This Saturday, Musk presented SpaceX’s Starship Mk.1, a prototype of the company’s towering reusable rocket, reports Business Insider. He spoke from a stage clad in a shiny metal fuselage. The craft is intended for reusable space missions where it will launch, take people to Mars, the Moon, or anywhere else in the solar system they need to go, and then land back on Earth.

The new version of Starship (and its Super Heavy booster) will be able to carry up to 100 people at a time, stand 387 feet (118 meters) tall, and be completely reusable, with quick turnarounds. This is the rocket that will launch billionaire Japanese entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa and a handful of artists on a trip around the moon in the 2020s.

“This is, I think, the most inspiring thing I have ever seen,” Musk told a crowd of about 200 SpaceX employees, guests, and reporters at the company’s site near Boca Chica Village, which is located just outside of Brownsville, Texas.

“What an incredible job by such a great team to build this incredible vehicle. I’m so proud to work with such a great team.”

Musk says this reusability is essential in order to increase humanity’s presence outside of Earth. The ship, he explains, is scheduled to take its maiden flight in about one or two months and reach 65,000 feet (19,800 meters) before landing back on Earth. Musk also adds that it’s important for humanity to work and extend consciousness beyond our planet — a nice way of saying ‘colonize space’.

“Starship will allow us to inhabit other worlds,” Musk wrote on Twitter Friday, Sept. 27.

“To make life as we know it interplanetary.”

The livestream was held to mark the 11th anniversary of a SpaceX rocket reaching orbit for the first time.

Credit: Flickr.

Elon Musk says ‘we’ could land on the moon in “less than two years”

Credit: Flickr.

Elon Musk. Credit: Flickr.

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.

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.

SpaceX launches 24 satellites (along with 152 dead people)

The most powerful rocket in the world can now say it has a night launch under its belt. SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy completed its third successful launch at 2:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as part of the Department of Defense’s Space Test Program-2 launch, in what Elon Musk called the “most difficult launch” his company has ever undertaken.

As part of the launch, SpaceX successfully landed two of the rocket’s first-stage boosters, which touched down at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The center booster didn’t fare so well after it crashed into the ocean as it attempted to land on the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You.

SpaceX obtained another first when the Heavy’s nose cone was captured in SpaceX’s netted boat, Ms. Tree. This was the first successful net of the cone since 2017 when the company first attempted the feat. The successful capture means that SpaceX has the option of reusing the structure instead of rebuilding another, and with each costing a cool $6 million, it will be a vast money-saver for the company. SpaceX has said that they will attempt to try out one of the used fairings on a Falcon 9 later this year.

Tuesday’s launch was made even more complicated by the fact that in order to be successful, many of the 24 satellites on board had to be injected into three different orbits to accomplish their missions. This required the rocket’s second-stage booster to fire on four separate occasions, with the final firing three and a half hours after the launch.

Among the satellites included one with the cremated remains of 152 corpses. The ashes are being lifted into orbit by Celestis Memorial Spaceflights, which charged upwards of $5,000 per gram, which Celestis refers to as “participants.” Among the remains are those of James Doohan, more popularly known as Scotty on the original Star Trek series.

Also aboard the flight, and probably more useful to humanity, were several scientific satellites.

NASA’s Deep Space Atomic Clock is a toaster oven-sized instrument which will test a new way for spacecraft to navigate in deep space. The technology could make GPS-like navigation possible for missions to the Moon and Mars. With all of the hardware NASA has successfully gotten to the Red Planet, the clock could help eliminate communication issues. The test system has been a project of the agency for two decades and was created to help spacecraft and the home planet navigate and communicate with little input.

“Every single spacecraft exploring deep space today relies on navigation that’s performed back here at Earth to tell it where it is and, much more importantly, where it’s going,” Jill Seubert, a deep-space navigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said during a news conference held on June 10. “We have to navigate from Earth because the clocks onboard spacecraft are really not good at accurately measuring time, but if we can change that, we can revolutionize the way that we can navigate deep space.”

The Green Propellant Infusion Mission will test a new propulsion system that runs on a high-performance and non-toxic spacecraft fuel. The low-toxicity propellant could help propel constellations of small satellites in and beyond low-Earth orbit. The new fuel is a hydroxyl ammonium nitrate fuel/oxidizer mix called AF-M315E and will serve as an alternative to hydrazine, a highly toxic compound used in rocket fuel to power satellites and spacecraft.

It also boasts a higher density than hydrazine, meaning more of it can be stored in containers of the same volume. In addition, it delivers a higher specific impulse, or thrust delivered per given quantity of fuel, and has a lower freezing point, requiring less spacecraft power to maintain its temperature. The fuel has been in the works for years and is nearly 50 percent more efficient than current propellants.

LightSail2 is the Planetary Society’s citizen-funded craft which aims to become the first spacecraft in Earth orbit propelled solely by sunlight. During launch LightSail 2 was enclosed within Prox-1, a small satellite built by Georgia Tech students. Prox-1 is scheduled to deploy LightSail 2 on 2 July 2019.

Why the SpaceX satellite fleet could spell major headaches for astronomers

In 2015, the world got understandably excited as SpaceX mastermind Elon Musk announced the launch of a new satellite fleet that would give the world faster and cheaper internet. But as the first few satellites were launched, it made a lot of astronomers unhappy.

The constellation, which so far consists of 60 satellites but is set to be expanded to 12,000, add more clutter and significantly reduce our view of the cosmos, potentially dealing an important blow to many, many space surveys.

Screenshot taken from a video shot by Marco Langbroek with a group of SpaceX Starlink satellites passing over the Netherlands on May 24, 2019.

When the first satellites were launched, the event was tracked all around the world. Astronomer Marco Langbroek noted on his blog a calculation of where the satellites would be orbiting. He set up his camera and patiently waited, but not for long: he quickly observed a string of bright dots flying across the sky. The satellites were so bright that they were even visible to the naked eye in certain instances prompting some people to UFO sightings.

Sure enough, their brightness has diminished partly as they stabilized into orbit, but for astronomers, this was a clear message: observations are bound to get more difficult, and there’s going to be a lot more objects in the way.

To get a sense of the current situation, there are currently 2,100 active satellites orbiting our planet. If 12,000 are added by SpaceX alone, it would add an unprecedented level of visual clutter for astronomers — and SpaceX is just one of the companies who want to put internet satellites into orbit.

“People were making extrapolations that if many of the satellites in these new mega-constellations had that kind of steady brightness, then in 20 years or less, for a good part of the night anywhere in the world, the human eye would see more satellites than stars,” Bill Keel, an astronomer at the University of Alabama, told AFP.

Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics also adds that at least during some parts of the year, things will get a bit more problematic for astronomers.

“So, it’ll certainly be dramatic in the night sky if you’re far away from the city and you have a nice, dark area; and it’ll definitely cause problems for some kinds of professional astronomical observation.”

SpaceX’s declared goal is a lofty one:  to provide broadband internet connectivity to underserved areas of the planet and offer cheaper, more reliable service to all the world. The cashflow received from this venture would help the company advance its Mars flight plans, helping mankind achieve its space exploration dreams. Yet at the same time, this is placing a hurdle in the way of astronomers.

If there’s anything we can learn from this story, is that things are most often complex, and even with good intentions, planetary-scale projects can have important side-effects which need to be accounted for.

Artist illustation of BFT taking off. Credit: SpaceX.

SpaceX lands Falcon Heavy boosters — plans to reuse them later this year

Well, now it just looks like SpaceX is just showing off. Just over a month after its Crew Dragon capsule mated with the International Space Station in the first commercial docking with the ISS, it successfully launched and landed its Falcon Heavy for mission Arabsat-6A. This is the same Falcon Heavy that launched a cherry-red Tesla into orbit, giving its driver, Starman, one of the coolest road trips in history.

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The megarocket, which stands 230 tall, is the most powerful rocket currently in operation. Launching off of Pad 39A, the Falcon Heavy launched its first commercial payload, a satellite for the Saudi Arabian company Arabsat which will deliver television, radio, Internet, and mobile communications to customers in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe. Built by Lockheed Martin, this is the first satellite for the company as part of a batch of contracts worth $650 million.

“Life cannot just be about solving one sad problem after another,” Musk said after the experimental launch. “There need to be things that inspire you, that make you glad to wake up in the morning and be part of humanity. That is why we did it. We did for you.”

Following booster separation, the Falcon Heavy’s two reusable side boosters landed at SpaceX’s Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on the “Of Course I Still Love You” drone-ship, stationed in the Atlantic. During a demo flight, the center booster crashed after running out of fuel, but all ran smoothly for Thursday’s flight. Later on Thursday, Elon Musk said that both payload fairings were recovered. With an individual price of $6 million per, SpaceX plans to reuse these in for a Starlink mission at a later date.

Since SpaceX launched Starman, they have seen a boon in the number of orders for its Falcon Heavy: five contracted missions, three of which are commercial, as well as a $130 million contract to lift the Air Force Space Command-52 satellite.

In a Wednesday tweet, Elon Musk said that the Falcon Heavy uses the new Block 5 version of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which launched its initial voyage last year. Musk said that Block 5 adds “some risk of failure between 5% to 10%,” as “the changes are unproven” even with “many good design improvements.”

Beyond that though, the Block 5 upgrades add nearly 10 percent more thrust to Falcon Heavy compared with the demo mission last year. And while previous versions of the Falcon 9 were meant to only fly two or three times, the Block 5 should be capable of launching as many as 10 times with no refurbishment between flights.

The launch was originally scheduled for the day prior, on April 10, but was scrubbed due to high-altitude shear winds.

First Crew Dragon launch and docking a success for SpaceX

It’s only a matter of time before a manned launch of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship. The capsule made its initial test flight out of Kennedy Space Center atop a Falcon 9 rocket a success as it launched to the International Space Station (ISS) with 400 pounds of supplies. This was the first launch of a commercially-developed capsule intended to carry astronauts into space.

Image credits: SpaceX.

After a careful launch on March 2, the shuttle has now successfully docked itself to the International Space Station, latching onto the station.

Also inside the capsule was the Crew Dragon’s sole passenger, a dummy named Ripley, who will measure forces and acceleration which would be experienced by human passengers, as well as their environment, during the trip.

“We instrumented the crap out of this vehicle; it’s got data, sensors everywhere,” said Kathy Lueders, manager for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, during a news conference. “Actually having a re-entry, with Ripley in the seat, in the position, is critical.”

“The goal is to get an idea of how humans would feel in (Ripply’s) place, basically,” SpaceX vice president of Build and Flight Reliability Hans Koenigsmann said of the dummy. “I don’t expect, actually, a lot of surprises there, but it’s better to verify, make sure that it’s safe and everything’s comfortable for our astronauts going on the next flight of the capsule.”

SpaceX controlled the launch of the Falcon 9 from Kennedy’s Launch Control Center Firing Room 4, the former space shuttle control room, which SpaceX has leased as its primary launch control center. As Crew Dragon ascended into space, SpaceX commanded the Crew Dragon spacecraft from its mission control center in Hawthorne, CA. NASA teams will monitor space station operations throughout the flight from Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

But the hardest part is only now beginning for SpaceX. After the successful docking, the shuttle will detach and begin its hypersonic journey back to Earth. NASA and SpaceX will be keeping a close eye on this descent, monitoring its ability to safely re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere.

After the shuttle will parachute itself into the ocean, SpaceX’s recovery ship, Go Searcher, will retrieve the capsule and transport it back to port.

The next trip for the Crew Dragon will tentatively carry astronauts Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken, who are scheduled to be the first American astronauts launched from United States soil since the shuttle program concluded eight years ago.

“I can’t begin to explain to you how exciting it is for a test pilot to be on a first flight of a vehicle,” Hurley, a shuttle veteran and former Marine Corps F/A-18 test pilot, told reporters before launch. “We’ll be ready when SpaceX and NASA are ready for us to fly it.”

For operational missions, Crew Dragon will be able to launch as many as four crew members and carry more than 220 pounds of cargo.

This is a guest contribution by Jordan Strickler. Find out how you can contribute to ZME Science.

Credit: SpaceX.

Tesla Roadster and Starman have now traveled beyond Mars

Credit: SpaceX.

Credit: SpaceX.

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.

Credit: SpaceX.

Credit: SpaceX.

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.

Yusaku Maezawa.

Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will be the first Moon tourist — and he’s bringing artists along

Elon Musk and SpaceX have announced that Japanese entrepreneur and billionaire Yusaku Maezawa will be the company’s first Moon tourist.

Yusaku Maezawa.

Yusaku Maezawa.
Image credits SpaceX.

Last week, SpaceX unveiled its plans to send two passengers aboard a rocket on a trip around the Moon. The company didn’t disclose any names at the time, but a tweet by owner Elon Musk hinted that one of the passengers may be Japanese. That hint was spot-on: Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese entrepreneur and billionaire, has purchased all the seats on the Big Falcon Rocket’s (BFR) first crewed flight.

A mission of culture

“Finally I can tell you that I choose to go to the Moon!” Maezawa said during an announcement Monday evening.

Maezawa, a known and enthusiastic art collector, plans to embark with six to eight artists, which will accompany him around the Earth’s natural satellite. The artists have not yet been chosen, but the billionaire hopes they will include a musician, sculptor, painter, film director, dancer, photographer, architect, novelist, and fashion designer. Part of the project — which Maezawa christened #dearMoon — will involve them creating work inspired by their journey after they return to Earth.

“One day when I was staring at his painting, I thought, ‘What if Basquiat had gone to space and had seen the Moon – what wonderful masterpiece would he have created?” Maezawa said, referring to a 1982 painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat he bought last year.

“If you should hear from me, please say yes and accept my invitation. Please don’t say no,” he added for all the artists out there.

Musk described Maezawa as ‘incredibly brave’ for embarking on this mission, adding that his desire to participate in and pay for this trip restored Musk’s faith in humanity.

The mission is slated to launch as soon as 2023, though Musk said he can’t be sure about that timeline yet as “things do not go right in reality” and that “usually there are setbacks and issues”.

“It’s not 100 percent certain that we succeed in getting this to flight,” he addded, “but we’re going to do everything humanly possible to bring it to flight as fast as we can and as safely as we can.”

Rocket v2.0

The BFR is also getting some changes to its design, Musk revealed alongside Maezawa’s participation on the mission. The rocket will be 387 feet (118 meters) tall, a full 40 feet (12 meters) taller than previous versions. It’s also going to receive front actuator (steering) fins, as well as three back wings to function as landing pads. The system’s spaceship is expected to carry up to 100 people and 150 tons (136 metric tonnes) of supplies.

The first portion of the system has already been built, Musk added. Total development costs for the rocket fall somewhere between US$2 billion and US$10 billion.

“It’s hard to say what the development cost is,” he said. “I think it’s roughly US$5 billion”

SpaceX did not reveal any exact figures on how much Maezawa paid for the lunar flight, only that it as a significant sum and that a down payment has already been made.

“He’s paying a lot of money that would help with the ship and its booster,” Musk said on Monday. “He’s ultimately paying for the average citizen to travel to other planets.”

SpaceX will send its first passenger around the moon aboard a Big Freaking Rocket

bif falcon rocket

Credit: SpaceX.

SpaceX is set to send a private passenger on a flight around the moon. This journey will be made aboard the company’s upcoming Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which is designed to take up to 100 people as far away as Mars.

Initially, the company announced it would send two passengers around the moon on a Falcon Heavy and that the flight ought to happen at the end of 2018. It’s not clear at this point whether the passenger is one of these two persons or someone new altogether, but one of Elon Musk’s tweets suggests the individual may be Japanese. The identity of the passenger will be live-streamed on Monday, September 17 at 9 PM ET, along with further details.

The rocket (BFR) and spacecraft (Big Falcon Spaceship — BFS) that will carry this lucky passenger around the moon was first presented by Musk last year at the International Astronautical Congress. Both the BFR and BFS are designed to be reusable and to land automatically, like the famous Falcon 9 has demonstrated numerous times in the past.

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.

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 BFR will make all other SpaceX vehicles obsolete.

Ultimately, Musk said that he would like to retire all of the company’s current rockets and spacecraft — Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy, and the Dragon spacecraft — to make way for a fleet comprised solely of BFRs.

So, when will this amazing spaceflight take place? It’s anybody’s guess, really, considering SpaceX’s track record of shifting timetables. First and foremost, the BFR would have to be ready and it’s not at all clear when this will be the case. Remember that the Falcon Heavy was first unveiled in 2011 but wasn’t ready to launch before 2018. December 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of the last human mission to the Moon, Apollo 17. Perhaps this could be an interesting (and realistic) target for SpaceX’s lunar passenger spaceflight.

Remote camera records its last moments during NASA/German GRACE-FO launch on May 22, 2018. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

NASA explains how one of its cameras melted during rocket launch

Remote camera records its last moments during NASA/German GRACE-FO launch on May 22, 2018. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

A remote camera records its last moments during NASA/German GRACE-FO launch on May 22, 2018. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Bill Ingalls is one of NASA’s go-to photographers when launches need to be documented. On May 22, he was responsible for recording a SpaceX launch from multiple vantage points. But despite his 30 years of experience shooting rocket launches, nothing could have prepared him for what happened next: one of his cameras got engulfed by flames set off by the booster. However, you could say it was all worth it. Now, we at least have this amazingly rare point of view.

It’s not like it was Ingalls’ fault, either.

“I had six remotes, two outside the launch pad safety perimeter and four inside,” Ingalls said in a statement for NASA. “Unfortunately, the launch started a grass fire that toasted one of the cameras outside the perimeter.”

The burned camera was actually the farthest out of all the bunch. However, it was surrounded by vegetation that caught fire from the booster’s ignition, which spread beyond the boundaries of the launch zone. When Ingalls inspected the site after the launch was over, he found that his Canon’s body was destroyed by the fire. Somehow, though, his memory card was unharmed and when he plugged it into his computer, the camera’s last recording was uncorrupted.

NASA Photographer Bill Ingalls's camera after it was caught in brushfire caused by the launch of the NASA/German GRACE-FO from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 22, 2018. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

NASA Photographer Bill Ingalls’s camera after it was caught in brushfire caused by the launch of the NASA/German GRACE-FO from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 22, 2018. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

NASA Photographer Bill Ingalls's remote camera setup before the NASA/German GRACE-FO launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 22, 2018. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA Photographer Bill Ingalls’s remote camera setup before the NASA/German GRACE-FO launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base on May 22, 2018. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

The toasted camera will likely go on display somewhere at NASA’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Meanwhile, Ingalls is preparing to travel to Kazakhstan where he will document the June 3 landing of the International Space Station’s Expedition 55 crew. He doesn’t think he’ll come back with a melted camera this time.

Elon Musk: Mars spaceship might test flight in early 2019

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

big falcon rocket

Credit: SpaceX.

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 illustation of BFT taking off. Credit: SpaceX.

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).