With Dragon 2 Still Unfinished, Musk Rolls Out an Even More Ambitious Plan

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

When on May 29, 2014, Elon Musk unveiled the Dragon 2 spacecraft at a gala ceremony at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., the future of American human spaceflight seemed assured and tantalizingly close.

By 2017, the new spacecraft would begin making crewed flights to the International Space Station, restoring a capability that had ended with the last space shuttle mission in 2011. NASA’s dependence on  Russian Soyuz spacecraft would come to an end.

Four years after its unveiling, Dragon 2 is still months away from making an automated flight test to the space station. A test flight with astronauts aboard might not occur until next year. The Government Accountability Office believes additional delays could push certification of the spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis to December 2019. (Certification of Boeing’s crew vehicle might not occur until February 2020).

It’s good to keep all this in mind as Musk prepares to unveil his latest transportation plan this evening. At 7 p.m. PDT, Musk will hold a town-hall style meeting in Los Angeles to discuss plans by The Boring Company for tunneling under the city. The event will be webcast at https://www.boringcompany.com/.

Musk might have given a preview of the session on Twitter this week when he made a connection between his tunneling work and the mega rocket/spaceship that he is designing to render Dragon 2 and its Falcon 9 booster obsolete.

The spaceport in question is apparently the offshore platform where passengers will board the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which Musk says will be capable of going anywhere in the world in about 30 minutes. The rocket is also being designed to launch satellites and transport people and cargo to the moon and Mars.

It sounds as ambitious as anything Musk has attempted to date. If the past is any guide, his estimates on cost and schedules will be extremely optimistic.

Video of Gwynne Shotwell’s TED Talk

Video Caption: What’s up at SpaceX? Engineer Gwynne Shotwell was employee number seven at Elon Musk’s pioneering aerospace company and is now its president. In conversation with TED curator Chris Anderson, she discusses SpaceX’s race to put people into orbit and the organization’s next big project, the BFR (ask her what it stands for). The new giant rocket is designed to take humanity to Mars — but it has another potential use: space travel for earthlings.

SpaceX to Build BFR at Port of Los Angeles

BFR servicing the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have confirmed the company plans to build its BFR rocket at the Port of Los Angeles.

The city Board of Harbor Commissioners will vote Thursday on whether to lease 19 acres to SpaceX for the manufacturing site. The commission’s staff has recommended approval of an initial 10-year term, with two 10-year options, at an annual rent of approximately $1.38 million….

SpaceX, based in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, already uses the Port of Los Angeles for missions that recover Falcon 9 first-stage boosters on a floating platform in the Pacific and when it recovers supply capsules that parachute into the ocean after missions to the international space station.

“SpaceX has called the Port of Los Angeles home to our west coast recovery operations since 2012 and we truly appreciate the City of Los Angeles’ continued partnership,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX president and COO, said in a statement.

“As announced today by Mayor Garcetti, the Port will play an increasingly important role in our mission to help make humanity multi-planetary as SpaceX begins production development of BFR — our next generation rocket and spaceship system capable of carrying crew and cargo to the Moon, Mars and beyond.”

Read the full story.

SpaceX Might Build BFR in Los Angeles

BFR servicing the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX is looking to expand its footprint at the Port of Los Angeles in a move possibly related the manufacturing of its BFR booster.

SpaceX has entered into preliminary negotiations with the Port of Los Angeles for a lease that would expand the Hawthorne space company’s port facilities to manufacture “large commercial transportation vehicles.”

Port and company officials would not comment on what exactly would be built on the 18-acre site on Terminal Island, but public documents suggest that it will involve rockets or spacecraft.

SpaceX, which currently makes its rockets in Hawthorne, has plans to make a huge next-generation spaceship and rocket system known as BFR. The reusable spaceship and booster, which will measure more than 340 feet tall when stacked, is intended to eventually replace SpaceX’s workhorse Falcon 9 rocket and its new Falcon Heavy heavy-lift rocket, which flew for the first time last month.

The Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners, which oversees port management and operations, voted last week to approve California Environmental Quality Act regulations necessary for the board to later vote on a lease for the proposed project.

A Look Back at the Space Year That Was

Total solar eclipse photographed from NASA Armstrong’s Gulfstream III. (Credit: (NASA/Carla Thomas)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

I realize it’s a bit late, but here’s a look back at the major developments in space in 2017.

I know that I’m probably forgetting something, or several somethings or someones. Fortunately, I have eagle-eyed readers who really seem to enjoy telling me just how much I’ve screwed up. Some of them a little too much….

So, have at it!  Do your worst, eagle-eyed readers!

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The Votes Are In: Elon Musk’s BFR Point-to-Point Plan is Wackadoodle

The people have spoken. And, by a narrow margin, they think that Elon Reeve Musk’s BFR point-to-point commercial travel plan is wackadoodle.

There were 129 votes for Wackadoodle — It’ll Never Happen, which represents 28 percent of the total.

Great Idea — But I Have REALLY Serious Doubts came in a close second with 171 votes (27 percent).

Awesome Sauce — Let’s Do It! came in third with 26 percent or 165 votes.

That was followed by Great Idea — But I have Some Doubts (115 votes, 18 percent) and Not Sure (13 votes, 2 percent).

I want to thank all the Parabolic Archers who voted. Please remember to vote in our new poll. And remember: vote early! Vote often! Just vote, dammit! Vote!

 

SpaceX Wants More Government Funding for Renamed BFR

BFR servicing the International Space Station. (Credit: SpaceX)

Some news out of the NewSpace Europe conference:

The president of SpaceX said she expects the company would receive additional funding from the U.S. government to support the development of its large reusable launch system.

Speaking at the NewSpace Europe conference here Nov. 16, Gwynne Shotwell noted that SpaceX is already receiving funding from the U.S. Air Force supporting the development of Raptor, the engine that will power the vehicle known as BFR, or Big Falcon Rocket, and the reusable spacecraft known as BFS or Big Falcon Spaceship.

“I do anticipate that there is residual capability of that system that the government will be interested in,” she said. “I do see that we would likely get some funding from the government for BFR and BFS.” She added, though, that work on the vehicles was not contingent on receiving government funding.

The U.S. Air Force recently issued a request for proposals that will fund the development of new launch systems to replace ULA’s Delta IV and Atlas V boosters.

Clock is Ticking on NASA Human Deep Space Program

Lamar Smith

It seems that nothing so becomes a politician’s public life like the announcement that he or she is leaving it.

George Washington’s decision in 1796 to not seek a third term as president is widely hailed as the ultimate example of a small-r republican virtue of restraint the general demonstrated throughout his public life. Americans trusted Washington with power because they knew he would exercise it wisely and, that when the time came, he would walk away. Voluntarily.

In an age when many kings claimed a hereditary right to rule for life with absolute authority, relinquishing power was an astounding act. But Washington, a master of exits in war and peace, knew it was time to go. In so doing, he set a two-term precedent for the presidency that would stand for 144 years.

More recently, we’ve seen another result of what happens when politicians decide they’ve had enough: candor. Sens. Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jeff Flake (R-AZ) both launched fiery broadsides at the current occupant of Washington’s old office — and a member of their own party, no less — upon announcing they would not seek re-election next year.

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SpaceX Receives Additional $40.8 Million from Air Force to Develop Raptor Engine

Raptor engine hot fire. (Credit SpaceX)

The U.S. Air Force has awarded an additional $40.8 million to SpaceX for the development of its Raptor rocket engine.

The funding, awarded under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle program, involves the extension of a $33.7 million contract originally awarded in January. SpaceX agreed to spend $67.3 million under the jointly funded program under the original contract.

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USAF Issues RFP for New Launch Vehicles

The U.S. Air Force issued a request for proposals (RFP) last Thursday for a new launch vehicle to handle national security space (NSS) requirements.

“The goal of the EELV acquisition strategy is to leverage commercial launch solutions in order to have at least two domestic, commercial launch service providers that also meet NSS requirements, including the launch of the heaviest and most complex payloads,” the proposal states.

“The Launch Service Agreements (LSAs) facilitate development of at least three EELV Launch System prototypes as early as possible, allowing those launch systems to mature prior to a future selection of two NSS launch service providers for Phase 2 launch service procurements, starting in FY20,” the proposal adds.
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The Everyday Astronaut Looks at Elon Musk’s BFR

Video Caption: Elon Musk revealed the update to SpaceX’s highly anticipated and ambitious rocket, the BFR or the Big (FALCON) Rocket. We compare this version of the BFR to last year’s version as well as speculate about SpaceX’s mind blowing plans to head to the Moon, Mars as well as anywhere on Earth within one hour!

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

BFR crew vehicle propulsion (Credit: SpaceX)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the full story.

Great Overview of the Technical Aspects of Elon Musk’s BFR

Video Caption: Elon Musk presented the latest updates on SpaceX’s long term plans for their ‘BFR’ at the IAC in Adelaide. I now have an inbox of messages asking for my take on it all so – let’s talk about the plans that he presented.

The main points are the BFR (Big Rocket) is now a lot smaller than the original design, it still uses 2 stages and refuels in orbit enabling it to go to Mars, but now it’ll also be setup as a satellite launch vehicle, cargo ship able to visit ISS and the surface of the moon. But most surprisingly, and perhaps least realistically, he pitched a new passenger design intended to carry people halfway around the Earth at hypersonic speeds.