Highlights From Musk’s Ask Me Anything Session on Reddit

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk conducted an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit on Saturday. Below are selected responses to questions. A full list of questions and answers is located here.

BFR Development

Will be starting with a full-scale Ship doing short hops of a few hundred kilometers altitude and lateral distance. Those are fairly easy on the vehicle, as no heat shield is needed, we can have a large amount of reserve propellant and don’t need the high area ratio, deep space Raptor engines.

Next step will be doing orbital velocity Ship flights, which will need all of the above. Worth noting that BFS is capable of reaching orbit by itself with low payload, but having the BF Booster increases payload by more than an order of magnitude. Earth is the wrong planet for single stage to orbit. No problemo on Mars.
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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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How Will Musk Sell His Mars Plans?

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)
Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

Later today, Elon Musk will stand on a stage at the International Astronautic Congress in Mexico and reveal his plans for sending humans to Mars and making humanity a multi-planet species.

His talk will be webcast on Tuesday, Sept. 27 beginning at 2:30 pm EDT. To access the webcast, please click here or connect on one of these websites: IAF website, IAC 2016 website and AEM website. Musk will hold a press conference afterward; it’s not known whether it will be webcast.

The description of the talk on the conference website gives us a hint about what lies ahead.

SpaceX Founder, CEO, and Lead Designer Elon Musk will discuss the long-term technical challenges that need to be solved to support the creation of a permanent, self-sustaining human presence on Mars. The technical presentation will focus on potential architectures for sustaining humans on the Red Planet that industry, government and the scientific community can collaborate on in the years ahead.

There are three questions that loom on the eve of the speech: What exactly is he going to propose? Who will pay for it? And how will he convince people it’s worth doing? A bit of parsing of the above description gives us some clues.
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SpaceX Fires Up Raptor Engine

Just in time for Musk’s speech on Tuesday, an update on the Raptor engine for the transporter formerly known as Mars Colonial.

SpaceX Gets an Air Force Funding Infusion for Raptor Engine

Operators at the E-2 Test Stand at Stennis conduct a test of the oxygen preburner component being developed by SpaceX for its Raptor rocket engine, which is being built to power flights to Mars. (Credit: NASA)
Operators at the E-2 Test Stand at Stennis conduct a test of the oxygen preburner component being developed by SpaceX for its Raptor rocket engine, which is being built to power flights to Mars. (Credit: NASA)

SpaceX’s plans for its high-performance Raptor engine got a boost last week when it received a $33.7 million contract from the U.S. Air Force.

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Air Force Awards Rocket Contracts to SpaceX, Orbital ATK

USAF_Space_Missile_Systems_CenterLOS ANGELES AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., Jan. 13, 2016 (SMSC PR) — Today the Space and Missile Systems Center awarded the first two Other Transaction Agreements (OTAs) for shared public-private investments in Rocket Propulsion System (RPS) prototypes to SpaceX for development testing of the Raptor upper stage engine and Orbital ATK for development of the Common Booster Segment main stage, the Graphite Epoxy Motor (GEM) 63XL strap-on booster, and an extendable nozzle for Blue Origin’s BE-3U/EN upper stage engine.

The initial government contribution to the SpaceX OTA is $33.6 million. The initial government contribution to the Orbital ATK OTA is $46.9 million. The Air Force is still in negotiations with the remaining offerors and subsequent awards, if any, will occur over the next few months.

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Highlights of Elon Musk’s Reddit Ask Me Anything Session

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)
Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk did an interactive Ask Me Anything Q&A last night on Reddit. Here are some excerpts from that session.

Q. Previously, you’ve stated that you estimate a 50% probability of success with the attempted landing on the automated spaceport drone ship tomorrow. Can you discuss the factors that were considered to make that estimation?

In addition, can you talk more about the grid fins that will be flying tomorrow? How do they compare to maneuvering with cold-gas thrusters?

Elon Musk: I pretty much made that up. I have no idea 🙂

The grid fins are super important for landing with precision. The aerodynamic forces are way too strong for the nitrogen thrusters. In particular, achieving pitch trim is hopeless. Our atmosphere is like molasses at Mach 4!

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Reports: ULA to Partner With Blue Origin for LOX-Methane Engine

At Blue Origin’s West Texas facility, the BE-3 engine demonstrated a full simulated suborbital mission profile, igniting, throttling, and restarting on command. (Credit: NASA)
At Blue Origin’s West Texas facility, the BE-3 engine demonstrated a full simulated suborbital mission profile, igniting, throttling, and restarting on command. (Credit: NASA)

Media reports indicate that United Launch Alliance (ULA) has decided to partner with Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin company to produce a liquid-oxygen/methane engine to power the first stage of the Atlas V booster. An announcement is expected on Wednesday.

[Update: ULA and Blue Origin will have a press conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday at 1 p.m.]

In June, ULA announced it had signed multiple study contracts with American rocket manufacturers for a replacement for the Russian-supplied RD-180 engine. The company said it planned to make a decision by the fourth quarter of this year.

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Raptor Test Stand Ribbon Cutting Takes Place at NASA Stennis

NASA and SpaceX cut the ribbon at the E-2 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center on April 21 to mark the beginning of a new testing partnership. SpaceX will test components of its methane-fueled Raptor rocket engine on the stand. Participants in the ribbon-cutting ceremony were (l to r): Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi and NASA’s Stennis Space Center Director Rick Gilbrech. (Credit: NASA)
NASA and SpaceX cut the ribbon at the E-2 Test Stand at Stennis Space Center on April 21 to mark the beginning of a new testing partnership. SpaceX will test components of its methane-fueled Raptor rocket engine on the stand. Participants in the ribbon-cutting ceremony were (l to r): Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, SpaceX President and Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo of Mississippi and NASA’s Stennis Space Center Director Rick Gilbrech. (Credit: NASA)

BAY ST. LOUIS, Miss. (NASA PR) — An April 21 ribbon-cutting ceremony at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Miss., marked the beginning of a new NASA and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) partnership aimed at continuing to propel America’s burgeoning commercial space program forward and enhance utilization of NASA’s advanced test facilities. Several Mississippi leaders joined NASA and SpaceX representatives for the ceremony including Gov. Phil Bryant, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran and U.S. Rep. Steven Palazzo.

SpaceX signed a Space Act Agreement with the space agency last fall to test components of its methane-fueled Raptor rocket engine on the E-2 Test Stand at Stennis. SpaceX is developing the Raptor as a reusable engine for a heavy-lift launch vehicle.

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SpaceX to Conduct Raptor Engine Testing in Mississippi

An AJ26 engine on a test stand at NASA Stennis.
An AJ26 engine on a test stand at NASA Stennis.

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Sen. Cochran PR) – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) today said the agreement signed today between the State of Mississippi and the commercial space company SpaceX bodes well for future job growth at and around NASA’s John C. Stennis Space Center in Hancock County.

Cochran commended the accord which will involve SpaceX investing in the E-2 test stand at Stennis to support engine research, development and testing of the firm’s Raptor methane rocket engines.  The agreement, signed by Governor Phil Bryant, also involved the Mississippi Development Authority, Hancock County Port and Harbor Commission and NASA.

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SpaceX’s Manifest Will Continue to Confound in 2013

falcon9_oct72012
Below is a selected section of SpaceX’s launch manifest. Now, review it carefully; there will be a quiz.

CustomerVehicle Arrival
at Launch Site
VehicleLaunch Site
NASA Resupply to ISS – Flight 22012F9/DragonCape Canaveral
ORBCOMM – Multiple Flights2012-2014MultipleCape Canaveral
MDA Corp. (Canada)2013Falcon 9Vandenberg
Falcon Heavy Demo Flight2013Falcon HeavyVandenberg
SES (Europe)2013Falcon 9Cape Canaveral
Thaicom (Thailand)2013Falcon 9Cape Canaveral
NASA Resupply to ISS – Flight 32013F9/DragonCape Canaveral
NASA Resupply to ISS – Flight 42013F9/DragonCape Canaveral
NSPO (Taiwan)2013Falcon 9Vandenberg

Now, at first glance, that looks really, really ambitious, doesn’t it? Especially for a company that flew twice in 2012. So, just how many flights will SpaceX undertake this year? Nine? No.

WRONG! You just failed the quiz, brainiac. EPIC COSMIC FAIL!

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Video: Is SpaceX’s New Engine and Spacecraft Designed for Mars?

In this interview with the Royal Aeronautical Society, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is asked about a rumored new project called the Raptor MCT (4:28):

MUSK: “Now and again, I just throw something out just for fun. I can confirm that the name of the engine is Raptor. I’d like to announce maybe some details about the engine next year. But, perhaps what’s even more interesting is the spaceship that that’s attached to it.”

Q: “Does the M in MCT stand for anything to do with Mars or Martian?

MUSK: (Laughs) “I have to leave a little. You show a little leg but not all of it.”

Editor’s Note: Musk said during a separate talk that Raptor is a methane engine.

A few other comments of note:

Grasshopper

We hope to demonstration high altitude supersonic liftoff and return — have stage take off, go supersonic and land with propulsion at landing site

Grasshopper is a test bed for recovering Falcon 9 stages for reuse

It consists of a Falcon 9 first stage and a Merlin I-D engine

Stratolaunch

“That’s definitely not one of our main initiatives. And think there’s likely to be some changes in that program.”

Can’t comment on changes

SpaceX’s role is to supply a downsized version of the Falcon 9 rocket that would be air launched from the company’s carrier aircraft

Falcon Heavy

We hope to fly a demonstration flight by the end of 2013

Planetary Resources

“Our rockets are standing by.”

Believes there is potentially a market for mining asteroids as a refueling station. Not sure about the market for mining platinum and other resources.

Planetary Resources is the start up looking at mining asteroids founded by Eric Anderson and Peter Diamandis

Skylon

Doesn’t know project very well. His calculation show that single-stage-to-orbit does not make sense, but he could be wrong.

Skylon is the Reaction Engines’ SSTO

Human Mission to Mars

10 or 15 year time frame