from the fun-is-underrated dept.
During a press conference at his company's Hawthorne, CA headquarters, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the first planned private passenger to travel into deep space and around the Moon. Yusaku Maezawa, a billionaire fashion entrepreneur and art collector, paid an undisclosed amount to become one of the first people to fly on a SpaceX Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), with a target date of 2023. If the launch happens, he won't be going alone. Maezawa (aka "MZ") plans to invite at least six to eight artists to accompany him on a journey around the Moon. The passengers chosen may be painters, sculptors, musicians, fashion designers, dancers, film directors, architects, etc. and are intended to represent the Earth and participate in an art exhibition after returning to Earth. Musk himself has also been invited. The project is called #dearMoon.
Yusaku Maezawa approached SpaceX and made a contribution that will pay for a "non-trivial" amount of the BFR's development costs. During the Q&A, Musk estimated that the entire development of BFR would cost around $5 billion, or no less than $2 billion and no more than $10 billion. Other potential sources of funding for BFR development include SpaceX's top priority, Crew Dragon flights to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as satellite launches and Starlink satellite broadband service.
Maezawa (along with a guest) was a previously announced anonymous customer for a Falcon Heavy ride around the Moon. SpaceX currently has no plans to human-rate the Falcon Heavy. The switch from Falcon Heavy to BFR will substantially increase the maximum number of passengers and comfort level attainable on a nearly week-long mission, since the Crew Dragon 2 has a pressurized volume of just 10 m3, about 1% of the volume of the BFS.
Some changes have been made to the BFR's design. The height of the full rocket (spaceship and booster) will now be around 118 meters, from 106. Incidentally, the Space Launch System Block 2 Cargo will be 111.25 meters tall. The pressurized volume of the spaceship (BFS) portion was estimated at around 1,000-1,100 m3, greater than that of the ISS, and up from a previous estimate of 825 m3. The booster now has 3 prominent fins, two of which can rotate. The third does not move and has no aerodynamic function whatsoever; it serves as the third landing leg. One major motivating factor behind the redesign? Aesthetics, according to Musk. This is supposed to be the final iteration of the design in terms of broad architectural decisions.
Early in the presentation, BFR's payload capacity to low-Earth orbit and other destinations (with in-orbit refueling) was listed as "over 100" metric tons with full reuse, down from the 150 metric tons that has been talked about since 2017. This appears to be due in part to the use of seven sea-level Raptor engines on the BFS. Two of the rear cargo sections around these engines could be removed and the engines can be switched out for vacuum Raptor engines in another iteration of BFS, which would presumably have a higher payload capacity. Two, and possibly as many as four, of the seven engines can fail without compromising the BFS's ability to land.
"Grasshopper"-style vertical takeoff and landing tests are still planned for 2019, at the company's South Texas Launch Site near Brownsville, TX. High velocity flights and tests of the booster are planned for 2020. The first orbital flights could happen around 2021, and may launch from a floating platform. Musk indicated that there would be several uncrewed tests of the BFR before any humans are sent on it, including an uncrewed flight around the Moon.
Due to the low amount of payload on a cislunar joyride, passengers may only have to experience 2.5-3 g during ascent, instead of around 5 g. Depending on how the BFS returns to Earth, passengers could experience 3 g or 6 g on re-entry. Although the exact mission profile has not yet been decided, the BFS will probably "skim" the surface of the Moon before returning to a higher altitude, so that the passengers can get a much closer look at the Moon's surface than what is portrayed in the current flight plan. The total flight time is estimated at just over 5 days and 23 hours, with around 31 hours spent in the vicinity of the Moon (the flyby).
SpaceX press conference (1h11m44s).
Two paying customers will travel to the "deep space" beyond the Moon. SpaceX will use the Falcon Heavy to deliver an automated Crew Dragon capsule carrying the unnamed customers next year. Falcon Heavy has not flown yet, and is expected to be tested this summer. NASA will use the Crew Dragon capsule to send astronauts to the International Space Station in 2018, after an unmanned test this year.
SpaceX will not reveal the identities of the participants until they complete health and fitness tests:
We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year. Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.
After a previously planned flight around the Moon using a Falcon Heavy fizzled out, SpaceX has announced that it will send a private passenger around the Moon using a BFR launch vehicle. More details will be announced on Monday:
On Thursday evening, without any advance notice, SpaceX tweeted that is had signed the world's "first private passenger to fly around the Moon aboard our BFR launch vehicle." Moreover, the company promised to reveal "who's flying and why" on Monday, September 17. The announcement will take place at the company's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif.
There were only two other clues—tweets from Elon Musk himself. Was the rendering of the Big Falcon Spaceship in SpaceX's tweet new? Yes, Musk said. And was he the passenger? In response to this, the founder of SpaceX simply tweeted a Japanese flag emoji. This would seem to be a strong clue that the passenger is from Japan. Or maybe Musk was enjoying the epic Seven Samurai movie at that moment.
By announcing this on Thursday, and waiting four days to provide more details, the company has set off a big guessing game as to who will fly. Of course that is an interesting question, but we have many other questions that we'd like to see answered before that. We've included some of those questions below, along with some wild and (slightly) informed guesses. Musk even answered one of them for us.
The design of the BFS has apparently changed to include three prominent fins and an underside heat shield.
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2020s to Become the Decade of Lunar Re-Exploration
SpaceX's Starship and Super Heavy (formerly Big Falcon Spaceship and Big Falcon Booster, or Big Falcon Rocket) have undergone further changes following a "final" iteration of the design in September. Elon Musk also said that a downscaled Starship hopper (for vertical takeoffs and landings) will "hopefully" be tested starting in March or April 2019, which is months sooner than a "late 2019" estimate made by SpaceX CEO Gwynne Shotwell in September.
Recent photos taken of SpaceX's operation in Boca Chica, Texas have shown a stainless steel nose cone being built. The new stainless steel design was confirmed by Elon Musk, along with numerous other details. Musk said that stainless steel can beat carbon fiber composites due to its superior strength-to-mass ratio and "mirror-like" thermal reflectivity. SpaceX is using an on-site foundry to create its own steel "superalloy", although some steel parts will be made by a supplier. Finally, the test hopper will feature three "radically redesigned" Raptor engines while being slightly shorter than the full-scale Starship, although it will share the same 9-meter diameter:
While the suggestion that Raptor's turbopumps (basically fuel pumps) would need at least 100,000 HP per engine seems to indicate that the flight design's thrust has been appreciably uprated, a past figure of ~2000 kN (450,000 lbf) per engine suggests that Starship V0.1 could weigh as much as an entire Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket (~1.2 million pounds, 550,000 kg) and still having a solid 80-100% of Falcon 9's liftoff thrust. Put simply, the rocket that appears to be coming together in the boonies of South Texas could rival almost any other liquid fuel rocket booster in service, while still being the testbed for BFR's upper stage alone.
While it's ambiguous if several additional comments applied to the Starship prototype, the final product, or both, Musk also indicated that some of the biggest benefits of a shift away from carbon composites to stainless steel would be relative ease with which the material handles extreme heating. Thanks to the fact that stainless steel can ultimately be polished to mirror-like levels of reflectivity and that mirrors are some of the most efficient reflectors of thermal energy (heat), shiny and unpainted steel would ultimately perform far better than carbon composites and could end up requiring "much less" heat shielding for the same performance.
Perhaps most unintuitive is the fact that steel can apparently beat carbon composites when it comes to usable strength-to-weight ratios at supercool temperatures. According to Musk, steel also performs "vastly better" at high temperatures and appreciably better at room temperatures. A comment made on Saturday may lend additional credence to what seems at face value to contradict basic material intuition – at least some of the stainless steel SpaceX is examing would be a special (presumably SpaceX-engineered) alloy that has undergone what is known as cryogenic treatment, in which metals are subjected to extremely cold conditions to create some seriously unintuitive properties. Ultimately, cold-formed/worked or cryo-treated steel can be dramatically lighter and more wear-resistant than traditional hot-rolled steel.
Elon Musk hinted at a "delightfully counter-intuitive" redesign in November, which was almost certainly a reference to the use of stainless steel instead of carbon fiber composites. Here's a video (10m14s) which offers some speculation about how a steel Starship could effectively conduct and radiate away heat.
Also at Business Insider.
Popular Mechanics has interviewed SpaceX CEO Elon Musk about his decision to move to a stainless steel design for Starship Super Heavy (formerly BFR). The interview reveals new details about the design, including micro-perforations on the outside of the windward side of the rocket that can bleed water or fuel for cooling:
Ryan D'Agostino: How does stainless steel compare [to carbon fiber]?
Elon Musk: The thing that's counterintuitive about the stainless steel is, it's obviously cheap, it's obviously fast—but it's not obviously the lightest. But it is actually the lightest. If you look at the properties of a high-quality stainless steel, the thing that isn't obvious is that at cryogenic temperatures, the strength is boosted by 50 percent.
Most steels, as you get to cryogenic temperatures, they become very brittle. You've seen the trick with liquid nitrogen on typical carbon steel: You spray liquid nitrogen, you can hit it with a hammer, it shatters like glass. That's true of most steels, but not of stainless steel that has a high chrome-nickel content. That actually increases in strength, and ductility is still very high. So you have, like, 12 to 18 percent ductility at, say, minus 330 degrees Fahrenheit. Very ductile, very tough. No fracture issues.
[...] [Here's] the other benefit of steel: It has a high melting point. Much higher than aluminum, and although carbon fiber doesn't melt, the resin gets destroyed at a certain temperature. So typically aluminum or carbon fiber, for a steady-state operating temperature, you're really limited to about 300 degrees Fahrenheit. It's not that high. You can take little brief excursions above that, maybe 350. Four hundred, you're really pushing it. It weakens. And there are some carbon fibers that can take 400 degrees Fahrenheit, but then you have strength knockdowns. But steel, you can do 1500, 1600 degrees Fahrenheit.
Blue Origin, described by Bezos as "the most important work I'm doing," signed a letter of intent with German aerospace companies OHB Space Systems and Security and MT Aerospace at the 69th annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Germany on Tuesday. The OHB SE dubbed the lunar project the "Blue Moon" mission in a press release.
It's not clear exactly what cargo the Blue Moon mission would transport, but it likely includes infrastructure designed to start private business on the Moon: The IAC also detailed the launch of the "Moon Race," a competition between Blue Origin, Airbus Air and Space, and other space agencies around the world to develop technology that will bring companies around the world to the Moon.
According to a press release, the competition could involve manufacturing products and technology, manufacturing energy sources for humans to survive, getting access to water and sustaining biological life, such as plant or agricultural life—all on the Moon.
Also at Space.com.
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NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview (Blue Origin targets Moon landing by 2023)
SpaceX Reveals Plan to Fly Yusaku Maezawa and Artists "Around the Moon" in a BFR
Blue Origin Wins Contract to Supply United Launch Alliance With BE-4 Rocket Engines
Yusaku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire and fashion retail mogul, arrived at the International Space Station for a 12-day stay on Wednesday. [Dec 8] He is the latest privately funded traveler to the orbital laboratory in a year that has seen more tourists making voyages to space than ever before.
Mr. Maezawa, the founder of Zozo, a Japanese online fashion retailer, launched to space from Baikonur, Kazakhstan at 2:38 a.m. Eastern time (10:38 a.m. local time) on a Russian Soyuz rocket with Yozo Hirano, a production assistant who will document his trip. Alexander Misurkin, a Russian astronaut, was also on board. The three-man crew docked to the space station six hours later at 8:40 a.m. and boarded the outpost around 11:12 a.m.
[...] Mr. Maezawa, an animated adventure-seeker, drew international attention in 2016 when he spent $57.3 million at an auction for a painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat. In 2017, he paid $110.5 million for another painting by the same artist. In 2018, he declared his interest in spaceflight at an event at the Southern California headquarters of SpaceX, where he joined the company's founder, Elon Musk, onstage to announce that he would be the first passenger to ride SpaceX's Starship, a massive next-generation rocket that will one day ferry NASA astronauts to the lunar surface.
[...] The space station jaunt for Mr. Maezawa, 46, was announced in May, and he has been training for weeks at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center just outside Moscow.
Read more of the article for estimates of how much Yusaku may have paid for his ride to space.