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SpaceX’s Starship May Fly for Just $2 Million Per Mission, Elon Musk Says

The big spaceship-rocket duo will use just $900,000 of fuel per launch.

SAN FRANCISCO — Each flight of SpaceX’s big Mars-colonizing spacecraft will have a very small price tag, if all goes according to plan.

The Starship system, which consists of a reusable 100-passenger spaceship stacked atop a huge reusable rocket known as Super Heavy, will use just $900,000 worth of propellant to get off Earth and into orbit, Elon Musk said here today (Nov. 5) at the first U.S. Air Force Space Pitch Day.

“If you consider operational costs, maybe it’ll be like $2 million” out of SpaceX’s pocket each time, Musk said during a conversation with Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, Air Force Space Command, at Los Angeles Air Force Base.

“This is much less than even a tiny rocket,” Musk added. “So, it’s something that needs to be made.”

An aerial view of SpaceX’s Starship Mk1 prototype, seen during Elon Musk’s Starship update in South Texas on Sept. 28, 2019.
(Image: © SpaceX)

During Space Pitch Day (which should be called Space Pitch Days, since it runs through tomorrow), companies try to sell Air Force brass on their space-related ideas. In keeping with this focus, Thompson mostly asked Musk about business stuff — how to spur innovation, how management and leadership styles shift as a company grows, and so on.

This may sound relatively dry to space geeks, but Musk injected some fun nuggets into the conversation. For example, the billionaire entrepreneur said he does “zero market research whatsoever,” striving instead to create the Platonic ideal of a rocket or car. (Musk is also CEO of electric-vehicle maker Tesla.)

If he pulls that off, then “people will want to buy it,” Musk said.

The Starship MK1 assembled at SpaceX’s build and launch facility in Texas.
(Image credit: SpaceX)

He also hyped Tesla’s new pickup truck, saying that “it looks like an armored personnel carrier from the future,” and announced that he had just finished watching the 1996 movie “Space Jam” (serially, during 15- to 20-minute morning workout stints on the treadmill).

Musk demurred when Thompson asked about his leadership qualities, saying he doesn’t consider himself an expert on leadership. Thompson urged Musk not to “sell himself short” in this regard, teeing up a self-deprecating joke that the billionaire jumped on.

“That’s true. There’s plenty of others doing that,” Musk said, referring to investors who are betting on the stock price of his companies (particularly Tesla) to fall.

Toward the end of the 40-minute conversation, Thompson gave Musk the floor to say anything he wanted to the audience of investors, engineers, entrepreneurs and military officials. The SpaceX founder and CEO took the opportunity to talk about something near and dear to his heart: the importance of fully and rapidly reusable orbital rockets.

This is the technological advance that will slash the cost of spaceflight by orders of magnitude, allowing humanity to become a truly spacefaring species, Musk has said repeatedly over the years.

“It’s absolutely profound to have a reusable rocket,” he said here today. “This is the holy grail.”

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk chats with Lt. Gen. John Thompson, commander of the Air Force Space Command’s Space and Missile Systems Center, which is based at Los Angeles Air Force Base. The conversation took place in San Francisco on Nov. 5, 2019, at the U.S. Air Force’s first Space Pitch Day.
(Image credit: MIke Wall/Space.com)

SpaceX has been working to make this vision a reality, and the company has made considerable progress. SpaceX now routinely lands and reflies the first stages of its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket, and it’s doing the same with the heavy-lift Falcon Heavy, which has three launches under its belt. The company is now also starting to recover and refly payload fairings, the protective nose cones that surround satellites during launch. (There is still work to do, however; for example, the second stage of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy is still single-use hardware.)

Starship and Super Heavy fit well into this grand vision. Both vehicles (the spaceship, like the overall architecture, is known as Starship) will be fully reusable, and each individual craft will fly many times before it’s retired, Musk has said.

These missions will be quite varied. Starship and Super Heavy are designed primarily to help humanity settle Mars, the moon and other deep-space destinations, but SpaceX wants the duo to take over all of the company’s needs eventually. So, if all goes according to plan, Starship will also launch satellites (perhaps starting as early as 2021) and maybe even clean up space junk and ferry people on point-to-point trips around Earth, Musk has said.

Being able to do all of this for $2 million a pop would be revolutionary. That would be the cost of each mission for SpaceX, to be clear; we don’t yet know how much the company will charge customers for a Starship mission (or “is charging,” for Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already booked a round-the-moon flight on the vehicle, with a target launch date of 2023).

But, for some perspective, SpaceX currently sells Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches for $62 million and $90 million, respectively. And those prices are considerably lower than similar services offered by SpaceX’s competitors.

Source www.space.com

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Space

Voyager 2 has discovered something amazing: Denser space outside the solar system

In November 2018, after a 41-year voyage, Voyager 2 crossed the boundary beyond which the Sun’s influence ends, and entered interstellar space. But the mission of the little probe is not yet complete – it continues to make amazing discoveries

Perhaps the probes have found some kind of traffic jam at the edge of the solar system. The Voyager flight continues and we will soon find out what it was.

Voyager 2 discovered something amazing: as the distance from the Sun increases, the density of space increases.

Voyager 1, which entered interstellar space in 2012, transmitted similar indicators to Earth. New data have shown that the increase in density may be a feature of the interstellar medium.

The solar system has several boundaries, one of which, called the heliopause, is determined by the solar wind, or rather by its significant weakening. The space inside the heliopause is the heliosphere, and the space outside is the interstellar medium. But the heliosphere is not round. It looks more like an oval, in which the solar system is at the leading edge, and a kind of tail stretches behind it.

Both Voyagers crossed the heliopause at the leading edge, but within 67 degrees heliographic latitude and 43 degrees longitude apart.

Interstellar space is usually considered a vacuum, but this is not entirely true. The density of matter is extremely small, but it still exists. In the solar system, the solar wind has an average density of protons and electrons from 3 to 10 particles per cubic centimeter, but it is lower the further from the Sun.

The average concentration of electrons in the interstellar space of the Milky Way is estimated to be about 0.037 particles per cubic centimeter. And the plasma density in the outer heliosphere reaches approximately 0.002 electrons per cubic centimeter. When the Voyager probes crossed the heliopause, their instruments recorded the electron density of the plasma through plasma oscillations.

Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause on August 25, 2012 at a distance of 121.6 astronomical units from the Earth (121.6 times the distance from Earth to the Sun – about 18.1 billion km). When he first measured plasma oscillations after crossing the heliopause on October 23, 2013 at a distance of 122.6 astronomical units (18.3 billion km), he found a plasma density of 0.055 electrons per cubic centimeter.

After flying another 20 astronomical units (2.9 billion kilometers), Voyager 1 reported an increase in the density of interstellar space to 0.13 electrons per cubic centimeter.

Voyager 2 crossed the heliopause on November 5, 2018 at a distance of 119 astronomical units (17.8 billion kilometers. On January 30, 2019, it measured plasma oscillations at a distance of 119.7 astronomical units (17.9 billion kilometers), finding that the density plasma is 0.039 electrons per cubic centimeter.

In June 2019, Voyager 2’s Instruments showed a sharp increase in density to about 0.12 electrons per cubic centimeter at a distance of 124.2 astronomical units (18.5 billion kilometers).

What caused the increase in the density of space? One theory is that the lines of force of the interstellar magnetic field become stronger with distance from the heliopause. This can cause electromagnetic ion cyclotron instability. Voyager 2 did detect an increase in the magnetic field after crossing the heliopause.

Another theory is that the material carried away by the interstellar wind should slow down in the heliopause, forming a kind of plug, as evidenced by the weak ultraviolet glow detected by the New Horizons probe in 2018, caused by the accumulation of neutral hydrogen in the heliopause.

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NASA has banned fighting and littering on the moon

New details of the agreement signed by representatives of a number of countries on the development of the moon and the extraction of minerals within the framework of the Artemis program have appeared. Reported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

So, astronauts involved in the mission are prohibited from littering and fighting on the territory of a natural satellite of the Earth.

So, we present to you the new rules for being on the Moon:

Everyone comes in peace;

Confidentiality is prohibited, all launched objects must be identified and registered;

All travel participants agree to help each other in case of emergencies;

All received data is transferred to the rest of the participants, and space systems must be universal;

Historic sites must be preserved and all rubbish must be disposed of;

Rovers and spacecraft should not interfere with other participants.

“”It is important not only to go to the moon with our astronauts, but also that we bring our values ​​with us,” said Mike Gold, acting head of NASA’s international and inter-agency relations.

According to him, violators of the above rules will be asked to “just leave” the territory of the moon.

The effect of these principles so far applies to eight signatory countries of the agreement: the USA, Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom. Countries other than China can join if they wish.

 It should be noted that at the moment NASA is prohibited from signing any bilateral agreements with the PRC leadership.

The first NASA mission to the moon, known as “Artemis 1”, is scheduled for 2021 without astronauts, and “Artemis 2” will fly with a crew in 2023.

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Methane snow found on the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains

Scientists believe that it arose as a result of the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above the surface of the planet.

In the images of the Cthulhu region – a dark region in the equatorial regions of Pluto – planetary scientists have found large reserves of methane snow that covers the peaks of local mountains and hills. It formed quite differently from how snow forms on Earth, astronomers write in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

“The white caps on the tops of Pluto’s mountains did not arise from the cooling of air currents that rise along the slopes into the upper atmosphere, as it happens on Earth, but from the accumulation of large amounts of methane at an altitude of several kilometers above Pluto’s surface. This gas condensed on the mountain tops, “the scientists write.

We owe almost everything we know about Pluto to the New Horizons interplanetary station. It was launched in January 2006, and in mid-July 2015 the station reached the Pluto system. New Horizons flew just 13 thousand km from the dwarf planet, taking many photographs of its surface. 

New Horizons data indicated an interesting feature of Pluto – in its depths, a giant subglacial ocean of liquid water can be hidden. It can be a kind of engine of those geological processes, traces of which can be seen on the surface of a dwarf planet. Because of this discovery of New Horizons, many discussions began among planetary scientists. Scientists are trying to understand how such a structure could have arisen, as well as to find out the appearance of Pluto in the distant past.

Members of the New Horizons science team and their colleagues from France, led by planetary scientist from NASA’s Ames Research Center (USA) Tanguy Bertrand, have discovered another unusual feature of Pluto. They studied the relief of one of the regions of the dwarf planet – the Cthulhu region. This is what astronomers call a large dark region at Pluto’s equator, which is whale-like in shape and is covered in many craters, mountains and hills.

Snow in Pluto’s mountains

By analyzing images of these structures taken by the LORRI camera installed on board New Horizons, astronomers have noticed many blank spots on the slopes of the highest mountain peaks. Having studied their composition, scientists have found that they consist mainly of methane.

Initially, planetary scientists assumed that these are deposits of methane ice. However, Bertrand and his colleagues found that the slopes and even the tops of Pluto’s equatorial mountains are actually covered not only with ice, but also with exotic methane snow that forms right on their surface.

Planetary scientists came to this conclusion by calculating how methane behaves in Pluto’s atmosphere. In doing so, they took into account how the molecules of its gases interact with the sun’s rays and other heat sources. It turned out that at the equator of Pluto, at an altitude of 2-3 km from its surface, due to the special nature of the movement of winds, unique conditions have formed, due to which snow is formed from methane vapor.

Unlike Earth, where such deposits are formed as a result of the rise of warm air into the upper atmosphere, on Pluto this process goes in the opposite direction – as a result of contact of the cold surface of the peaks and slopes of mountains with warm air masses from the relatively high layers of the dwarf planet’s atmosphere.

Previously, as noted by Bertrand and his colleagues, scientists did not suspect that this was possible. The fact is that they did not take into account that due to the deposition of even a small amount of methane snow and ice, the reflectivity of the peaks and slopes of mountains in the Cthulhu region increases. As a result, their surface temperature drops sharply, and snow forms even faster.

Scientists suggest that another mysterious feature of Pluto’s relief could have arisen in a similar way – the so-called Tartarus Ridges, located east of the Sputnik plain. A distinctive feature of this mountainous region is strange peaks that are shaped like skyscrapers or blades. Bertrand and his colleagues suggest that these peaks are also methane ice deposits that grow “from top to bottom.”

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