the Air Vent

Because the world needs another opinion

Where’s the Media?

Posted by Jeff Id on July 19, 2009

As an aeronautical engineer, I’m deeply interested in space travel and advances in space travel. Our media these days only seems interested in promoting a political agenda and is missing some of the biggest stories. A man… a FREE man, Elon Musk, who was a pay pal entrepreneur has invested his own money into redesigning rocketry. While I’m not certain of who did what, Elon has established himself as chief technology officer (or some such title) and directed a staff of several hundred people to build the simplest and safest possible rocket systems to reach space in an effort to reduce cost and risk. For an investment of a couple hundred million (about 1/5 of a single shuttle launch) space X has built an entire rocket company and put a satellite into orbit.

SpaceX - Successful Launch of Malaysian Satellite

Orbit is much different than Burt Rutan’s interesting yet technically boring space plane, which I would ride on at a moment’s notice. The idiotic media covered that adventure as though it was the most amazing thing in the world simultaneously missing the Space X home designed rockets which accelerate thousands of pounds of material to a kinetic energy 30 ish times greater than anything Burt Rutan’s rocket ever could achieve. THIRTY times!

With a couple hundred million, Space X in fact has exceeded the efforts of all but a few percent of the worlds nations and could fully deliver any several thousand pound object to any place on earth with minimal expense and notification(think about it!). It’s efforts put to shame every country’s space programs for cost, manpower and expense.

Click to watch LAUNCH VIDEO!

What’s more is Elon Musk is building a Dragon Capsule to Nasa specification for launch aboard a human rated Falcon 9 rocket. It carries more people in what I believe will be safer conditions than NASA has produced. The other things I need to echo include Elon Musk’s comments that the Falcon 9 is one of the first entirely new rockets in use on this planet in about 30 years. Thirty years and not a single new rocket engine, nobody working on basic cost reduction? Where is the media?

Dragon Capsule in Crew Configuration - Seven Crew members.

The Falcon 9 rocket is inherently safer than anything launched in the past. Using 9 small rocket engines, physically isolated from each other the engines are small enough and isolated enough that the rocket can continue even under conditions of RUD (Rapid Unplanned Disassembly). The little engines (one of which put this Malaysian satellite into orbit) can actually blow up and the rocket will continue! It burns a pure form of Kerosene (jet fuel) combined with liquid oxygen rather than the cryogenic impossible to contain and ridiculously explosive hydrogen. One of my favorite features of the SpaceX system is the use of the Kerosene as hydraulic fluid to direct the nozzles. —Hydraulic leaks have little meaning to Falcon rockets, they use the fuel from the thousands of gallons of available kerosene already being pressurized and pumped into its engines, so it doesn’t require the secondary and tertiary backup pumps of the shuttle. If the pump ain’t workin’ neither is the rocket engine! Redundancy comes from multiple engines. It’s an engineers dream really.

A miniscule number of people are involved in launch operations, the rockets are fueled an hour before launch so insulating foam’s are not required and now that the electronic systems are worked out I’m going to make a wild prediction. Space X will not loose another rocket in the next 10 years and while problems will be discovered, no Falcon 9 will fail to reach orbit due to an internal problem –ever! Sure it’s just a guess, but in this case (unlike climatology) an educated one. I can’t see the culture inside the organization so I don’t know how Elon’s fiefdom actually works but from the outside, they have consistently made good decisions on technology – including decisions on how to prevent the fuel slosh that killed a previous launch of a Falcon 1.

Whether you agree with my wild predictions or not if you’re at all interested in Space exploration, it has changed. Private space exploration HAS begun, this is not a minor deal despite the idiotic media coverage but rather it will be the next big industry (auto, air and now space). My confidence is derived from the reliability and repeatability of this series of machines. Machines which appear from the outside to be simply unmatched in rocketry. As a less extreme add on, I’ll make another prediction. The engines and methods will be copied for many years in the future for both military and non-military use. While NASA will probably be ignorantly too proud for ten-ish years, third world communist countries would be stupid not to pay attention.


A message to Elon who doesn’t have ALL the answers,

FIRE YOUR STUPID MARKETING GROUP and fix your website! Burt Rutan did nothing in comparison and had huge press!! If you are directing your marketing group, Fire Yourself and put someone else in charge! I know people aren’t your customers but their democratically elected governments ARE….[snip comments]!


Space X is HERE.

16 Responses to “Where’s the Media?”

  1. Ryan O said

    This is awesomeness. Go SpaceX!

  2. MikeN said

    Have you followed Google’s contest for sending a rocket to the moon?
    Bob Cringely talked about it at as a contestant, then he withdrew, ad his team is doing it without Google for profit.

  3. Jeff Id said

    #2 I heard about it but didn’t follow it. There is only one company IMO which has a serious shot at regular space flight.

    I’m just an aeronautical engineer but if I had a sat which needed launching, this is the place I would seek out. It seems like on a per-launch basis, they’re not trying to be as low cost as they can right now. — See the government space station contract for details.

    Falcon9 can reach synchronous orbit and therefore can at least reach the moon with very little or no payload, but the google prize probably wouldn’t pay for the incredibly low cost launch.

  4. MikeN said

    Here’s some links. This guy is just a tech columnist.
    Turns out Falcon rockets are a big part of it.

  5. rephelan said

    Maybe it’s time for Jerry Pournelle to update Fallen Angels.

  6. It’s the huge beaurocracy behind NASA that’s lumping all the costs in.
    Oh, fraudsters have already realised the potential for carbon trading!

  7. Jim said

    I too am passionate about space exploration (and entrepenurship) and have simply loved following the SpaceX story. A little more detail (which can be found by reading original updates):

    1) all the seed money is $ is Elon Musk’s;

    2) he dreamed of doing this his whole life, founded the company, hired everyone;

    3) there are additional invetors, but we don’t know who they are;

    4) Elon seems to be passionate about communicating and being open — but more passionate about getting the job done;

    5) based on the flight maniefest they do seem to be getting their message out to the key audience – launch buyers;

    Maybe after your prediction comes true *everyone* will know about SpaceX :-). And yes, the website could use a some help.

    Can you imagine a congressional hearing discussing the NASA budget and a Congressman asking NASA how SpaceX does it so well on so little compared to how NASA and the big contactors do it? Not a seat I’d want to be sitting in… Given how uncomfortable that experience might be for SpaceX’s #1 patron, NASA, it may not be a good idea for SpaceX to call too much attention to their success.

  8. joshv said

    I like to think of Elon Musk as the Henry Ford of the rocket engine. He is in the process of seriously mass producing rocket engines at the moment (he has to be, each Dragon 9 launch uses nine of them). He realizes that lower cost to orbit can only come through simple, bullet-proof design, and economies of scale.

    As a private company, SpaceX is 100% focused on his client’s needs, which are low cost per kg, and reliability. NASA and the other government funded launch vehicles have about a dozen other competing needs that come before the client’s. Think about it. Want to launch a satellite on the Shuttle? What the hell do you care about a reusable entry vehicle with a science lab?

  9. g.r.r. said

    Actually, SpaceX is doing a superior job to Scaled in terms of Marketing. I would say that their effort had gone downhill over the last 6-9 months, but even with what they have, it is still superior.
    Also, their web site is much better than what Scaled was for so long (though I see that it has been re-designed and scaled does look better). But SpaceX has AWESOME videos and even live video of their launches. Scaled had nothing like that. Absolutely nothing. My kids (2 and 5) watched the last 3 launches. I know others that are watching at various ages (from 4 up; several teenagers).

  10. Jeff Id said

    Spacex putting a satellite in orbit should have been headline news. It’s an achievement not met by most countries with several hundred billion dollar budgets. The implications are much bigger than most realize yet, especially if they can continue to do it with repeatability and safety.

  11. DeWitt Payne said

    Liquid hydrogen has its problems, but if you’re going to the moon, aren’t you pretty well stuck with it for the upper stages (Saturn V, e.g.)? Doesn’t anything else makes your upper stages weigh too much?

  12. braddles said

    Funny how we use the term “rocket scientist” to describe someone who is incredibly smart and capable. Yet real rocket scientists haven’t produced much that is new in the last 30 years, at least in the major organisations.

    Every Russian manned launch is still done on the old R7 booster, which is more than 50 years old! Its Designer, Korolev, died in 1966.

    The new American manned capsules will use old technology rockets that are inferior in power, weight and efficiency to the shuttle Main Engines, which are themselves 30 years old.

    If you had predicted this to a rocket scientist in the 1960s, he would have laughed in your face. (Or maybe, if he was so smart, he might have nodded sagely.)

  13. Ralph B said

    From my limited understanding hydrogen gives you the benifit of a better specific impulse. I know for Apollo they used (can’t recall the proper term) liquids that reacted when mixed rather than needing an ignition source (for the lander and CM). With all the modern materials, electronics, and advances in fuel cell technology there must be a tremendous weight savings even if the same type of vehicles were used to go back to the moon

    I think NASA ought to leave chemical rockets to private industry and concentrate on NERVA. Of course with the complete lack of testicular fortitude that will never happen.

    No media coverage just shows how dull the clowns are that run the major outlets.

  14. David Gann said

    Thank you for a very good article expressing perfectly my own awe, amazement, and frustration. This is huge! What SpaceX has done is incredible! And there’s almost no coverage at all! Keep it up SpaceX and all forward thinking inventors/innovators, you’re leading us toward a better tomorrow.

  15. DeWitt Payne said

    Ralph B,

    Hydrogen/oxygen does indeed have a higher specific impulse, but you need about 7 times greater volumetric flow for liquid hydrogen than for kerosene. Consider what that would do to the first stage of the Saturn V. Also consider the size of the pumps needed. The weight penalty from the larger pumps and associated plumbing and the larger volume fuel tank(s) makes kerosene (or solid rocket boosters) a better choice for a first stage.

  16. Liking your prediction. =)

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