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Mars Space Science Technology

Elon Musk: SpaceX's Mars Rocket Could Fly Short Flights By Next Year 144

On stage at SXSW, Elon Musk issued yet another incredibly ambitious timeline. During a Q&A session on Sunday, Musk said SpaceX will be ready to fly its Mars rocket in 2019. He said: We are building the first ship, or interplanetary ship, right now, and we'll probably be able to do short flights, short up and down flights, during the first half of next year. Further reading: Fortune.
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Elon Musk: SpaceX's Mars Rocket Could Fly Short Flights By Next Year

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  • How the fuck is it a "Mars rocket" if it's only doing short flights? It's like calling my '77 Toyota pick-up a "Formula One car" because I can drive it in an oval in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

    Musk might as well go all out and call it an "Alpha Centauri rocket".

    On the other hand, I saw one of those new Tesla roadsters on Hwy 101 outside of Pismo Beach the other day and it's a very nice-looking little ride. It looks like it would be fun to drive.

    • Re:"short flights" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bobbied ( 2522392 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @03:26PM (#56243583)

      To be fair here.. Musk is describing TESTING of the spacecraft by sending it on short flights, near earth. This makes sense. You crawl, walk and THEN run.

      You really don't want to commit a group of people to a year long voyage to Mars and back in an untested spacecraft. You want to make sure the spacecraft isn't going to kill it's occupants because of some unfixable systems failure. So, you test it in orbit, short trips around the moon and THEN commit to a Mars round trip.

      • You crawl, walk and THEN run.

        If you really want to be fair, you can say in this case Musk's approach is to crawl, announce that you've won a marathon, walk and then run.

        • Your forgot the David Bowie music video.

        • by Jeremi ( 14640 )

          If you really want to be fair, you can say in this case Musk's approach is to crawl, announce that you're going to win the marathon 12 months from now, walk and then run.

          FTFY.

        • Re:"short flights" (Score:5, Informative)

          by Gavagai80 ( 1275204 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @04:53PM (#56244021) Homepage

          He already owns the most powerful rocket on the planet, so he's won a marathon. This is about plans for the next one.

          • He already owns the most powerful rocket on the planet, so he's won a marathon. This is about plans for the next one.

            I've seen the most powerful Rocket on the planet. It's on display at KSC. The Falcon heavy is 63,800 to LEO. The Rocket I saw could do 140,000 kg to LEO. That would be the Saturn V.

            The N1 would have been slightly more thrust in the first stage, allowing for a shorter first stage burn, but had a lower weight to LEO than the Saturn V. Regardless it never had a successful launch.

            Where the propaganda that the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful Rocket ever flown comes from is unknown - it is simply not tru

            • by tim620 ( 1052986 )

              Where the propaganda that the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful Rocket ever flown comes from is unknown - it is simply not true. The champ is still the Saturn V monster.

              I've never seen propaganda which states that the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket ever flown. But I have seen propaganda that it is the most powerful operational rocket (i.e. currently being used). SpaceX even states "Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit"

              • Where the propaganda that the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful Rocket ever flown comes from is unknown - it is simply not true. The champ is still the Saturn V monster.

                I've never seen propaganda which states that the Falcon Heavy is the most powerful rocket ever flown. But I have seen propaganda that it is the most powerful operational rocket (i.e. currently being used). SpaceX even states "Only the Saturn V moon rocket, last flown in 1973, delivered more payload to orbit"

                You must not have read some of the posts in here claiming just that.

        • by haruchai ( 17472 )

          You crawl, walk and THEN run.

          If you really want to be fair, you can say in this case Musk's approach is to crawl, announce that you've won a marathon, walk and then run.

          No. What he keeps doing is announcing that he's going to win the marathon, setting a record time, in cheaper shoes that perform better then the best from Nike, Asics or Adidas.

          • You crawl, walk and THEN run.

            If you really want to be fair, you can say in this case Musk's approach is to crawl, announce that you've won a marathon, walk and then run.

            No. What he keeps doing is announcing that he's going to win the marathon, setting a record time, in cheaper shoes that perform better then the best from Nike, Asics or Adidas.

            Well, I'm not quite certain of that. I suppose if you hate Musk enough, all of those things have been said.

            But Spacex is doing a lot to reduce to practice the business of getting around in Space. That he is a visionary probably seems strange in an age of our heros being Hollywood actors, and billionairs who make money by sitting in a closet with other billionairs and selling their hats to each other.

            He's inspired. And just like other inspired people, he's a tad eccentric. Which also is an issue, espec

            • by haruchai ( 17472 )

              "you might not like him, but Musk has a vision and is willing to back it up"

              I like his vision fine. But he's FAR too optimistic about the effort and money required in all his endeavors, ALL of which are very capital-intensive.
              By every measure of the available, his businesses are losing a LOT of money.
              He's certainly willing to back up a lot of debt. If he hasn't been mining cryptocurrencies all these years, he's a fool.
              I don't know and can't predict what SpaceX will accomplish next. I was mesmerized by the F

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The story is irritatingly vague on this point, but a previous comment [spacenews.com] by Musk makes it clearer:

        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.

        He's talking about only the upper stage of the BFR - the spaceship part that actually goes to Mars and back - taking off under its own power and doing a little hop through the atmosphere. That's much less ambitious than even the first step you listed, testing in orbit. But it's something fundamental that should be done first, and it's basic enough that it might just be possible on this sort of timeline (within 2

        • by Rei ( 128717 )

          Even that's going to be extremely difficult. They're taking a huge gamble on carbon fibre tanks here; cryogenics don't play well with composites, and liquid oxygen doesn't play well with organics in general. Past attempts at composite rockets haven't exactly had a spectacular success record. Even prolongued vacuum exposure is challenging with composites. I understand why they want to use them - the strength to weight ratios are just far too tempting to ignore. But... it's not easy.

          I do think they'll be

          • En route to success, however, I expect at least a couple nice fireballs and some corresponding unfortunate setbacks.

            Yeah, some great YouTube videos are coming :-)

      • by R3d M3rcury ( 871886 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @07:40PM (#56244579) Journal

        You really don't want to commit a group of people to a year long voyage to Mars and back in an untested spacecraft.

        Depends on who the people are.

        • You really don't want to commit a group of people to a year long voyage to Mars and back in an untested spacecraft.

          Depends on who the people are.

          Yea, I got to admit that IS true... Problem will getting enough of Congress on board to make a difference...

      • I suspect these 'short flights' will be significantly less than even 'sub orbital'... not even making it to space. I'm expecting something like the grasshopper tests. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/... [wikipedia.org]
    • by berj ( 754323 )

      Easy.. it's the rocket they're building to go to mars. It's not an alpha centauri rocket.. it's a mars rocket. And in order to test it out they will do short flights with it.

      So.. they're doing short flights with a mars rocket.

      Simple.

      Was the Lunar module not a lunar module when it was just sent up to orbit the earth in Apollo 5?

      Was the descent stage of the LM not a descent stage because it stayed in lunar orbit during Apollo 8?

      • There was no LM on Apollo 8, was it?
      • Was the descent stage of the LM not a descent stage because it stayed in lunar orbit during Apollo 8?

        Is my '77 Toyota pickup not a world-class racing vehicle just because it's not running at the moment and is up on blocks in my driveway?

    • Despite the reflex skepticism, this announcement makes perfect sense. The Space X "Mars rocket" ifs the BFR, which standards for (so they say) "Big Falcon Rocket", the first stage of which has 31 engines. Testing that these 31 engines all work together, and testing failure modes, is really important before trying an actual full scale launch.

    • Re: "short flights" (Score:5, Informative)

      by bill_mcgonigle ( 4333 ) * on Sunday March 11, 2018 @04:07PM (#56243833) Homepage Journal

      This is the BFS ship which will ride on the BFR rocket for Earth to Mars launches, but also able to do SSTO in Mars gravity for the return trip.

      They are going to be doing short (2-3 miles up) test SSTO-style launches (and landings) either at Boca Chica or from ship-to-ship by the end of next year. Most of the people who have been working on FH have been reassigned to work on BFR/BFS exclusively.

    • How the fuck is it a "Mars rocket" if it's only doing short flights? It's like calling my '77 Toyota pick-up a "Formula One car" because I can drive it in an oval in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

      Nah, it's more like calling your penis a "sexual organ" even though it never gets used for that.

  • by NEDHead ( 1651195 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @03:21PM (#56243557)

    Despite all the evidence to the contrary

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Exactly! People said Musk couldn't build the first electric car: but he did. Then they said he couldn't be the first person to launch satellites to LEO: but he did. The guys is really amazing!
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mrsquid0 ( 1335303 )

        Musk did not build the first electric car. He was not the first person to launch satellites to LEO either.

        • Musk did not build the first electric car. He was not the first person to launch satellites to LEO either.

          He most assuredly was the first person to launch a roadster into space, though!

        • Say what???
        • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @05:24PM (#56244159) Homepage

          Musk did not build the first electric car. He was not the first person to launch satellites to LEO either.

          Tip: 110010001000 is the local jester/troll. He's just posing as one of the over-the-top Musk groupies that worship him more than teen girls love Justin Bieber.

          • by 110010001000 ( 697113 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @08:30PM (#56244743) Homepage Journal
            The most amusing part is I got +4 Interesting. Pathetic.
            • That's only because I've no mod points today, sucker. Next time you're going down!

              • I don't know why people get upset when I point out how ridiculous the hero worship is. There are ACTUAL heroes out there, but you guys worship people like Musk who create things like Paypal and then spend it all on ego projects (really? the world doesnt need another rocket maker or car manufacturer for the rich)
                • To be fair, if that's how the Musk projects remain (expensive ego trips), then I could agree with your assessment. But I think there's reasonable evidence that Musk is working on some serious economies of scale to reduce the per unit cost of stuff. The work on battery production and technology has been a tremendous boon to non rich people. I mean when the price per kWh of storage was (near) $1000 in 2010, $600 in 2013, $540 in 2014, $350 in 2015, and $270 in 2016, that's some serious advancement. The idea t

    • You are entirely safe to disbelieve anything Elon says about when something will be done. There are also some things he said would be done that were abandoned. No crewed moon orbital mission on Dragon 2 with Falcon 9 Heavy and two rich guys. No powered landing on the ground with Dragon 2 (although IMO it would be possible to have the legs deploy from the side rather than through the heat-shield and have it work).

      For all that it's really cool, Falcon 9 Heavy might have been a mistake. And this is from someon

      • A good indication that the FH doesn't have much backing left internally at SpaceX is the fact that they have yet to develop a payload attach fitting which allows the Falcon Heavy to launch use its potential - at the moment, its using the same one as F9, which only offers slightly more capability than a F9 can handle.

        To launch heavier stuff into orbit on a FH, they need a new PAF.

        • Not just a fitting, but a new fairing that will hold larger payloads, and the new Fairing 2.0 isn't it. They are waiting for a customer to pay the NRE. If they US Government wants it, they will make it. I don't see who else would go for it. Something like a scale-up of X-37 might require this.

        • There are no likely LEO payloads for Falcon Heavy. It's meant for geosynchronous orbits, namely being able to deliver satellites to GTO the size of ones previously only possible in LEO.

          • They've already announced that the next FH launch will be to LEO, with a compliment of several separate satellites. Just because there's not a lot of LEO payloads large enough doesn't mean they can't put a bunch of separate payloads together onto a single launch.

      • by Kjella ( 173770 )

        You are entirely safe to disbelieve anything Elon says about when something will be done. (...) For all that it's really cool, Falcon 9 Heavy might have been a mistake. (...) It cost them a great deal to get working, and is destined to be supersceded by their next rocket. We might not see that many of them ever fly.

        Well he can fail at one or the other but not both. If the BFR is on schedule too bad for the FH but great for SpaceX. If the BFR ends up way behind schedule then the FH can still launch anything up to and beyond what other current heavy launchers can and make good money in the process, also good for SpaceX. And it's not certain that the BFR would replace all FH launches if they don't have big enough payloads to justify it or they want a launcher with a longer track record, particularly if you give it some c

        • You are certainly right about that.

          What we're really waiting for is routine launches with thousands-of-launches reuse. Like jet aircraft. If we ever get that, all of today's launch vehicles are toast. It doesn't matter that the rocket is too big, you just put together a big enough manifest for one flight.

          Now, Elon thinks BFR might get us there. The jury is still out.

        • My understanding is that the plan is for a BFR launch to be cheaper than an F9 launch in absolute terms - as in launching a tennis ball to LEO will be cheaper in a BFR than an F9, thanks primarily to the fully recoverable second stage. Of course, that's the plan - reality might take a while to catch up.

      • For all that it's really cool, Falcon 9 Heavy might have been a mistake. And this is from someone who went to the launch and paid $200 for the good tickets. It cost them a great deal to get working, and is destined to be supersceded by their next rocket. We might not see that many of them ever fly.

        The thing is, I'm not sure you can build the BFR without building the Falcon Heavy. It tests a lot of things about combining more engines together, which Musk noted was a lot harder than anticipated just making t

        • Consider that there was exactly one test burn of F9H, on Pad 39a. They never built a test stand large enough at Macgregor. Then it launched. And certainly they have flight data. So I would call this something that gives them confidence in banking 27 engines, which hasn't been tried since N1. But maybe not something that they had to do before they built BFR.
        • So I don't really see how you can ever call the FH a mistake, even if it is replaced eventually.

          I don't know if I would call it a mistake, but IIRC, Musk did comment that they had an unexpected amount of issues dealing with the two strap-on boosters which they thought would be pretty straight forward. He stated if they had known how much trouble they would have had with getting them to work, he would have opted to just go straight to the BFR and ignore the FH.

      • For all that it's really cool, Falcon 9 Heavy might have been a mistake. And this is from someone who went to the launch and paid $200 for the good tickets. It cost them a great deal to get working, and is destined to be supersceded by their next rocket. We might not see that many of them ever fly.

        Also, the Falcon Heavy is already much more efficient than the Falcon 9. And the BFR is a completely new design, with much more risks and time needed to develop it. Relying fully on the BFR without an intermediate step would be much more risky.

      • It seems to me the Heavy accomplishes several things: nothing necessarily indispensable, but potentially worth the investment when combined:

        First the non-technical strategic benefits:

        It substantially boosts the maximum available launch capacity in existence, exceeding anything available in several decades. Great PR, and probably helps inspire complimentary businesses (Bigelow Aerospace, etc) to be ready to make use of the BFR.

        It lets SpaceX start getting considered by the bureaucracies that currently deman

      • Another thing to consider is that for most of the time the Falcon Heavy was being designed and built, the plan was seemingly for the BFR to be an interplanetary vessel, too large to satisfy normal launch demands. It's only in the last year or so I think that the plan was scaled down to something that could service existing Earth launch needs as well, when they realized that there was a sweet spot in size that could be cheaper to operate than an F9, while still being able to make it to Mars with a respectab

  • Just warming up, some stretches and a few short jogs around the Moon to get ready for the journey.
  • This is really impressive. Elon really follows through with his promises. He will be the one to get us off this rock stuck in a gravity well!
    • He will be the one to get us off this rock stuck in a gravity well!

      Wait, is that what we're been saying? No wonder the aliens won't contact us, they think it's a prank!

  • He's a bit wierd - but I'm a fan.

    However, back-to-back Muskiness? Enough, thanks

  • Of humanity being wiped out entirely and in so many different ways. No generation before us lived with that fear... I want to be secure in knowing that humanity will survive after I m gone... This is a great step towards quelling my fears Thanks. :)
    • by 93 Escort Wagon ( 326346 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @04:43PM (#56243975)

      Of humanity being wiped out entirely and in so many different ways. No generation before us lived with that fear...

      You must be young, given you believe that.

      • Thank You. :)
      • Of humanity being wiped out entirely and in so many different ways. No generation before us lived with that fear...

        You must be young, given you believe that.

        Either that, or he's in his 80s, in which case he really would be a member of the first generation that had to face the possibility of the planet getting wiped out.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          During the several major plagues of europe, there was a belief that the apocalypse was upon them. Life on earth was being wiped out by god.

          When the Roman empire started to shrink, a similar feeling emerged, thus all the Armageddon cults and why early Christians believed Christ was going to return and fight the final battle within their own lifetime.

          Then there's all the great flood myths from around the globe.

          There has always been people facing the real belief that they might be or were going to be the last.

      • Or very small
    • I always wonder why people live in fear of that. Does it really matter if humanity is wiped out? We can't live anywhere else than Earth anyway.
    • Living so many years with the fear of humanity being wiped out entirely and in so many different ways. No generation before us lived with that fear...

      Holy crap, you *don't actually believe that* do you? EVERY generation has had the same fear, some far more realistic than now. Basically, you are living in the lap of opulent, bordering on vulgar, luxury and wealth, with minimal actual threat of ANY harm coming to you, or your children. This is reflected by the fact that most of the current supposed threats a

  • Elon said as much at the post FH launch interview. Just because it happens at SXSW doesn't make it news..

    • Elon said as much at the post FH launch interview. Just because it happens at SXSW doesn't make it news.

      Well it may have first been announced in an interview, but SXSW gives it that hipster-poseur beads-and-pyramids flavor that just screams "News For Nerds, Stuff That Matters".

      Strat

  • Has he been able to deliver even 1% of the Model 3's that people have ordered?

    Him saying Mars test trips in 2019 = Mars test trips in 2025 at the earliest.
    • by Hodr ( 219920 )

      Probably not. But they are shipping. My neighbor has one and now that I have driven both it and the Bolt I am kicking my own arse for not getting in early on the pre-orders. At this point I might as well wait for the 2020 model.

      • by q4Fry ( 1322209 )

        Please elaborate. I am seeing lots of chatter about the Bolt being a decent car and a lot of frustration about the Model 3. I am particularly curious about the instrumentation and controls. It seems to me that a giant touch screen is less desirable than physical, tactile controls while operating a vehicle.

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