We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

The efficiency of state space development

Last night, Elon Musk mentioned that the development cost of Falcon Heavy was about $500M, an astonishing sum, until you remember that NASA’s new Space Launch System has consumed about $20B to date and isn’t finished yet. Full development costs for SLS are said to be $35B.

Also, while Falcon Heavy re-uses most of its hardware and costs about $90M a flight, the current quoted SLS flight cost is $500M, and more realistically might reach $1B per flight.

However, while Falcon Heavy can only carry 63 tons to low earth orbit, SLS Block 1 will be able to carry 70 tons.

Eventually, SLS Block 2 will be available, with a payload of 130 tons to LEO. By that time, SpaceX’s BFR, which will be fully reusable, may be in flight. BFR will be able to carry 150 tons to LEO, and is intended to be fully reusable, so a flight may cost as little as a few million dollars — likely under 1/100th of the cost of a flight of SLS Block 2.

Pretty much the coolest thing ever

Pretty much the coolest thing ever… 😎

2018 New Space predictions, Part II: The 2018 list

So… now it is time to unveil the predictions of Amon and Weathers for 2018. Doug Weathers and I changed the format a little this year. If one or the other or even both of us thought an event is iffy but possible or even likely, we put it under a section we are calling ‘Stretch Goals.’

1) Falcon Heavy flies.

The first attempt could happen in as little as two weeks from now. There is a chance it will fail, as this is, after all, the first flight of a very large rocket with very complex structural dynamics. If the simulations and calculations are off, the three booster structure could rip itself apart. With the large number of Merlin rocket engines that have to fire, there is plenty of room for error, albeit also a great deal of redundancy. A successful flight on the first try will let many friends of ours celebrate and sleep well. A failure? Well, it is a long year. They will dust themselves off and almost certainly succeed on a second flight test.

2) A Tesla Sportster goes interplanetary.

If the first Falcon Heavy succeeds, it is likely the well tested second stage will put Elon Musk’s old car on a course to cross Mars orbit within the next year or so. It is NOT going to go to Mars. It will be on a solar elliptical orbit that crosses Earth and Mars orbits at perihelion and aphelion. It ought to be there long enough for Mars to be settled and have a vast population with large museums in which it will someday reside after being recovered by some Belter and sold to the highest bidder.

3) Falcon Heavy goes into commercial service.

If the first flight is reasonably successful, there will be at least one more flight of the vehicle this year with a profit making payload.

4) Boca Chica launch site construction slips to 2019

We both think the SpaceX private space launch facility south of Brownsville Texas on the Gulf Coast is not moving along as snappily as one would hope. We think they well be into next year before it is checked out and launch ready.

5) Dragon 2 in flight abort test

Dragon 2 is a lesser cousin to Red Dragon that will take astronauts to the space station when it is certified. Although not entirely necessary, SpaceX is going to perform an in flight abort. We feel confident that will happen this year and it will succeed. What we do not expect is that the Falcon 9 booster it is riding on will survive the emergency separation. It is a much larger booster than the Blue Origin New Shepherd, and the fact that one survived an emergency SEP test still has us gob smacked.

6) Elon Musk announces BFR launch/landing sites at IAC

The beauty of BFR is that both stages can be tested on their own in a suborbital flight mode. We know SpaceX intends to fly them short distances to prove them out. What we do not know is where those places will be. Will it be a barge launch? That seems unlikely for a first test launch although possible for a landing. Boca Chica? We do not know all the details about the pad requirements for the stages of this big mother. So we are guessing that when Elon gives us the next installment of Elon Musk and His Big Falcon Rocket, we will find out.

7) Rocket Lab enters commercial service.

We expect them to fly their second test flight within days and we expect it to succeed. Even if it does not, there is enough time for another test this year. We are rather confident they will enter revenue generating service this year.

9) Blue Origin BE-4 engine finishes testing

The BE-4 is needed for the New Glenn rocket and also for ULA’s Vulcan rocket. Both are expected to fly around 2020, so we expect they will wind up testing and focus more on production of these babies in the following year.

10) Blue Origin New Glenn starts construction

We really pondered on this one. But the evidence is there if you consider financial planning as well as engineering schedules. They have the manufacturing facility at the KSC (Kennedy Space Center) Exploration Park that is being outfitted to manufacture them. The park is run by Space Florida (the folks who killed XCOR) and it is a straight shot within CCAFS to their Pad 36, which is being prepared for it. The engines are near ready. They are calling a 2020 launch date followed by a ramp up, so they pretty much have to start building the first one by the end of this year. One has to work the bugs out of factories just like one has to work them out of rockets. And one does not spend this kind of money on facilities if they are going to then sit idle for a year.

11) Dreamchaser continues drop testing but does not fly into space.

Sierra Nevada has a contract with NASA to fly a smaller, cargo only version of their design to ISS in the 2020 time frame. It will have folding tips on the wings to fit inside a fairing, unlike the existing crew model. We do not think they are going to retire that vehicle quite yet. It makes sense to wring every bit of data out of it that they can from drop tests. So we think they will do more drop tests but hold off on putting one on an Atlas V until they have the one for the paying customer (NASA) ready for test.

12) SS2 powered flight test

This has just got to happen this year. It should have happened many months ago.

13) SS2 suborbital flight

There are really only a couple test points for engine firings short of flying to the Karman line. They will want to probe the transonic region again; and they will want to test a fairly high altitude flight to check the reaction control system and the shuttle cock mode. Once they have done those… why not give it a go?

14) Boeing CST-100 unmanned test flight

We cannot see any good reason why they will not meet their schedule and get this done this year.

15) Stratolaunch aircraft completes flight test

Since it has already begun taxi trials, we feel a full year is more than enough to test the full envelope on what is, although really, really large, just another transport aircraft. We are not betting on whether they will actually launch a rocket into orbit from it this year. In our minds that is too close to call.

16) LauncherOne flies from Mojave

We think folks have missed things that are right in front of their noses. Virgin Galactic (or the Virgin Launch subgroup) bought a 747 last year, had all of the structural changes to it made and even more notably, has the sign off on those changes from the FAA. That carrier aircraft is sitting in the Long Beach area right now.

The LauncherOne vehicle has been delivered to Mojave Spaceport. We have looked at the pictures of it and come to the conclusion that there is little or nothing they can do with it at Mojave except fly it. It is not there for pad tests since it is not a rocket that launches from a pad. So why is it there? We think the carrier aircraft will fly up there and have it loaded under the wing. They will then fuel it. You can do that in Mojave. They probably did not want to do so in the populous LA area.

Most likely scenarios are a few captive carry flights to get aerodynamic data, followed by a flight out over the Pacific. This is not a vehicle that you drop test and land. You drop it and you put it into orbit or else it joins other wreckage at the bottom of the ocean.

So… we think they are going to fly this year.


1) SpaceX flies a Bigelow B-330 into orbit on a Falcon 9

There is a Bigelow flight manifested but we do not know what for. We do know that Bob Bigelow has been waiting a decade for commercial crew service to orbit. That has been the long pole in his tent. You cannot put rental property in orbit if your customers cannot get to it. Since we expect both Boeing and SpaceX will very soon be able to deliver customers and their cargo to Low Earth Orbit, we think he is going to pull the trigger this year or next year.

2) SpaceX Dragon 2 manned flight

This is almost certainly going to happen this year, but we both went conservative on it due to the tight time line between the first test flights and the scheduled first flight to the space station. It is very likely this will happen this year or not very far into 2019.

3) Boeing CST-100 manned flight

Boeing is also running a tight time line and they cannot be seen to fall too far behind SpaceX. I am sure they would like to beat SpaceX into orbit just for company pride. Competition is a good thing. We still see a fair bit of schedule risk, and as with Dragon 2 feel they will likely fly this year and if not will fly early in 2019.

4) SpaceX launches two paying customers on a lunar free return mission.

This is the big one. It is still scheduled for this year, but it will only happen if the first Falcon Heavy flies successfully and the manned Dragon 2 flight to ISS happens on or at least close to the scheduled dates. Personally we think it more likely to happen in 2019, but we include it here because there is an outside chance Elon’s stars will align and this mission will go. We, and many others, would just love to see this happen on the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 8 Christmas mission of December 21, 1968.

2018 New Space predictions, Part I: How did we do last year?

Around this time last year, I was discussing / arguing with another aerospace engineer on the sort of topic which tends to come to mind at the New Year. What could we expect in our industry over the next twelve months? Since I have been a pundit here at Samizdata and in other fora for a bit over three decades, I suggested we turn our arguments into a set of predictions of events we expected in 2017. I wrote up the results and published them in a limited fora and set a reminder in my schedule so that we would revisit it a year later both to see how well the universe obeyed our pronouncements during the previous orbit of the Earth about Sol, and to then produce a new set of pontifications for 2018.

Before I unveil those, I will do what most prognosticators fear to do: discuss our results in public, as evaluated by the two of us last night. The publication last year was to a limited audience, I am reproducing it here. We each placed our initials next to the predictions we agreed upon; DMA for Dale Marshall Amon and DW for Doug Weathers. A few are minority predictions to which only one of us felt comfortable in making.

1) Falcon Heavy will fly this year. [DMA, DW]

Close! The vehicle has been assembled, and was raised and lowered at the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS) before the end of the year. It is scheduled for flight this month with a Tesla sports car as an interplanetary payload. We definitely did not see that coming!

2) Red Dragon will be tested in unmanned mode and a landing will be attempted [DW, DMA]
3) Red Dragon will be given a high energy re-entry test by doing a lunar free return. I give it 50% that they do this. DMA.

Both of these fall into a category that we are calling OBE, Overcome By Events. Elon Musk dropped the vehicle late in development due to a massive change in plans for SpaceX. The Big Falcon Rocket design he announced at the IAU conference this year does things a different way so the development was cut.

4) A Raptor engine will not be on a flight vehicle yet this year. [DMA, DW]

Yes. We were correct. The LOX-Methane Raptor engine is still undergoing test and is progressing nicely.

5) There will be a reflight of a Falcon first stage. [DMA, DW]

Yes. Several of them in fact. So much so that from now on people ask why a first stage is not reused rather than arguing that one cannot do it.

6) New Shepherd will fly manned with a test ‘pilot’ on board. [DMA, DW]

No. But they are getting close. The production type capsule flew recently with ‘Mannequin Skywalker’ as the crash test dummy has been dubbed. The flight test was flawless so we can expect a manned trip to happen within the next few test flights.

7) The BE-4 engine will complete its testing and be ready for flight test. [DMA, DW]

No. The Blue Origin engine is still under test, but it is very close to ready and will likely be mounted on a New Glenn hull this year.

8) XCOR will be told to kick the ULA second stage engine program into high gear. [DMA, DW]

OBE. A perfect financial storm, put XCOR into a suspension of trading and then Space Florida filed against them and put them into Chapter 7 bankruptcy. We did not see that coming, and there were signs up until the last moment that they might still pull their goolies out of the fire.

9) Dreamchaser will be flight tested, possibly orbited in an unmanned mode this year. [DMA]

Sort of. They have completed a successful drop test with a new Crew Dreamchaser at Vandenberg Air Force Base (VAFB). They do not appear to be near ready for an actual launch, although we have some ideas…

10) SS2 will do its first suborbital spaceflight this year [DMA, DW]

No. We were actually rather shocked that this did not happen yet as they had successful drop tests of the new ship much earlier this year. This should have happened.

11) Richard Branson and family will not be on board [DMA, DW]

Yes. We got that right!

12) Long March heavy lift rocket will fly successfully. [DMA, DW]

Sort of. They launched it but it did not make orbit.

13) CST100 will execute a pad abort test. [DMA, DW]

No. Slipped to next year.

14) CST100 will NOT fly into space this year [DMA, DW]

Yep. Slipped to next year.

15) EXOS Aerospace will fly their Sarge rocket this year [DMA, DW]

No. They canceled a captive test due to the hurricane that hit Houston, which although not close, was where many people who would have come as guests were to be found. There may also have been doubt about the weather in Central Texas since one never knows what a hurricane has up its wall cloud. There has been no sign of a re-schedule.

16) Stratolaunch will begin flight test of the big carrier aircraft. [DMA, DW]

Yes. They started taxi tests at Mojave before the end of the year.

17) World View will carry out a manned flight. [DMA, DW]

OBE. They had a ground testing accident. My take is they used Hydrogen for ground test because Helium is bloody expensive; they had an issue with a vent and the Hydrogen burned, caused an overpressure, blew out the top of the balloon and exploded into a fireball in the inrush of air.

To be fair, I must also mention one we thought would not happen until the next year: Rocket Lab did get their test vehicle with their revolutionary electric fuel and oxidizer pumps off the pad. They did a destruct late in the ascent, but as they discovered later, the decision was based on incorrect data. The rocket would have successfully made orbit on the first try.

There were many other advances during the year but we did not try to guess everything; we only went for ‘the big ones’.

Next we will unveil our predictions for 2018 and why we made them.

I am not saying it’s Autons but… it’s Autons

From Instapundit (my emboldenings):

The miniature Perdex drones, different from larger, more common remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) like the well-known Reaper and Predator, operate with a high degree of collective autonomy and reduced dependency on remote flight crews to control them. The large group of more autonomous Perdex drones creates a “swarm” of miniature drones. The swarm shares information across data links during operation, and can make mission-adaptive decisions faster than RPV’s controlled in the more conventional manner.

In a statement released by the U.S. Department of Defense, Strategic Capabilities Office Director William Roper said, “Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” Director Roper went on to say, “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”

Doctor Who fans will know exactly where this sort of thing leads:

You have been warned.

The Hell of living under the Heathrow flightpath

After a gazillion years of proposals, enquiries and delayed decisions the Government has finally given the go-ahead for the building of a new runway at Heathrow. Apparently this will be the first runway built in the South East of England in 50 years.

The MP for Richmond – just across the river from me – Zac Goldsmith immediately resigned his seat and announced his intention to stand as an independent in the resulting by-election. His former party, the Conservative Party, the governing party, won’t even be putting up a candidate. It’s not just Goldsmith. Extraordinarily, cabinet ministers who represent constituencies under the flightpath have been given permission to speak against the decision.

So what is the kerfuffle all about? I have been living under the flightpath for 15 years now. I live to the east when most of the action is east-west, so I don’t get the worst of it. But I do live where most of the people who would be affected live. For the most part I am barely aware that there’s an airport in the vicinity at all. About one or month or so, planes are moving west-east and every couple of minutes I won’t be able to hear the telly. In such cases I have to take the drastic action of pushing the pause button on my remote control. Heathrow has never deprived me of any sleep and things would have to get a lot worse before it bothered me. Or the Fonz for that matter:

Indeed, things are a lot better than they were in the days of Concorde. The racket that thing used to make was astonishing. And wonderful. So what if I couldn’t hear a damn thing for 30 seconds? That was a deafness induced by the finest British engineering, a richer deafness. A better deafness.

Now I accept I (and the Fonz) are not everybody. Maybe, others are more affected. If so one wonders why they choose to live in Richmond. OK, it’s possible that there some who are not affected now but will be in the future. In that case they would probably be best off leaving and moving somewhere quieter. Now, as a libertarian, I think that people should be compensated for such losses. Except I very much doubt there will be any need. I suspect that any loss people might suffer in terms of the cost of moving will easily be matched in terms of the rise in house prices due to the fact that their homes are so near to an expanding airport.

I just can’t see the problem.

Tim Peake excitement

The UK media is getting quite excited about British astronaut Tim Peake and his trip to the International Space Station. I was watching on Sky News. Their guest expert was space journalist Sarah Cruddas, and after the launch they allowed her to gush excitedly about private space travel for a couple of minutes.

She was not entirely coherent as she was talking excitedly — but that is the point. She mentioned “Space 2.0”, a new term to me, and Elon Musk, and Planetary Resources who want to mine asteroids which contain enough wealth to make everyone a billionaire. She talked positively about wealthy people making money in space. She talked about how Internet access in the developing world has an “absolutely revolutionary effect on the number of people on our planet who will have access to knowledge”, improving education and increasing the pool of talent and getting them rich. She talked about businesses making space travel more efficient. She talked about the UK space industry, which “does exist and should be celebrated”.

It struck me that all this private enterprise and wealth creation should be brought up and positively plugged during a government space launch.

In the ’50s and ’60s it seems as if it was normal to be optimistic and excited about technology. In the ’90s and recently we seem mostly to hear about how greedy rich industrialists trample the poor and destroy the planet. Perhaps that pendulum can swing back the other way.

Taranto – a kick in the balls for Mussolini – 75 years ago tonight

I doubt that many realise that it was on 11th November 1940 that the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy struck a blow at Royal Fascist Italy’s Navy that may well have slowed the march of the Axis powers in the Mediterranean and marked the first check on their advance after the fall of France. The operation, called ‘Operation Judgment‘, involved two waves of Fairey Swordfish biplanes (almost certainly the slowest surprise air attack of WW2 apart perhaps from the springing of Mussolini) attacking the Italian fleet at Taranto harbour on the ‘heel’ of Italy. The outcome was that the Italian surface fleet was severely reduced in capability, and the remnants moved further up the peninsula to Naples, thereby limiting their capability to interfere with British shipping in the Mediterranean and to re-inforce North Africa. British casualties were 2 aircraft lost, 2 men killed, 2 PoWs. The Italians lost one battleship, and had 2 battleships and 2 cruisers heavily damaged.

The raid had been planned for Trafalgar Day, 21st October, but was put back due to a fire, fittingly enough to Armistice Day. A Swordfish also went on to cripple the Bismarck, and later in the War they accounted for 22 U-boats. Not a bad record at all.

It has been speculated that this raid inspired the Japanese to use air power at Pearl Harbor, but perhaps emboldened would be a better term, after all, it is not as if Japan wasn’t gearing up for something by this time. The anniversary of the raid has attracted some comment, a piece here in the American Thinker (an organ of which I know little), but pointing out that it actually makes sense to attack your enemies, not to wait for them to attack you. I particularly liked this part:

Third, fight to win, and winning means destroying the power of those who hate us. Had the Second World War been, instead of a continuous struggle, a series of peace talks and ceasefires and diplomatic pussyfooting, it is certain that Hitler would never have lost. Democracies naturally loathe war and yearn for peace, but evil regimes who control their subject peoples can maintain war fever indefinitely.

You might think that that author had some people from the present-day in mind.

And for those brave men of the Fleet Air Arm, flying in open cockpits at night against a major enemy harbour, I shall raise a glass of prosecco tonight, to sink something Italian.

Kardeshev 1.5?

I am sure most of you have by now heard at least a garbled version of the discovery of a very unusual object in the skies, a possible alien mega-structure. I have not been following the mass media but they probably went for the spectacular in their reporting.

Well, it could be spectacular, but only if after a few years or even decades of hard science it does not turn out to be something else. Some science news outlets have compared it to the discovery of the pulsar by Jocelyn Bell. There was no known explanation at the time for something in the heavens that could generate a pulse train that was so precise you could set your time standard to it.

Still, an alien civilization is a candidate explanation, even if the only thing we can say is “We’ve got something we’ve never seen before and some of our wild ass guesses, including an alien civilization, have not yet been ruled out”. I want to make this absolutely clear before I get to the fun stuff.

Now… what if it turns out to be true and we find we have a neighbor who is building structures in space large enough to obscure up to 20% of its sun’s output for significant periods of time? That is one serious civilization, one that is well on its way to becoming a Kardeshev Type II.

But let us turn things around. If they exist, what do they know about us?

The star in question is about 1400 light years away from us. That means what we are seeing happened back in the dark ages, back in an era oft written of in books by Dr. Sean Gabb in his historical novels. Whatever we are detecting now of their technology happened that long ago. Fourteen Hundred Years of advancement beyond what we can see. One and a half millennia. Just imagine it.

Lets go further. Fourteen hundred years ago they were building structures that could block 20% of their star’s light when passing in front of it. That is not the capability of a new space faring civilization. In our terms, it is probably several millenia beyond where we are in our space capabilities, possibly even more.

So how many thousands of years ago did they map a lovely little life bearing world? They almost certainly have thousands of years of data on our star and planets. But their data shows no sign of civilization because their most recent data about us comes from our 600AD.

Unusual situation then. We would know there is a space faring civilization out there… and they would only know there was a life bearing world with no signs of a technological civilization here.

So… I wonder when the generation ships of the colonists will show up?

I’m just having a bit of fun. But What If?

Pity so few journalists know what they write about

An aircraft believed to be a World War II Hawker Hunter fighter jet crashed onto the A27, causing the road to be closed in both directions…

hawker hunter error

Hawker Hunter first flight was 20 July 1951. I guess City A.M. does not allow their journalists access to the internet or the use of Google.

The view from inside a government box

This article leaves me speechless. How could anyone capable of putting words together in a sentence about space hardware put forth a premise that is “not even wrong”. It is not even from the same reality most of us exist in.

Now I do not expect most of you to be current on what is going on in the aerospace business today. Unlike the person who wrote the article, it is not your job and perhaps not even something that interests you. That means the falsehoods get passed on because you are unlikely to dig. But believe me, this is a howler if it was done in ignorance and is the ‘big lie’ if done in full knowledge of what American industry is up to. Since I cannot believe anyone could write this without knowing at least a little about the topic, I have to assume it is intentional.

Why is that so? Because there have been more and better developments in hydrocarbon rocket engines in the last 15 years than in the preceding three decades. From SpaceX we have mass production of the Merlin engines. SpaceX is already the largest rocket engine manufacturer in the US and in a few years will be turning out more engines than the entire rest of aerospace on the planet. They also developed the Kestrel for their smaller rocket some years ago; and the Merlin has gone through multiple iterations, each of which is effectively a new engine in capabilities. To top it off they are already working on the largest hydrocarbon engine since the Saturn V F-1: their Raptor engine. It’s not just a paper engine either. They are rebuilding a test stand at NASA Stennis and may already be testing the giant turbopumps for it.

But wait! There’s more! Blue Origin has developed a family of hydrocarbon engines and recently tested their suborbital craft using the BE-3, the 3rd generation engine, all done in less than a decade. They are short listed to produce the even larger BE-4 for United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket, their replacement for the too expensive Delta and the Russian engine using Atlas V.

And that is not all. In my day job I do data acquisition on the hydrocarbon engine for the Lynx suborbital spaceship.

There are others but these are the highlights which no honest/competent journalist could have missed.

Now it can be told…

As I am now part of the core engineering team on a spaceship, I am much more limited in what I can say on certain subjects than I was as a consultant assisting on early stage projects in the previous decade. Here is a picture of our baby, the XCOR Lynx, as it sits in our hangar. My job is its ‘nervous system’, the sensor systems and onboard data collection and storage and use.

XCOR Lynx Spaceplane under construction

XCOR Lynx Spaceplane under construction