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kottke.org posts about SpaceX

Time Lapse of a SpaceX Launch Looks Like a UFO

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 09, 2018

Sunday night, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The nighttime launch created what looked like a nebula in the sky, prompting LA mayor Eric Garcetti to tweet that his city was not being visited by a flying saucer. This 4K time lapse of the launch is only 13 seconds long and is worth watching about 40 times in a row.

The Falcon Heavy launch, space advertising for billionaires, and the beauty of science

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 07, 2018

I’ve slept on it and my mind & soul are still reeling from the SpaceX launch of Falcon Heavy yesterday. I can’t tell you why exactly, but when the two side boosters landed safely back on Earth at nearly the same instant, as in a beautifully choreographed ballet, I nearly burst into tears. Just watching the replay gets me all verklempt:

Of course, the boosters were supposed to land at the same time. They broke away from the main stage at the same time and were controlled by identical computer systems in their descent; it’s a simple matter of high school physics to solve for the time it takes two uniform objects to travel from point A to point B. But as Richard Feynman said about the beauty of a flower, knowing the science makes moments like this more wondrous.

And then right after that, the video showed what appears to be a human driving a car in Earth orbit to the strains of David Bowie’s Life on Mars. What an incredible, ridiculous, ludicrous thing:

SpaceX Carman

There is ample prior art, but I suspect Elon Musk launching a Tesla Roadster into orbit will go down in history as the first notable advertisement in space, a marketing stunt for the ages. However, it seems problematic that billionaires can place billboards in orbit and then shoot them willy nilly into the asteroid belt without much in the way of oversight. As the Roadster recedes from Earth and our memory, will it become just another piece of trash carelessly tossed by humanity into a pristine wilderness, the first of many to come? Or as it ages, will it become an historic artifact, a orbiting testament to the achievement and naivety of early 21st century science, technology, and culture? It’s not difficult to imagine, 40 or 50 years from now, space tourists visiting the Roadster on its occasional flybys of Mars and Earth. I wonder what they’ll think of all this?

Update: The Roadster has been assigned an interplanetary ID by NASA: Tesla Roadster (AKA: Starman, 2018-017A). Using data from a Chilean telescope, astronomers have been able to figure out how fast the car is tumbling in space from the changes in brightness: 1 rotation every ~4.8 minutes (although there’s some disagreement in the comments that it might be twice that). At any rate (har har), here’s a time lapse video of the car taken with the 4.1-m SOAR telescope in Chile:

Astrophotographer Rogelio Bernal Andreo also captured the Roadster moving across the sky in this video:

Watch the Falcon Heavy launch live at 2:20pm ET today

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 06, 2018

SpaceX is scheduled to launch their massive new rocket for the first time today. You can catch a live stream of the launch here:

When Falcon Heavy lifts off, it will be the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two. With the ability to lift into orbit nearly 64 metric tons (141,000 lb) — a mass greater than a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage and fuel — Falcon Heavy can lift more than twice the payload of the next closest operational vehicle, the Delta IV Heavy, at one-third the cost. Falcon Heavy draws upon the proven heritage and reliability of Falcon 9.

As part of the launch, the three engine cores will land back on Earth, as they have been doing for years now with their other rockets. You can watch an animation of how they hope the launch will go:

The payload for this rocket test is SpaceX CEO Elon Musk’s red Tesla Roadster. No, really. If all goes as planned, the Roadster and its passenger (a dummy wearing a SpaceX suit) will be put into an orbit around the Sun somewhere in the vicinity of Mars, driving around the solar system for a billion years. SpaceX isn’t saying exactly where the Roadster might end up, but engineer Max Fagin has a guess about its eventual orbit:

You can read more about the launch from Phil Plait and on PBS NewsHour.

Update: The new time for the launch is 2:20pm ET. The launch window lasts until 4pm ET.

SpaceX wants to send people to Mars by 2024

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 29, 2017

Spacex BFR

Elon Musk says SpaceX is on target to send cargo to Mars in 2022 and people in 2024. The way the company will do it is by focusing its resources on a new vehicle, the Interplanetary Transport System (codename: the BFR). That vehicle will be able to travel to Mars, but can also be used to generate revenue for the company through launching satellites, resupplying the ISS, and going to the Moon.

Musk also proposed a variety of new uses for the scaled-down rocket beyond just going to Mars. Supposedly, the ITS can be used to launch satellites, take cargo to the International Space Station, and even do lunar missions to set up a Moon base. SpaceX’s current Falcon 9 fleet is used to do a few of those things already, but Musk says eventually the company will turn to the ITS to do all of its space missions.

“We can build a system that cannibalizes our own products, makes our own products redundant, then all the resources we use for Falcon Heavy and Dragon can be applied to one system,” he said at the conference. Musk says the cost of launching cargo on the ITS will be fairly cheap, too, since the rocket and spaceship will be a fully reusable system — unlike the Falcon 9, which is only 70 to 80 percent reusable.

Musk also astoundingly asserted that the same rocket system could be used for long-distance travel on Earth.

He ended his talk with a pretty incredible promise: using that same interplanetary rocket system for long distance travel on Earth. Musk showed a demonstration of the idea on stage, claiming that it will allow passengers to take “most long distance trips” in just 30 minutes, and go “anywhere on Earth in under an hour” for around the same price of an economy airline ticket.

As they say, “huge if true”. Musk is like the sci-fi Oprah here: You get a electric car! And you get a trip to Mars! And you get a self-driving car! And you get a 30-minute Hyperloop trip from SF to LA! And you get a rocket shuttle from NYC to Mumbai in 43 minutes for $1200! Beeeeeeeeees!!!!

SpaceX blooper reel for their reusable rocket booster

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 14, 2017

Now that SpaceX has successfully landed their reusable orbital rocket booster a number of times, they can look back with humor in this blooper reel of their somewhat less successful early efforts. New technology always requires trial and error (and error and error)…just ask NASA and the US government testing rockets back in the earlier days of the space program:

The latest SpaceX rocket launch and landing, start-to-finish

posted by Jason Kottke   May 01, 2017

This is cool. SpaceX has built a reusable rocket for launching things into space. The rocket takes off, separates from its payload, and then lands back on Earth, upright and intact on a landing pad. They’ve had several successful missions but this morning, they webcast the launch and return of the rocket with footage from long-range cameras and a camera fixed to the side of the rocket from start to finish.

The launch happens at 11:58, at 14:24 the main stage separates from the payload, and at 21:00, it’s on the ground — the whole thing is over in 9 minutes. And the views are super-clear (until clouds and exhaust from engines cloud the view right at the end) and the long continuous shot of the rocket is astounding…it looks totally fake, like out of a sci-fi movie.

Speaking of sci-fi, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk shared a better view of the rocket landing on Instagram…here it is on YouTube:

Look at the landing gear delicately fold down about 2 seconds before the landing. Looks totally CG! I’ve seen footage of these landings dozens of times and it’s still incredible.

Musk: SpaceX will start colonizing Mars in 7 years

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 28, 2016

Yesterday, Elon Musk shared SpaceX’s plan for colonizing Mars. Gizmodo has a good overview of the plan.

SpaceX plans to build a “self-sustaining city” on Mars, according to its founder Elon Musk. But, while we now know a lot more about how SpaceX plans to get to Mars, details about how people will actually survive up there remain sketchy.

Musk dropped the news on Tuesday during an address at the International Astronautical Congress meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico, where he had promised to reveal how the company planned to send people to live on Mars.

“I don’t have an immediate doomsday prophecy,” said Musk, but he noted that he saw only two possible paths forward. “One path is to stay on Earth forever, and there will be some extinction event. The alternative is to become a multi-planetary species, which I hope you will agree is the right way to go.”

Musk says that human flights to Mars could start as soon as 2023. So audacious, I love it. I am so rooting for him to pull this off.

Update: Wait But Why has a characteristically entertaining and informative piece about SpaceX’s Big Fucking Rocket.

“It’s so mind-blowing. It blows my mind, and I see it every week.”

Elon’s pumped. And when you learn about the big fucking rocket he’s building, you’ll understand why.

First, let’s absorb the challenge at hand. It’s often said that space is hard. To this day, only a few hundred people have been in space, only a few countries have the ability to launch something into space, and the history of human space travel is littered with tragic launch failures. Firing something super heavy and delicate and full of explosive liquid up through the atmosphere without anything going wrong is incredibly hard.

But when we talk about humans going into space, we’re talking mostly about humans going into Low Earth Orbit, a layer of space between 100 and 1,200 miles above the ground — and normally, they’re headed only 250 miles up to the International Space Station. The only time humans have gone farther were the small handful of Americans who made it out to the moon in the 1960s, traveling about 250,000 miles away.

When Earth and Mars are at their closest, Mars is somewhere between 34 and 60 million miles away — about 200 times farther away than the moon and about 200,000 times farther away than the ISS.

The moon is just over one light second away.

Mars is more than three light minutes away.

Mars is far.

Bezos’ rocket achieves controlled landing back on Earth

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 24, 2015

A rocket built by Blue Origin, an aerospace company backed by Jeff Bezos, recently reached space and executed a controlled landing back on Earth, which allows it to be used again. Bezos himself joined Twitter1 this morning to announce the news. Elon Musk, whose SpaceX company has been trying (and failing) to do something similar lately, congratulated Bezos and his team on Twitter2 but also threw a little shade on BO’s efforts to reach “space” vs. SpaceX’s efforts to reach “orbit”.

It is, however, important to clear up the difference between “space” and “orbit”, as described well by https://what-if.xkcd.com/58/. Getting to space needs ~Mach 3, but GTO orbit requires ~Mach 30. The energy needed is the square, i.e. 9 units for space and 900 for orbit.

Welcome to Twitter, Jeff.

  1. I like his bio: “Amazon, Blue Origin, Washington Post”.

  2. Musk’s bio reads: “Tesla, SpaceX, SolarCity & PayPal”. Oh, these boys and their toys.