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Comment Re: Of course (Score 1) 1009

Yes. If you'd rather leave your lawn unmowed than pay somebody a fair wage, then by all means let the grass and weeds grow high. If you get tired of that, then pay somebody enough that they can make a living tending lawns. Or hire some kid, who you're almost certainly paying under the table anyway.

The minimum wage was never intended to deal with kids working a few hours for pocket money - it was intended to make sure that anyone willing to work a full time job can support themselves, rather than depending on handouts to make ends meet.

Comment Re:Next up - Falcon Heavy!! (Score 1) 103

I do not disagree, except to say you're comparing current reality to future intent, and while Musk has a respectable track record of making his dreams become reality, it's far from perfect.

IF (and assuming that, When) he can pull off high reliability, minimal refurbishment launches to orbit with the BFR, then it should indeed bring a cheaper total launch cost than the Falcon 9, since it will essentially (eventually) amortize away the cost of building the rockets, currently most expensive part of the launch. And the relaitvely fixed costs of ground crew will likely dominate fuel costs for the immediate future, even with the BFR's much greater fuel demands.

If he can only manage cheaper per pound though, then there's a LOT of niche "weird" orbits (high inclination, eccentricity, etc) and time-sensitive launches that may prove too difficult to effectively bundle with other payloads to be able to justify a BFR launch.

I'm totally rooting for him - he's trying to make the (conceptually) simple dream of affordable space access a reality. This is the second major step, after proving the basic concept of reusability was feasible. If he can pull it off, I think it will mark the turning of the tide towards becoming a true interplanetary species. But I won't believe it until I see it.

Comment Re:Next up - Falcon Heavy!! (Score 1) 103

I'm not well versed on the business aspects, but I'm not sure there is one, at least not anywhere close to current sizes. I think it basically amounts to "is there enough payload to justify regular launches". My gut says so long as it's heavily reusable, the bigger the rocket the more capacity you have for redundancy and safety systems. And the bigger the payload, the less payload needs to be wasted on inter-module connection systems. Especially for inflatable habitats and the like, where enclosed volume goes up with the cube of diameter, while surface area/mass increases much more closely to the square.

As for risk management, I don't think it actually makes a whole lot of difference - if your rocket has, say, a 2% chance of exploding during the launch, then you expect to lose an average of 2% on *every* launch, and insurance costs reflect that. Moreover, if you have say a 5-module system, and you need all five modules to be useful, then launching them separately instead of all at once dramatically increases your chance of losing part of it. I.e with a single launch you have a 98% chance of success, and a 2% chance of total failure, while with a 5-part launch you have only a 90% chance of success, with a 10% chance of partial failure. If the lost payload was something "off the shelf" - food, fuel, etc., then maybe that's no big deal, just buy more and send it up next week. But if it's something that took many years to build, then you've got a bunch of your assembly floating uselessly in space using up its design life while you rebuild the lost module(s) (no guarantee you only lost one rocket).

As for lower frequency/greater complexity - I'm not certain either holds - at least at this point. Bigger engines doesn't necessarily mean they're any more complex - and if going bigger means they can go fully reusable more easily and reliably, then the individual launch costs may actually be substantially lower than a much smaller partially-reusable rocket with more expensive refurbishment costs.

Basically the cost breakdown of a typical expendable launch is something like 80-90% vehicle construction, 2-5% fuel, and the rest manpower overhead. A bigger rocket takes more fuel, and pretty much the same manpower, so it mostly comes down to how the refurbishment and amortized construction costs compare per pound of payload.

That said - assuming the BFR is everything they hope, then once it's perfected I would fully expect them (or someone else) to build a scaled down version as well - just to increase the profit margins on all those little niche jobs that the BFR is overkill for.

Comment Re:Next up - Falcon Heavy!! (Score 1) 103

I'm not sure what you're trying to say - they're still going to try for a recoverable second stage, they're just making it much larger and more integrated rather than continuing to work on modifying the Falcon 9 analogs. It's potentially a much more productive approach, but at this point they're not exactly a whole lot closer to success than they are with the F9.

As for retiring the F9 ASAP - maybe. That's a big, expensive rocket to launch a 1000kg satellite into an unusual orbit though.
Maybe the refurbishment will actually be so cheap that it'll still look good compared to a Falcon, even after factoring in the risk of losing a much more expensive rocket to explosions.
Maybe they'll have enough capacity to bundle even those weird launches with a lot of other, more typical orbits.
Maybe they'll just let other companies handle such niche launches.

It would certainly be nice to have a cheap, reliable, flexible, heavily tested, and highly reusable launch system available. But at this point we only have intention and speculation to go on, and the whole thing smacks of an ITS scaled down to be profitable for mere orbital launches. That is to say it's a rocket designed to go to Mars, compromised enough to be able to get thoroughly tested paying the bills at home. There's a pretty good chance they had to sacrifice a lot of orbital use-cases to keep Mars on the table.

Comment Re:Next up - Falcon Heavy!! (Score 1) 103

I have a feeling you're right, at least early on. The BFR will supposedly be designed for considerably easier refurbishment though, as well as being fully reusable, so we'll have to see how it plays out.

If nothing else, I suspect the Falcon will have at least a medium-term role for smaller satellite launches for which it's difficult to justify using a BFR.

Comment Re:Shame it's not NASA (Score 4, Insightful) 103

NASA's still doing plenty of work on space exploration - they're just not investing as heavily into the rockets to get into orbit. And that's fine, it is after all now mature enough technology and market that private companies are willing to do the R&D themselves. A big win for NASA, who's now getting their launches cheaper than ever before, and without the headache of managing the details.

Meanwhile, NASA is still investing in next-generation propulsion systems - the stuff that will really let us expand into the solar system and study the universe. Solar sails, high-power ion drives, space telescopes. Stuff where there's no short-term profit to be made. Chemical rockets are great for getting from a planet's surface into orbit - a brief trip where raw power is needed in spades to offset the massive amounts of power being wasted just keeping it from falling out of the sky. Once in orbit though, they're a third-rate technology whose biggest saving grace is that they're mature and readily available.

If we want to conquer the solar system, we need engines designed for space. Not to mention low-mass radiation shielding, sustainable ecosystems, etc. Let NASA focus on developing that, and leave surface-to-orbit cargo runs to the companies who can focus on shaving down the costs without lots of bureaucratic overhead bogging them down.

Comment Re:Next up - Falcon Heavy!! (Score 3, Interesting) 103

I think in many ways the Falcon Heavy is a combination stopgap solution and proof of concept.

In the short term, if they get it working reliably then they immediately almost triple their maximum payload to orbit, as well as having huge unused capacity margins for to allow reusable landings on many launches that would otherwise have to resort to discarding the boosters. Not a bad deal.

In the long term, it gives them a chance to address the challenges of a multi-booster launch on a relatively low-power rocket, before applying those lessons to the BFR once it enters service. After all, a single BFR is really a lot less than you'd want to attempt a Mars outpost - a triple-booster version would make many things considerably easier.

And hey, why stop at three boosters? The original plans, way back before they had even made it to orbit, was to eventually go with a full 9-booster array. I doubt they'll get there right away, but it would make boosting seriously large payloads into orbit a lot easier. And whether it's Bigelow inflatable habitats, fully assembled nuclear reactors, or as-yet undesigned asteroid-mining facilities, the larger the single-launch payload, the more efficient your infrastructure can be made.

Comment Re: Is that a problem? (Score 1) 179

You mean:
Section 2: The transportation or importation into any State, Territory, or possession of the United States for delivery or use therein of intoxicating liquors, in violation of the laws thereof, is hereby prohibited.

Yeah I saw that, pretty close to section 1 of the 18th Amendment.
After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.

What I do not see is any analog to 18.2, which would give them the authority to *enforce* that prohibition.

Comment Re: Is that a problem? (Score 1) 179

21st Amendment
Section 1. The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.

That would seem to pretty well repeal any authority bestowed by it as well, would it not? That power was not actually relinquished is not surprising, but it no longer has a legal basis, as that authority came from

18th Amendment
Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Comment Re:You're confusing orbit with "space" (Score 1) 126

Sure, at 60 miles you won't stay up indefinitely - still plenty of time to futz around and destruct manually though. And even the ISS is only at 254 miles altitude - still not completely free of atmospheric drag, but near enough for most purposes.

Actually low-Earth orbital speed is only ~8km/s, and falls off with altitude. Really though, the Falcon booster, which is the real threat, is strictly suborbital, it's only the second stage that even has the option of reaching orbital speeds, though that may change with the Heavy.

My point though is simply that regardless of what you're flying, you're going to reach orbit long before you get closer to the GPS satellites than to Earth. Thanks to the properties of orbital mechanics, it's more fuel efficient to add momentum at lower altitude - so pretty much all flight plans are going to enter low orbit before climbing much higher.

Comment Re:The rocket goes to the satellites 12,000 miles (Score 1) 126

Space is only 60 miles away. GPS satellites are ~12,000 miles away. You'll be in stable orbit long before you get closer to the satellites. At which point automated self destruct systems will almost certainly be disengaged because there's no longer an imminent threat to anyone, have essentially limitless time to try to regain control, and any explosion is going to create some nasty orbital debris that nobody wants around.

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