Pragmatic 84: Space X

8 December, 2017


Elon Musk is considered by many to be a technological visionary. In this, the third in a series of shows about Elons projects, we look at Space X, its history, its rockets, capsules and Elon’s dreams of going to Mars.

Transcript available
Welcome to Pragmatic. [Music] Pragmatic is a discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. By exploring the real-world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. Pragmatic is part of the Engineered Network. To support our shows, including this one, head over to our Patreon page, and for other great shows, visit today. I'm your host, John Chidjy, and today I'm joined by Radek Piotruszewski. Sorry. - Post-production fixes everything. - It does. - So don't worry. - It does. So how are you doing, Radek? - I'm doing really good. How are you? - Very good, very good. Thanks for coming on the show to talk about, this is another episode about Elon Musk and his ventures, but today we're going to talk about, specifically about SpaceX. So, yes, now you've been following Elon Musk for and SpaceX for quite a while now, yes? - Yeah, and I'm quite a rocketry nerd, so I'm very happy that you've invited me over. - Yeah, no problem. I know I appreciate your time. And I suppose just to get started, before we do talk about SpaceX, just to talk, like start with a little bit of basics about rockets. I mean I think everyone knows what a rocket is but the funny thing I found is that it's actually based on an Italian word which is a rochetta and loosely translated it means a bobbin or a small spindle and I guess that's probably it's thought to have been named that way because it's just the shape of what a rocket just tends to look like but anyway so I thought that was a bit strange but anyhow. So they were originally they developed in the 13th century in China and they were all solid fuel rockets based on gunpowder of course that, you know, the Chinese invented gunpowder and fireworks. And obviously that was when they were first used in fireworks and are nice and very pretty. But eventually they were, you know, developed and adapted into incendiary weapons, which is probably not quite so fun. Anyway, over the next several decades. So I'm not really all that interested in the history of weapons because that's like really tedious. So I'm not interested in that. I'm not going to talk about weapons and stuff. So rockets and rockets not in terms of weapons. So yes. Anyway, so the rockets also have been used to sort of power stuff that stays in the ground. So earthbound equipment, shall we say. And again, I'm really not like rocket powered cars or rocket powered sleds. Not really interested in that either because that's like, well, it doesn't take you very far. I want rockets that actually take me off of the planet because that's cool. What do you reckon, is that fair? It's got the coolness factor. Yeah, that's why you build a rocket to get into space. Exactly, I mean what exactly, right? I mean I don't want a rocket-powered sled, I want a rocket that gets me out into space, thank you. Well, unless you're building one yourself, which I recommend doing, it's a fun project, then you're doing it just for fun. So you build a rocket sled, is that what you're trying to tell me? I'm in the process, I guess. You dream of always building a rocket sled. It sounds like it's the sort of project that makes me think of the Darwin Awards, like the guy that strapped a jet engine to his car or a rocket. I don't even know if that's true. My rocket is not so big to kill me, but yeah, it's fun. Wow, okay. It's more fun. Okay, fair enough then. Very good. All right, well, we'll just keep moving. All right, cool. So, it was Robert Goddard actually in 1920 who proposed rocket technology refinements would allow higher altitude rocketry. And it was in 1923, Hermann Oberth published the rocket interplanetary space and subsequently Goddard adapted the nozzle of the rocket to allow combustion of liquid-fueled rockets. And that improved the thrust by a factor of 30 times. And that sort of was the stepping stone for modern rocketry. And so more specifically about space rockets, because that's obviously most relevant to SpaceX. Broadly speaking, a couple of basics before we talk about SpaceX. So the kinds of rockets, I like to think of rockets as terms of the fuel as being the primary differentiator. So you've got solid or liquid fuel and solid fuel is basically just a chemical reaction that creates a hot gas exhausting through a nozzle that creates your thrust and pushes a rocket in the other direction, hopefully upwards. I mean, really hopefully upwards. Anyway, once it's lit, most solid rocket fuels, you really can't shut them off once you, yeah, it's one of those we didn't start the fire things. Anyway, so once it's burning, it's burning. But it's much simpler in a lot of ways. So and you get a very good energy density for it because your solid fuels typically have better energy density. But anyway, liquid. So because liquid can be pumped and such, then fuel can be pumped into a combustion chamber and lit. The same thing, hot gases go through an exhaust nozzle, does much the same thing as solid fuel. But the difference is because you can pump a liquid, you can also control its flow, unlike a solid fuel. So you could turn it on and off if you want to, making it more complicated, but you can get better thrust control out of it. So liquid is good. Anyway, beyond those differences, as I said, it's sort of like the energy density of the fuel, how you manage your thrust and attitude control, the rocket and so on, which we'll talk a bit about how SpaceX have dealt with that, which is really fascinating. So anyway, biggest cost of launching into space is the fact that I think up until recently the vast majority of the space hardware was sort of manufactured to order, used once and then discarded, thrown away or burnt up on re-entry and so on, which is horribly wasteful. And for the longest time, I kind of wondered about why that was. And I think it's- And so did Elon. Yeah, no kidding. Elon Musk is like, this is just crazy. And I was like, yeah, this is crazy. Anyway. So obviously it centers around two issues. Well, I think it centers around two issues. First of all, is the safe recovery of that used hardware can be problematic. The world, the majority of the world is water. So if this stuff does in fact, come back down to earth, it's going to land in the water and probably, hopefully, anyway, at least at least it won't fall on anyone's head. If it's well, I guess there's a lot more cruise ships. I have to wonder if anything from space has ever landed on a cruise ship. Probably not. Statistically, if we keep doing it, then anyway, I think something reentering from space landed and killed a cow or something once in history. That's terrible. And that's pretty much it. And there's often these titanium kind of balls, you know, holding helium and whatnot on spacecraft that often land somewhere on the planet, but usually just in the middle of nowhere and everything else just burns up. Yeah, that's it. So that's the other thing is obviously if you do, if you have a parachute to slow it down, so it doesn't burn up on re-entry, then when it does land, of course, you know, if it let, let's say it lands in, in the water, it doesn't hurt, it doesn't hurt anyone or kill any cows, which is good. But yeah, the, the, the, the weight and the strength of that material versus its usability. Because I mean, if that, if that was a rocket and it would land badly at a high speed or at a bad angle, then you could damage it. So, you know, then you can have trouble reusing it. So you want to make it stronger to withstand the impact that makes it heavier. So it's all these interesting trade offs with materials. So generally, the lighter you make them, the less strong they will be. But then they'll be able to withstand a single launch and then return so that you could then reuse them. So, but the lighter you make them, the less able they are to handle multiple launches. So I guess the thing is that a lot's happened in recent decades with material science and basically that equation's changed a bit. So if you spend a little bit more money up front on more expensive materials and the way you design it, you should be able to reuse them quite a number of times rather than just saying, oh, well, it's gonna get all bent out of shape or it's gonna get damaged or distorted during launch and recovery. So we just won't bother trying, but nowadays I think the equation's changed. And I know that's a bit of a simplification, right? There's always certain components you can't reuse, like things like certain seals. You know, if you've got like a rubber seal or whatever else, it's good for one launch. Okay, fine. So you have to refit that, but generally speaking, you can reuse a lot more, but yeah. - Yeah, the main problem is that you can't really fit a lot of extra hardware. Like in a car, you have something like 5% of its mass will be fuel. In a jet airliner, it's going to be 50%, But a rocket is going to be 95% or 97% fuel. Right. And it just has to do with how strongly the Earth pulls on everything. Like you can't really put a lot of stuff because the more hardware you have and the more fuel you have, the more fuel you need to lift that and the more fuel to lift that. Right. And so it's kind of it's really hard. So it's not just a matter of investing up front, but you really needed computer-aided design and modern materials to be able to pull it off. Yeah, exactly. Absolutely right. And it's the thing I find interesting, because as you say, 90-95% of the mass of the rocket is the fuel, and that's an exponential problem, because the more fuel you add, you have to lift that weight. Exactly. So you need to add more fuel to lift that fuel, which then you need to add more fuel to lift that fuel. It's a fascinating little problem. It's described by the Cholkowski rocket equation. It's a simple thing, but if you play with the numbers, you quickly realize why this is so hard and why orbital rockets launching from Earth are staged, which is you have the massive first stage and then the second stage and sometimes the third stage, because otherwise the math does not allow it. Yeah exactly and I'm glad you brought that up because I was going to bring that so thank you it's some just on the recovery been at a bit for a second as well I think also I'm on the problems with recovering stuff from the ocean is that you'll get fouling, because it's lots of other stuff in the ocean other than just water and even water on your rocket parts is probably not good and you got to clean that all off and and make that all nice and, I have you push you got to get out and find it to get a gun to get in a boat and salvage it and anyway so it's a reusing in that fashion is sort of like a. It's a difficult problem and I feel like they almost salvage things in the past the weather salvage things is putting a parachute on and recovering it later was really not the best way of doing it and so if you're going to really, reuse your hardware properly. You should need, how you want a nice, soft, gentle landing or as soft as possible. And you really want to do that without it getting wet in the process. So landing on solid ground. And if you want to reduce your recovery costs even more, it'd be even nicer if you could return to the same place that you took off. So you don't have to drive anywhere to pick it up, which would be good or go anywhere in a boat. And the reason I just wanted to sort of harp on little bit about the whole recovery piece is that that's crucial to what SpaceX is trying to achieve. And I guess the other thing, if you want to reduce your costs further, I suppose you should probably construct your hardware or assemble it right next to where you're going to launch it. That's not always practical, but you know, it's what you should do. And finally, you want to launch from a point on the planet where the surface velocity is going to be the greatest, such that when the rocket's off the ground, it's already traveling faster and can reach its escape velocity a lot more quickly and that means obviously you can get away with a smaller rocket with less fuel for the same size of payload which is your ultimate goal which means you should be launching as close to the equator as possible. That's one of those funny things people don't don't I think people maybe they intuitively intuitively realize it about the equator but maybe they maybe haven't thought about it but when you look at the earth first of all you know it's not a perfect sphere and we haven't got a bulge around the equator and that's just because the fact that as the the earth is spinning if you were to draw a dot on it on the equator and draw a dot a few hundred meters out from one of the poles and look at how fast each of those points is spinning when you spin the globe around, the closer you go to the pole the slower you're moving on the surface. If you're standing right on the pole technically you're just sort of like turning around as opposed to if you're on the equator. So if you launch something from the pole you don't get any assistance at all from the rotation of the earth but if you do it from the equator you do and you know but unfortunately yeah that's also the reason why uh pretty much all orbital rockets are launched to the east and not to the west to to take advantage of of earth's uh rotation the the only uh the only what's the word the only exception i can think of is israel which can only launch to the the West, but then you have to make up for the Earth's rotational speed. Yeah, exactly right. So it's like it's like getting a difference between getting a little bit of an extra assistance from the Earth's natural rotation or not. You can fight against it, just need more fuel. And you know, no one wants more fuel. So, but yeah, that's a good point, actually, the whole East, East, West thing. So I guess these are some of the reasons why and actually some of the other things about the equator, it's interesting as well is that At the at the equator you technically you'll have less slightly less gravity and the funny thing with that is that that actually means you end up with slightly more atmosphere so it's kind of a bit weird but never mind because the atmosphere is actually denser at the poles and anyway never mind. Bottom line is it's more about the rotation the rest is relatively negligible but the problem with that is that it's the problem with that is that the equator the vast majority of the equator is water and The land that you can get to is either difficult to transport stuff to and from. So, there's, you know, like going through the top of North Africa and parts of South America, I think in that the... Oh, dear. I don't have a globe in front of me. But a lot of those areas are either desert or rainforest and not very large. So, getting a rocket to those launch locations is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. So countries tend to launch from the southernmost point, if in the northern hemisphere, the southernmost point of the country that they can get away with, which is one of the reasons why you've got Vandenberg and you've got the Kennedy Space Center. They're both as relatively far south as in the US that you can get. And they, of course, you, I think you'd get close to the equator if you launched from Hawaii, but I think it's a long way to ship a rocket just to launch it, so they probably figured it's not worth the money. But anyway. It wouldn't be too much to the south if you launch from Hawaii. It's still, I would say like 20 degrees inclination. Yeah, it's probably not it's probably not worth the trouble. And it's it's a long way to take a ship. Sorry, take a rocket on a ship just to get a little bit of extra boost. You're far better off just launching. And this is why Kennedy Space Center is good enough, right? So it's Yeah, well, Europeans still do it. I guess, I mean, I've never read about it, but I guess they have to transport the ship over the rockets on a ship over the Atlantic to the French Guiana. Yeah, that's a long way. But in Europe, we don't really have any spot to launch. It will be like too far up north. Yeah, that's true. Actually, I had, I sort of wondered if they'd actually launched many from the Mediterranean, but they don't do that. Interesting. Every now and then they talk about having a spaceport in northern Queensland, in my home state in Australia. But the problem with that is that, well, the economics and the travel, transportation costs and everything, it never really took off. Actually, that's funny. It never took off. Anyway, never mind. All right, cool. So, so that's a little bit about why you want to launch from as close to the equator as you can. And obviously it's a lot easier to move a rocket around on land than is on a ship. But then again, you know, that has other advantages. So maybe a ship's not such a bad idea. And we'll talk about that, about what SpaceX did about that in a little bit. Anyway, so there's another little thing just to quickly talk about as well that I think people may again have heard or know, but just to make it absolutely clear is there's a big difference in terms of payloads and payload delivery in terms of the destination you're trying to deliver it to. So the rocket's trying to get into space. Space isn't just space, there's different kinds of space. And the two that are most talked about are low Earth orbit, which is a 90 minute or thereabouts Earth orbit. And that has all sorts of other advantages because you can get to low Earth orbit and with a little bit of thrust correction, you can stay up there for quite a while with not a heck of a lot of propellant and so a lot of things like the International Space Station and a lot of the so like the Iridium satellites the GPS satellites are all in low-earth orbit and so they're whizzing around the earth once every 90 minutes which is which is kind of cool and actually GPS is in middle-earth orbit which is much further out but not as far as as as geostationary orbit okay - Minus that, thank you, I think yes, thank you for that, quite right. I'm just trying to think about other things that are in low-earth orbits. I know Iridium is. - Yeah, there's a lot of imaging satellites, spy satellites, mostly. - But we don't know they're there. We're pretty sure that we don't know that they're there or that they're not there, but they probably are. But then of course, the thing about geostationary orbit was the other one that typically is quoted as I say, how long, how much does it take to get a payload to geostationary? And geostationary is that magical distance where you're basically traveling at the same rotational rate and falling at the same rate that you don't actually move, you're stationary above the earth as it spins. And that's the magic spot where people put like cable TV satellites and because they're always over an area and they never move sort of thing. Yeah, that's actually a funny thing about orbital mechanics. there are a few of these interesting orbits which have these magical properties like geostationary from the perspective of Earth you'll have something that's on one point at the sky but when you think about it that's actually that's that's kind of amazing right but it's just because you you are so high up that you have the same rotational speed and you are right above the equator so you also need to have the zero degree inclination but you also have orbits like L1, L3, which are at the spots between Earth and the Sun that your satellite Earth and the Sun are always in the same line. So you always see the Sun or Earth from kind of the same perspective. And that's also like a magical spot. And there's one satellite that's called Discover, kind of abbreviated, which literally takes a picture of Earth from that spot every hour and post it on Twitter, which is incredible. That is kind of cool. I should subscribe to that actually. That sounds cool. So you see the Earth spinning as the day passes and its perspective is always exactly the same. That's cool. That's very cool. Why once an hour? I want once every minute, once every 30 seconds. Come on. We have the technology. All right, cool. So bottom line is that it's important understand the differences between that because obviously geostationary, well maybe not obviously, but geostationary is much further out and so it takes a lot more energy to get a payload from low earth orbit to geostationary. So and also that's obviously also very different from going to somewhere like the moon which is a lot further out than that and you know obviously different from going to somewhere like mars which is you know even further out. So there's quite a big difference as to how much energy you need and that makes a big difference. So, and there's also just again to reiterate, not interested in talking about rockets that never intend to reach orbit, but these are things, right? So, you deliver passengers between two points on the Earth's surface very, very quickly on a rocket. But then again, traditionally that hasn't been what they were used for. They were used to deliver other things that were perhaps less friendly, things like bombs and things. and so intercontinental ballistic missiles or ICBMs for short. I'm not interested in that because that's just not nice. Until people start actually traveling that way like on the Concorde, I'm not going to find that interesting if we're delivering weapons and I'm not interested in weapons. The only part that's interesting about it is how much of rocketry for exploration comes from ICBMs. like the the Soyuz rocket, which still like at the moment is the only operational rocket capable of lifting people into orbit. It derives from the world's first ICBM from six years ago. It's pretty amazing. And the Delta family of rockets and the Atlas family of rockets are also, you know, long, you know, very far derivatives from ICBMs with those same names. Yeah, that's true. I suppose it's one of those, one of those things where military knowledge was actually put towards something useful and constructive for a change, which was good. But yes, I, so bottom line, that's the basics about some of the stuff that is relevant to what SpaceX is trying to do. There's a heck of a lot more, obviously. I mean, it's rocket science, obviously. So there's quite a lot. There's quite a lot to it. but those are the basics at least about rockets and the cost drivers for example and launch sites and so on and what you need to be thinking about in terms of reducing that cost. So now we can finally talk about Elon Musk and what he's actually trying to do to attack this rather interesting problem. And I guess it starts with a little bit of history about space programs and it's the sort of thing that between Russia and the United States for the longest time from the 50s onwards were in a space race and they were trying to you know so Sputnik was the first satellite that went up into orbit and then it was a race to get the first people up in orbit and then it was the first space station in orbit then it was first person to the moon after which it all just kind of like dissipated and there were a handful of countries in the world that had space launch capability it was very very expensive and I said previously it was all based on use it once, burn it up. There's some stuff that was kind of reused, but it was really more of a token gesture and it wasn't a massive cost saving. And they had the space shuttle program for a while as an attempt to be reusable, but the space shuttle wasn't really all that reusable. There was still a lot of it, like the tiles that need to be redone after every launch. And it was quite expensive and didn't deliver on the promise. So SpaceX and Elon Musk sort of came into this point because Elon Musk always wanted to, he had this concept of a Mars oasis, which was like a greenhouse delivered to Mars, you know, and he went around the world looking for low-cost technology to try and get, to make that happen. And I think he got a little bit frustrated because he apparently, so the story goes, he was traveling around the world and he visited Russia as well, hoping to to get low cost launch capability for his little, his dream. And he came back quite disappointed. And it was more or less after that, apparently, so the story goes that in 2002, he was able to join up with Tom Mueller. Sorry. Yeah. And basically, he's been quite a quite a well-known rocket engineer. And in 2002, that was when I sort of founded SpaceX. And after about three years, they had about 150 employees. And then in 2013, it jumped over a thousand. And now there are over 5000 employees today. So they've grown significantly in recent years. And their goal was to reduce the cost of launching things, whatever they may be, into space by a factor of 10 over our current conventional space launch technology. And the fundamental goal to achieve it was to develop a as fully a reusable rocket as possible it could launch and return to its own launch pad once the payload had been delivered so that was their goal and everything that they're doing has been focused on that as their end goal to reduce that cost because if you could do that then you could completely revolutionize how because because right now sending something to space is incredibly expensive and so satellites cost a fortune when you put them up there that they'll build and test satellites for years and the engineering effort that goes into them is huge. So there's this massive program and of course if the rocket fails on launch or on as it's trying to ascend, you know, then you could lose millions and millions and millions of dollars. That poor little satellite just got burnt up. It's like, oh well, that's all right, we'll just put on the next rocket. Oh, what's that? You need another three or four years to build another one. So it slows down technological innovation and that's just holds us back basically. So yeah. Yeah the big grand goal of Elon Musk is he really wants to put people on Mars. And you know when he talks about it, especially in the past when he talked about it, people would not take him very seriously because it's just so outlandish to talk about colonizing Mars when we barely have six people orbiting our planet at the moment and you know 50 years later we can't get back to the moon but he's pretty serious about it and he saw that the only way to do it is to really drastically, you know, eventually by orders of magnitude reduce the cost of access to space And, you know, at the beginning, it's satellites and it's still satellites and servicing ISS. But over time with reusability, that's the only way we're ever going to get to this point where it will be feasible to not just put two people on Mars, but actually put a lot of people on Mars. Yeah, that was that seems to have been his goal from the very beginning. And, you know, it's interesting about the whole why Mars thing. And I know that, I guess the problem is Mars is the closest easy to live on. And I say easy in air quotes. It's not really easy, but you know, easier, easier than Venus, because Venus is just, yeah, there's so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It's so hot. The surface pressure is just off the charts. It's just horrible. And this acid rain, and it's not, just not pleasant. It looks awfully pretty in the pictures, but no, it's not a nice place to stay. So, not going there. Mercury's way too hot, so it's too close to the sun, so that's no good. Yeah, so it's either the moon first and then Mars next. And then after that, in terms of habitable places, you really got to rely on moons orbiting Saturn or Jupiter, and that's pretty much it. There really aren't all that many nice spots. And the thing is, on Earth, we actually got a good gig here on Earth. It's nice. So, you know, let's not mess Earth up. It would be nice to... Yeah, exactly. Yes. But yeah, it is nice here. Yes, I do. I like the weather. So generally. So anyhow, yeah. So that's their goal. And it's interesting. I love it when people have got an end goal and rather like the way they've approached Tesla, like starting out with a Roadster and then progressing up to the Model 3. It's like the Model 3 was actually their goal to start with. But you know, they had to start somewhere and that the progression is obvious and logical and they've been very methodical about it. And it's been very relatively well executed. And SpaceX is the same. So we should probably talk about the vehicles that they've made, because that can sort of show the progression as they've learned more and more about how to do this and how to do it well. So all of their rockets, they all refer to as the Falcon series of rockets. Which I think it's kind of, I'm trying to understand the etymology of it, because I think it's about how the idea is that the Falcon glides, and maybe it glides back to Earth. Maybe that was why they named it Falcon. I believe it's a reference to the Millennium Falcon. Oh, fine. Of course, because Elon Musk is a sci-fi guy. That's why they have insane and ludicrous mode, because of throwback to Spaceballs, which is awesome. But anyway, all right, cool. So there you go. Millennium Falcon. Good. It doesn't look anything like the Millennium Falcon, though. I'm just saying. No. Anyway, it's okay. It's fine. All right. So the Falcon 1, which is aptly named, because it was their first one, And it's first successful flight was in 2008 and yes they were on a learning curve because it had three failed launches prior to that, which is a shame but this is rocket science it's not easy people. So anyway it was a two-stage rocket fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 fuel. Might be worth mentioning, so liquid oxygen is just liquefied oxygen not much else to it. RP1 there are so many debates over RP1 and what it actually stands for it's sort of like an umbrella terminology that has a couple of so you got rocket propellant one, propellant number one some people call it refined petroleum one. First of all I don't know what the ones for it's kind of just like at the name that they've given it and it doesn't seem to have much of a derivation anyway, It's kind of like it's a refined kerosene think of it like that so kerosene is essentially the preferred jet fuel but it's a dancer higher energy per mass. So higher energy density version of kerosene essentially it's rocket fuel. Yeah it's essentially jet fuel just just higher energy and also cleaner which is a problem which is an important thing because you have insane temperatures in, Rocket engines and you don't want impurities in the kerosene to start cooking the engines, which means like to leave this kind of thick residue, which would then you know, eventually clog up the plumbing of the rocket engine. You definitely do not want that. Yeah, I do recall actually, there's been quite a lot of rocket failures because of impurities in the early days and even, you know, in recent times. Because of that, it's like a wax-like kind of- Yeah, yeah, exactly. Yeah. And it tends to- Because what will happen is it seems to change. It's not just necessarily the fuel injection into the combustion chamber, but it's also the thrust distribution. Because if that thrust- If the thrust distribution isn't correct, then the rocket won't stay on its correct attitude, and it will basically spin out of control. That's my understanding anyway. Yeah, pretty much. The modern rockets are pretty good at correcting. So they have a closed-loop system where they will monitor the actual position and all the angles. And on most modern rockets, you have engine gimballing. So essentially, the engine bell can move in two axes. There's also like different ways of doing that, which you can see on the Soyuz, where you have fixed engine bells and then just tiny rocket engines that can spin, that can move in one axis. Yeah, there's quite a few different ways of doing it. It is interesting. And the Falcon 1, I don't think was particularly... It was, I hate to say proof of concept, but it kind of was really, wasn't it? I mean, yeah, it was... was some of the dimensions these okay the first failed version actually let's talk about the engines briefly it used Merlin 1a engines and the second version used 1Cs and the second version of the Falcon 1 that used the Merlin 1Cs actually had two out of three successful launches so it was actually a version of the Falcon 1 that that actually did work and they used a lot of that those learnings into the next the next version the next model and it was 22 just a couple of facts and stats about it. It was 22.25 metres high, 1.7 metres in diameter, and it could only really reach low Earth orbit. And the maximum payload it could handle, it could carry was 450 kilograms, which really isn't a heck of a lot. So no. So I think saying that it was a proof of concept is, I think that's fair enough. And not being too mean or anything, it was their first rocket. So yeah, fair enough, right? But especially at the time, I mean when they started developing it, it was 2002. It took them six years until the first successful launch. And these days we have more and more smaller satellites, constellations of satellites and we have these kind of tiny nanosats which can actually do useful things in orbit. But that's relatively recent. So now we have new rockets in development which can lift even less than Falcon 1 and have large backloads of orders. But especially back then, there were fewer uses to it. And you can see that they had two successful launches and then they moved on to the Falcon 9. Exactly. So pretty much a proof of concept. Yeah, exactly. It's interesting point about the nano satellites and so on because obviously with miniaturization and the technology that we've got is improving all the time you can put something much more powerful that uses much less energy, less energy means you need less solar panels the whole thing can be smaller and yet still do usable things and that's fantastic so I think that's a good point and it is still a useful rocket in that size range but, from their point of view and certainly from the point of view of getting someone to Mars. Yeah, definitely proof of concept. But the other thing that's interesting about the Falcon 1, it was fully privately funded. It cost them $70 million to develop it, which sounds like a lot of money, but really isn't in the grand scheme of things. Certainly in space transport, that's insanely cheap, actually, isn't it? Exactly. For a program to develop a new rocket, I mean, those, I'm pretty sure, like, at first, though of its kind. And it's very characteristic of SpaceX to be to like, kind of use clever engineering and modern technology to do the same things just much, much more cheaply than in the past. Absolutely. So you mentioned it before. And this is the next big one and the Falcon nine and I'll say the Falcon nine series because there's been quite a few of them three primary models, I I suppose you'd call them. And rather a little bit like the Roadster, they kind of had officially unofficial naming or numbering, I guess you'd call it. But so there was the 1.0, the 1.1 and the 1.2, also known as the full thrust. And in the 1.2, there's different block models and it's just like, okay. So apart from the crazy naming and numbering scheme, let's just start at the beginning, which is the version 1.0 of the Falcon 9. And isn't it funny when it comes to project product names, they say this is the iPhone or this is the Falcon 9, but they never called the 1.0 at the time. It's something that they retrospectively name it. Or I think the expression these days is they retcon it and call it 1.0 after the fact. Because no one wants to call their brand shiny new amazing product, the 1.0. But at some point in time, like the iPhone X or iPhone 10 or the 10 X because they 10 X it that that's going to be eventually called the iPhone 10 1.0 or something like that retrospectively or will it who knows sorry apple talk there we're talking about spacex right now anyway sorry um okay cool so the falcon 9 1.0 was um the first successful launch was in june of 2010 and the final flight was in march of 2013 4 out of 5 success ratio Which you know I think for a rocket not too bad considering it was their second rocket was pretty damn good. Now it was a two-stage launch vehicle. And once again just you know used standard liquid oxygen and RP-1 fuel. It was 47.8 meters high 3.66 meters in diameter which is a common theme for all of the Falcon 9's. And could reach low Earth orbit with a maximum payload of 10,450 kilos and geostationary orbit with a maximum payload of 4,450. So this could go all the way to geostationary if you wanted it to. It was partly private funded, but there was a fair bit of government backing. I'm not sure what the split was, but I do know it cost them 300 million US to develop that, the Falcon 9 1.0. Including the Dragon, I believe, which was part of the government funding. NASA gave them a lot of money to develop the Dragon capsule and then serve as the International Space Station with that. So they probably used some of that money to also fund the Falcon 9 project. Yeah, that was my understanding as well. We'll talk a bit more about the Dragon later, but absolutely. And I think it was funny at the time that I think there was a lot of debate amongst, well, amongst people, I guess, with opinions, which should be pretty much anybody. But there was debate about whether or not the US government should be paying for private companies to develop space technology when it was, you know, you know, when it was considered, oh, well, that's what NASA's for. So, why is the US government funding this, right? And the thing is, the payoff comes shortly. So, skipping along to the 1.1, its first launch was in September 2013, and their final flight was in January of 2016, and it had 14 out of 15 successes. Now, that's, again, pretty exceptional as the the number of launches increases. So that's pretty good. It was again, two-stage vehicle, again, liquid oxygen, RP-1 fuel, but it was 68.4 meters high, again, 3.66 meters in diameter, and it could do low Earth orbit payloads of about 10,886 kilos. Geostationary was up to 4,850. But this is where it starts to get a little bit more interesting. Several of the 1.1s had extendable landing legs and grid fins to control their descent. However, the 1.1 never successfully completed a landing of its first stage, if I remember correctly. That was it got it good, very close, it got very, very close, but not technically. So the next one is where it goes some very into the high coolness factor. So anyway, but the interesting part was that 1.1 was when the cost per launch was becoming very compelling at that point. Because even without the reusability, because of the SpaceX design, the cost per launch. So in late 2015, they did the math and figured out that, well, a Falcon 9 launch would sell at about $90 million to the US government, whereas a non-SpaceX equivalent for the same payload would cost about $400 million to the US government, and the US government being a special customer. So clearly, at that point, the Falcon 9 1.1 was making quite a dent in the way that they used to launch stuff to space. So then people sort of started to see, I think, "Oh, that's why NASA is funding a private company." Which begs the question, how come SpaceX could do it so much cheaper than NASA? And then, you know... I also note that the 90 million price is with Dragon for NASA, and I believe they charge about 60 million or 65 million maybe for most commercial customers. Yeah, that's right. It's more expensive for the government. I'm trying to remember why that was. I just know that it is. But yeah, so the thing is that I always believed that NASA was a bit bureaucratic based on from wherever you have lots of people, you're always going to have bureaucracy that's just a fundamental reality of the human condition and it sucks but that just seems to be the way it is and I do believe also that SpaceX was more motivated and not much really happened well I say not much really that's not very fair to NASA but you know apart from the push to go to the moon there wasn't a heck of a lot of like real political drive and pressure for NASA to iterate, evolve and innovate in the space space. My God, that was terrible. Anyway, you know what I mean? It's like there was no driving force. The International Space Station was distributed amongst multiple countries. And whilst the US put in the vast majority of the money and funding and drive for it, there's no question that it was meant to be an international effort and and that was different to the to the space race where they put all their money in getting someone to the moon you know so i don't know i feel like spacex was more motivated uh in recent times and when you're motivated plus technology plus talent you seem to get a much better result so in any case spacex was starting to make a bit of a dent at this point and it's only recently right that's 2015 so now so now we start talking about what I think is the cool stuff because this is where I see the game changer. So the 1.2 is also called the full thrust or the FT model. But anyway, so it gets interesting. So the first launch was in December of 2015 and it's still flying today. So if you talk about the Falcon 9 today, that's the one we're talking about. And again, it's a two-stage vehicle. So the second stage uses liquid oxygen RP1 fuel but the first stage now uses sub-cooled liquid oxygen and chilled RP1 which is sort of like the next iteration of the technology that they're using. No, both stages actually have sub-chilled propellants. It's funny that you say that after version 1.1 it gets maximum coolness because it literally does. That's good, that's good. Yeah, quite right. Yes, my mistake was both stages. So, a little bit about the sub cooling and the chilling of the RP-1. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? Yeah. So, basically, the idea is that if you, you know, normally you have rocket propellants at close to their boiling temperature. So, if you pour liquid oxygen, it just stays at this temperature and it continues to evaporate until launch and then you just top it off but it stays at the same temperature that's easy right but you can sub cool liquid oxygen to around negative 200 degrees Celsius and then it's something like 10% more dense if it's more dense you you'll fit more in the same tanks you have more propellant and you have more thrust because the same the same volume of propellant, you know, will flow into the engines, but you have more of the propellant in the same volume. The problem with that is you have to fill in the tanks really quickly, because like you can't wait, because it will warm up quite quickly. Yeah, exactly. And also the the installation requirements, and there's additional energy required to maintain that. And So it is a slightly more, I think it's a slightly more expensive way of doing it, but you get a far better result in terms of thrust to weight ratio. And that's obviously the big payoff. So, I don't believe SpaceX does any particular installation on their rockets, but they do this crazy, fast propellant loading sequence that they will load all of the propellant in 30 minutes. And that's actually what caused the most recent failure, a very complicated, you know, the exact reason was very complicated, but it had to do with that insane, you know, insanely low temperature close to the freezing temperature of oxygen. Okay, so that the recent failure you're referring to that was before, I'm trying to remember if that happened before launch or not. Yeah, it was just sit standing on the stand and then it blew up, which is extremely rare. It pretty much never happens. Yeah, exactly. And that's technically why that wasn't counted as a launch attempt, because it didn't actually fail on launch, it failed before launch was attempted. So, because if you look at the stats to date, technically, it's had 21 successful launches out of 21 attempts, but they didn't count the "oops, it blew up on the before it". Yeah. It wasn't a launch failure and the label says launch failure so it wasn't a launch failure. No, technically not, but still. Yeah, and freezing point of oxygen is very, very cold. So yeah, that's going to give you frostbite. So anyway, so that's that. I think, thank you for that about the cooling of the fuel. The thing is, though, this, the launch attempts are one thing and the energy density of the fuel is another thing. But where it gets interesting is it's the landings. So, this is where we start counting successful landings. So, out of the 18 attempted landings of the first stage, 16 have been successful of the Falcon 9 1.2 full thrusting. And that is awesome. That is absolutely incredible. And the rocket itself is a little bit taller. It's about 70 metres high. Again, 3.66 meters in diameter, and it can reach low Earth orbit with a maximum payload of 10,886 kilos. Geostationary can do 8,300 kilos if it's not landing. So if it's expendable, but if you want to land it, because you got to carry extra fuel to land again, it can only handle 5,500 kilograms. It gives you an idea that you've got basically three tons of fuel on there, which probably shouldn't be too surprising. I don't think it kind of makes sense because when it lands, it's a powered landing, right? So, you know, you need to keep fuel for that. Anyway, but the design changes in this particular model to the first stage included that, including the sub cooling of the fuel improved the thrust to weight ratio overall I mentioned, but the overall improvement efficiency was approximately 30% over the version 1.1. And I mentioned before blocks, and this is the part where I kind of just, I'm tangentially aware of it. Maybe you can provide a bit more detail on this, but there's three primary block numbers on this one block three, four, and five. Yeah, but those are the ones we know of. And there's been some speculation that I've read that there's been block one and block two inside the version 1.2. We just didn't know about it because they didn't mention those names. So SpaceX is very terrible at naming things. Yeah, no kidding. But mostly the changes are about, I guess the most important changes are about operating the engines. Like again, the same engines, but just tweaking the thrust higher and higher. And mostly just through software. Because the Falcon 9 has nine engines on the first stage and another engine which is essentially the same engine on the second stage. There's 10 engines on every flight and there's been 41 flights of the Falcon 9. So they've tested like 400 engines, which is a lot. Because of this architecture, they get to test their engines over much larger numbers than was common in the past. because of that they can push them higher and higher because you know they over time they have more confidence about what the actual safety margins are. That's probably something that's worth discussing as well is that the architecture of the engines on these there's this this sort of two components. Rockets will always my understanding is that the Rockets always have a central as in the exact centre point of the rocket there will always be an engine there, but the constellation or the structure of the engines around that had varies and you want to have it even equally distributed as much as possible and I think that the first Falcon 9 had, like a grid pattern, a grid shape. So kind of like nine dots in a square shape, whereas the more recent versions had them in a circle around the outside, if I remember correctly, like the structure of the constellation of them. - Yeah, they call it the OctaWeb. It's eight engines around the perimeter and one in the center. And it's more efficient, actually. It just takes literally less metal to fit them together this way. Cool, because one of the tricks with that obviously is when you've got more than one engine is that you need to control the rate of burn on each of those engines to get an equal thrust from each of them. And whether or not you use those. Because I think that part of the difficulty with rocketry in that context is balancing those flows so that the rocket stays on track and whether or not you're using that entirely that for attitude adjustments or whether or not using thrusters or yeah it's quite it can get it depends on how you want to do it and I wasn't so can you talk a little bit about that yeah with modern computers it's it's not that difficult Falcon 9 actually has an engine out capability so if one of the engines just stops working the others can compensate for that and then they will have to kind of gimbal and correct so that the rocket stays pointing in the right direction even though you don't have engines all pointing down but it can be done and actually the one failure you've mentioned in the version 1.0 was because of that. One engine blew out and the rocket continued working and it delivered the primary payload which was a servicing mission to the International space station, but because NASA, the primary customer, didn't want any further deviations, they didn't allow the second stage to then stay on for longer or something like that so that they could deliver the second payload. So the engine blew out and the rocket, it would be a total success in principle. And that's only because they have nine engines, and so they can lose one. And as long as you're not on the edge of capability, I believe it can actually lose two engines and it can still perform. That's pretty impressive. One of the things that I sort of, one of the things I think about is I think about the Saturn V, which we'll talk about later on, but just for comparative purposes, but yeah, rather than having lots of engines, it had fewer, but they were much larger engines. So, it's an interesting idea, is that in theory, if you have more engines, then you can lose one or two. And if you had enough of them, maybe even three and still have enough thrust to reach escape velocity and deliver the payload. But obviously, the more engines you add, the more complicated it becomes to control your thrust. So it's an interesting problem. Yeah. And it also has to do with SpaceX's history that they started with the Falcon 1, which had one of those Marlin 1 engines. And then they continued developing those engines and the version we have on the Falcon 9, it's still the same basic architecture. And so we've went from Falcon 1 to Falcon 9, which has nine of those engines and then a vacuum version of the same engine on the second stage. So you have just one model of an engine that makes things simpler from manufacturing perspective which is also a big advantage. But one thing about this architecture which is unique so far to Falcon 9 is the fact that it takes very little thrust to land a near-empty rocket. And it wasn't a consideration before because no one landed rockets propulsively, but now they do. And so when they land a Falcon 9, it has just one of those engines throttled way down to the minimum, which is 40%. And most rocket engines can't throttle that down. And that 40% of just one engine is still more thrust, it is still more energy than necessary. So they have to stop before landing at just the perfect moment, because otherwise they'll keep going up. - Yeah, it's interesting, isn't it? Because when you think about it, there was no need to throttle back an engine to only 40% because you wanted maximum thrust, you didn't want minimum thrust. trying to launch previously. So it is a fascinating problem when you turn it around. And the thing that for me is so impressive is watching, I particularly enjoy this, there was a time lapse video that showed the launch trail of a SpaceX launch and then the first stage coming back to land again. And it was to exactly the same spot. And it's just absolutely beautiful thing to watch and just incredible. And I love the fact that they recognize that the full reuse of the equipment is the best way to reduce costs in the long term. And it just, it makes so many things easier. You can actually produce, you don't have to produce as many in order to have the same number of launches. And if they can get the turnaround time down to basically scrub them up, clean them up, get them resealed and refitted and ready for launch again, then it should in theory mean that you can increase the rate at which you can launch things into space. So that's all pretty awesome and honestly it is very, very impressive. But that is the current model that they've got. The Falcon 9 Full Thrust is their current one and the cost of it in terms of development was similar to the 1.1. The cost for launch is very similar as well, but the the cost reductions will start to be realized in coming years and I think the price is coming down. So, the next thing to talk about that is sometimes referred to and has been for quite some time is the Falcon Heavy. And I think the problem with the Falcon Heavy is that it's been delayed for quite a long time. And I... - Years. - Yeah, I say delayed because, you know, Elon Musk has this thing where he says, yeah, optimistically speaking, but he doesn't say optimistically. He says, yeah, it's going to happen by this time. So anyway, I think... - Well, you just have to correct for the Elon's standard time. - Yes, exactly right. Oh dear, anyway, so it's all good. But yeah, so I think it's been delayed for about five years. But the thing that's interesting, sorry. There's a funny chart on the web showing the difference between the scheduled time and the current time that's in Wikipedia, because for the last five years, we are about six months away from launch. It still hasn't happened. Yeah, I know the chart you're talking about. There'll be a link in the show notes to that one. And it is hilarious, but at the same time, I can kind of understand why, because if you read through the history, they're focusing on getting the other technology right first. And so, all right, let's talk about the Falcon Heavy and what it is. So, first of all, it's intended to be a launch vehicle that could lift payloads to the moon, Mars and other planets. And so, it's the ultimate realization of what Elon's trying to achieve. But the design of it is still based on the Falcon 9 platform. So a Falcon 9 would be the core rocket and there'd be two additional Falcon 9 first stage as operating as boosters and they'd be attached just horizontally opposed to each other, opposite each other, however you want to think about it. So rather like the Falcon 9 1.2s, it's expected to be 70 meters high. Again, the main section will be 3.66 meters in diameter but with the additional boosters to be 12.2 meters wide and It should reach low earth orbit with a maximum payload of sixty three thousand eight hundred kilos Which is quite a bit more and geostationary or the maximum payload of two twenty six thousand seven hundred kilos Which is again quite a bit more But things get a little bit more interesting and when you have a look at the suggested launch payloads to get to Mars and it's suggested it could do sixteen Thousand eight hundred kilos to Mars and Pluto is even quoted I don't know why I can't imagine that they're launching anything with the intent to go to Pluto of 3,500 kilos, but I think that's just there for fun No, I think they mentioned it because they updated the the numbers at one point which was just around the New Horizons Mission to Pluto and I can reason because it was on people's minds. Yeah, I just I found just like who launches stuff to go To Pluto and how often does that happen really? But anyway, I just I sort of robbed Okay, thanks, thanks, Helen. Anyway, it's all good. So yes, lifting a hell of a lot more. And I guess the problem is that the reinforced Falcon 9 at the core, and then of course, attaching on the boosters and such, there's no intention in the in the initial version of the Falcon Heavy for it to be reusable, although the technology exists on the Falcon 9. And it's been pretty well tested pretty thoroughly at this point. And it's been quite successful. there's the initial stages of Falcon Heavy, it's not going to be reusable, they're just then they're going to keep that out of it just to keep it simple. But then in future versions, it's intended to be again, first stages will be fully reusable. That's the intent. But yeah, wait, I actually I don't think that's true. I, I'm pretty sure they're going to reuse at least the side boosters. The the latest plan that I know of, is to land the two side boosters on the demo mission on the two ground pads and then the center core on a barge. Okay, well, last I, okay, maybe I misunderstood, but my understanding was that they weren't going to try and do that until a few flights in. Maybe I misunderstood. I hope that is true. I hope you're right. That was just my understanding. So I do think that the Falcon Heavy is supposedly going to have that demonstration that you just mentioned. That's supposed to be happening later this year, I think. Yeah. I said supposed to be. Next year, next year. It's going to be next year. For the first time, we're sure it's happening because all of the free core boosters are done. They've been built, they've been tested, they work. actually the two side boosters are converted Falcon nines, which have landed, those are used rockets already. So it's really the first time in the five years where it might be a few months away, but we actually have flight hardware, just waiting for the pads to be ready and whatnot. Awesome. And I'll talk a little bit about the pad in a few minutes as well. So that's potentially it's very exciting, but it's also going to be very nerve wracking. And I think watching the Falcon Heavy launch is going to be a very nerve wracking experience. So yes, it'd be interesting. So in terms of the milestones, and I think that it's, uh, it's important just to touch on some of the, uh, some of the firsts for SpaceX with their rockets and their rocket programs. So, um, the Falcon 1 flight number four was the first privately funded liquid fuel rocket to reach orbit. That was on the 28th of September of 2008. Um, Falcon 9 second flight was the first privately funded company to launch, orbit and recover a space vehicle. That was the 9th of December 2010. And that's like just, you know, recover not land itself. Flight number three was the first private company to send a space vehicle to the International Space Station. That was the 25th of May of 2012. Flight number seven of the Falcon 9 was the first private company to deliver a payload to geostationary orbit. That was the 3rd of December in in 2013. So that's not that long ago. That's only about four years. Flight number 20 was the first landing of an orbital rocket's primary stage on land. That was the 22nd of December 2015. That was a big one. And then flight 23 was the first landing of an orbital rocket primary stage on a sea-based platform. That was the 8th of April of 2016. Flight number 32 was the first relaunch and landing of a used orbital rocket and a controlled flyback and recovery of a payload fairing that was in the 20th 30th of March this year 2017 and then most recently flight 35 the first real light of a commercial re-flight I should say of a commercial cargo spacecraft as the 3rd of June 2017 so honestly it's and it's it just it's just very impressive how what they've achieved in such a short period of time truly impressive yeah very much so and I remember watching the live feed for the mission that first landed. There was also a first launch after a failure when the Falcon 9 blew up during flight and it was like 2am in the morning my time and it was quite nerve-wracking for a fan because like maybe it will blow up again and it actually landed and it was amazing. And then since then we had two reflights, So we had to use rockets, fly again, and that has worked. And at the time of the recording, I believe two days from today, there'll be the third mission to do so. So that's pretty amazing. - I wanna know when, have they actually had a flight yet? And this is all I'm not sure about, maybe, you know, if they've actually flown and reflown a primary stage more than once. - Oh, no, no, no. - No. They haven't done that. Actually, the problem is that they are so successful with the landings these days. They've done, what, 10, 15 successful landings? I don't remember. They've landed so many. 16. They've landed 16, yeah. Yeah. They've landed so many stages that they don't have anything, they don't have a use for them because there aren't that many customers yet willing to fly. are scared to put their expensive satellite on top of a used rocket. So it will take a while until people are convinced that's why there's only been two. So there are actually perfectly good rockets which have flown and successfully landed that they've stripped the engines from them, wrapped the core in shrink wrap and just put it outside because they don't even have a place to store all those rockets. Yeah, that's it. That's the funny thing is that they've had such a high success ratio recently that I had heard that they were having trouble storing them. So it's like, that's crazy. But the thing is, I literally saw a Falcon 9, like from a bus window on the Kennedy Space Center tour, just sitting there, like a perfectly good rocket, which cost 60 million and it's just wrapped in plastic. It's insane. It's crazy, eh? The thing is, the funny thing is there will come a time and maybe we're closer to this time than people realize that people look at a used rocket as being somehow lesser than a brand new one. And if once your mind shifts from this idea that new is better, think of it as a used rocket is proven. So a used rockets proven that it can survive go up and back more than once makes it more reliable than something that is brand new potentially and once you sort of cross that bridge in your mind you'll realize okay this is the way we should be doing things rather than the old method which was well it's too difficult to reuse it so because we can't land it neatly so let's just not worry and we'll just throw it away and hey lots of money and who cares so you know but of course now there isn't lots of money and they're trying to revolutionize the cost of launch then this is just gonna have this is just the way it has to be from now on so hopefully their attitudes of commercial satellite launch of commercial satellite manufacturers will change and companies will start to trust them more yeah we're not quite there yet the two Falcon 9's that have relaunched took several months of refurbishment. Now my understanding from everything they've said is that there is nothing like fundamental that, you know, fundamentally there's not that much work to be done to refly. It's just that because we're so early in such early stages, they are extremely cautious and so they will take, you know, take the rocket apart to every nut and bolt to verify it, you know, just out of caution, because it would really, you know, it would be a PR disaster to have one of used rockets blow up in the air. But fundamentally, like in a few years, that will be actually the case. So right now SpaceX and Elon will talk about flight proven rockets. That's the actual phrase they use. And right now it's kind of of funny, but we will get to that point very soon. I mean, thinking of an airplane, I will feel much safer on a plane that has flown a hundred times than a plane which is flying the first time. And with rockets, hopefully soon enough, that will be the same thing. Yeah. And that's a great analogy. Once a plane has been flying for 30 years and it's done how many hundreds of thousands of kilometers of flight around the world or flight hours around the world, then you would say, okay, it's time to retire it because the airframe is probably full of dislocations and everything from all of the vibrations and flexing over the years. It's time to retire the aircraft. And that's fine. And rockets will be, I think, eventually no different. It'll be, they'll have the high risk period of when it first flies for the first flight, maybe the first two flights. And then after that, it'll be, that'll be my preferred kind of rocket. It'll be, I'd like a rocket that's been up at least a couple of times, please. I'll have one of those and after it's had about 200 or 300 launches, whatever the number turns out to be based on the materials used and so on, failure analysis and all that, then I'll say, well, I no longer want to use it. This is now too old. And, but even that concept applied to rockets is mind blowing to me because my whole life, it's all been up goes the rocket and then burn up on reentry. And that's the end of it. So it's like, wow, okay, this is just amazing. So thoroughly, thoroughly impressed. and I can't wait to see how this goes for the next five years. It's going to be crucial. So, I talked a little bit about launch and launch sites, and I do want to talk about the launch pad at 39A at some, just in a minute. But I also want to talk about the space launch, because they talk about the drone ship. Could you talk a little bit about what SpaceX have done in that space? In that space. Oh, no, there we go again. Yeah, again. They've converted a few barges. They added thrusters to all four corners of the barge so that it can stay in one place. And they will-- when trying to land, landing on land is preferable because it's simpler, because you don't have to, like, you just get a crane and you store it in a hangar somewhere and that's it. But it takes more fuel, it takes more energy to land on land. So when they can't do that because of how heavy the payload is, because of the energy requirements of a mission, they will try to land on a barge that's, you know, like, I think 300 or 500 kilometers, down from the launch site and that just takes less energy. But it's pretty amazing because one of the interesting things about it is that the rocket and the barge or the autonomous space drone ship as they call it because it's a drone ship, it stays in one place, is that it doesn't communicate with the rocket. They both use GPS to point at the same coordinates. And then when everything works, the rocket will just appear on the barge. But they don't see each other until the last second, when rather altimeter can see the exact altitude from the deck. And it just, you know, also use space technology for very high precision location. It's interesting how much we've come to rely on GPS because as I understand it as well, the dragon, sorry, not dragon, the Falcon rockets also use GPS for as part of their launch positioning control. Yeah. And, and because, because they're a rocket, they have access to the higher precision GPS than than mere mortals do. So I believe a GPS is precise to 10 meters or 1 meter and I believe the kind of unlogged version is precision to 10 centimeters. So it's actually very precise. Yeah exactly right. They do actually have a distortion such that you can't achieve that level of precision unless you are certified by the military. So yeah only the United States military and who they give it out to have that level of precision. Although you could argue that other competing technologies that exist as well. I think GLONASS for example, it's a different situation, but yes, certainly for GPS. But what I find is fascinating is how that technology has just made such an enormous difference. Just position, being aware of a precise position in three-dimensional space on the planet and even in between the surface of the planet and space has turned out to be such a game changer and revolutionize the world in so many different ways that I don't think anyone could have ever foreseen. I just find that fascinating. And it's easy to forget. I mean, it's just something we rely on. And we forget that it took big rockets and very complicated engineering and a lot of science to be able to do that. And there's a constellation of what, like 20 or 30 GPS satellites out there, which have to correct constantly and take into account time dilation. It's really insane for it to just work and it just works. Yeah, that's it. I find the time dilation effect to be quite fascinating because all of them have got atomic clocks on them and the atomic clocks were all synchronized on Earth before they were launched. Just thinking through the mechanics of that, it is truly incredible. The GPS satellites that we've got, if they were to fail, then there would be a massive series of ramifications. I mean, people don't realize actually that the mobile phone or cellular networks are all synchronized by GPS clock and without that they would not work at all. And it's just, yeah, it would be a massive meltdown, hey, if we lost the GPS satellites. So anyway. All right, cool. So now that we've talked a little bit about that launchpad, let's also talk a little bit about the actual launchpad at in Florida. So, LC39A, SpaceX recently signed, I think recently was only a few years ago, a 20-year lease on that launch pad. And the thing that I found interesting is that the way in which they do their integration of their rockets, so assembling all the pieces prior to launch, vertical versus horizontal integration. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? Yeah, so historically for all of the big NASA projects, the stages of the rocket have been mounted together vertically. And so when you had the Saturn V, the Apollo program rocket, It had three stages and then the Apollo capsule and the launch escape tower. It's been a lot of pieces and they will all fit together one on top of the other. And that's really difficult because Saturn V is about 100 meters tall. And so you needed an insane amount of infrastructure for that. You needed the really big vehicle assembly building, which is an insanely big building. You needed these really long crawlerways, which is like 7 km of really precise track. And this massive crawler that also serves as a launch platform for that rocket. you need cranes and it's just really complicated. But that's how things were done. And what SpaceX is doing is it does horizontal integration. And so you have the two stages of the rocket and then either a dragon capsule or a payload fairing. And they build those rockets horizontally and then they truck them in into the hangar and then they fit them together again horizontally and they put them on what's called a transporter erector. So it goes into the hangar on rail tracks and a small, simple crane will just lift horizontally the rocket onto the transporter erector and they will go out, what, 200 meters maybe to the launch pad and it will lift the rocket up since transporter erector. It will just hold the rocket in place until launch. But only at the very last stage when you are at the actual launch pad will the rocket be lifted into vertical position. And it's just so much simpler and so much cheaper. Yeah, it is an interesting, it's funny. I think that's back to why they did vertical integration historically. And I suppose it made a lot of things easier and maybe it was the concern about going from horizontal to vertical and whether or not something would be damaged in that process. Maybe that was what drove it. But if you look at the, like the buildings that they had to have in order to do that integration, Those things are enormous, just enormous. And like you said, 100 meters is very, very high for the Saturn V. The space shuttle wasn't, I don't think, quite that high. No. But it was still a significantly large building. So it's interesting because I think because SpaceX have actually built their own their own building for the horizontal integration, I think, isn't that right? Yeah, and it's just a simple hangar. There's nothing special about it, right? It's just a hangar, some track and a simple overhead crane, right? I don't know the details for Saturn V and Space Shuttle, but I know that, for example, the Atlas V rocket, which lifts mostly US military payloads, also does vertical integration and it also has this pretty insane integration building. The company actually has two, one for the Atlas V and one for the Delta IV. And I don't remember which is which, but one of them has the launch platform move along track, and then the other has the integration building move along track, which is having a 50, 60, 70 meter, I'm not sure, tall building move along rail tracks is pretty insane. But I believe part of the reason why they do that is for some of the military payloads. I believe that there are some, you know, for some spy satellites, you have very delicate optics, which do not take very well the move from horizontal to vertical. Now of course, they won't say that, but they will still do that for all of the launches, Because you don't want to show which launches need that. And so actually SpaceX will build a small crane near their launch tower to vertically integrate just the payload fairing for military contracts because of that, because they require that capability. But it's just a crane for the payload and not the whole rocket. So it's still much cheaper, much simpler. - Yeah, the whole final assembly and integration pieces is really quite fascinating. And it's interesting because the rocket itself, you think, oh, the rocket is where all the technology is, but it's just about how you, it's as much about how you integrate it before you launch as well, that makes a huge difference. As well as some of the designs of the payloads, payload covers and so on, and the capsules, which I think we should probably move on to at this point. And particularly, we mentioned earlier on in the episode about the Dragon capsule and that was originally developed. The original one was for, was for cargo. I think it was, it was originally launched. I think the first one was launched in 2010, I think thereabouts. And the more recent versions is far more interesting. The Dragon, the version two, and it's got a whole bunch of different names. Some of them are called the Dragon two, some people call it the, the Crew Dragon. And anyway, and it can handle up to seven people And it's designed to carry a crew or cargo. I believe it can also be fitted out for cargo as well. - Yeah. - Yeah. So, yeah, I wasn't sure how much there was to say about the crew one. I know it's got bigger windows. (laughing) It has windows. - Yeah, it has windows. It has a different door. It's more advanced. You know, it's so small compared to the rocket, but it's still close to as expensive and takes so much time to develop. And the fact that crew is supposed to be there is a large part of it. But the most interesting thing about Dragon 2 is that it has these pretty powerful Super Draco engines. And the idea was that they would serve for launch escape. So in case the rocket is about to blow up, then the capsule will separate from the rocket and the engines on the capsule, they're very small and not very powerful compared to the rocket, but because the capsule doesn't weigh too much, it has much higher acceleration than the rocket, so it will be able to get away from the fireball very quickly. And it's a novel way of approaching it. Traditionally, you'd have a tower on top of the capsule with solid rocket motors and this uses liquid propellants But also the idea was and this has been delayed and maybe scrapped but the idea was that those engines would also allow a Propulsive landing, you know soft also landing on land just like the Falcon rocket instead of opening parachute parachutes and landing somewhere in the ocean. Yeah, the parachute method has, the problem is the cost of recovery. If you can have a nice soft landing, then obviously there's less impact damage to the vehicle and there's, and you know, you can have a much more controlled, precise location. And I, if I remember correctly, there's, I think there's two, sorry, there's four pairs of Super Draco engines, I think, on the V2. Yeah. So, it's certainly, and the whole ability to escape is on a launch failure is it's very, very technically complicated. You have to figure out very quickly that you need to detach and then to separate yourself from that, like you said, from the fireball. Not easy to pull off. No, but, you know, this is like in the whole of space exploration, like all of space flights, only I believe 18 people have died, 14 of which on to space shuttle failures. And guess what? Space shuttle could not really abort. It did not have such capability because it's not a capsule. But all of the other capsules did. I believe there's a few examples of Soyuz missions where the astronauts would be saved because of the launch escape tower. Yes. All right, cool. So look, that's Dragon. I think that that'll be interesting to see because they haven't flown a V2, I don't believe yet, have they? No, no. Not even a test one yet? Yeah, I believe probably, I think that actually they have scheduled for the end of the year the first test mission, demonstration mission, or maybe next year, but it's probably going to be next year anyway. So there's that and then the plan is for the end of 2018 or maybe early 2019 to have a first crewed mission to the ISS. But it's another project that has been delayed and and delayed and delayed, but there's steady progress just in Elon's standard time. Yeah, exactly right. All right, okay, moving on. Let's talk a little bit about the spacesuit. Because I that's a more recent development. Yeah. So the thing that was a bit surprising is I had no idea and maybe I just wasn't following along closely enough, but I had no idea that that SpaceX were developing their own spacesuits. But yeah, so on the 23rd of August, so really only a couple of months ago or, you know, some of that, Ellen posted images of the space suits on Instagram, which you got to admit is a bit of an interesting way to do a press release. It's almost like there's no press department at SpaceX. I mean, I know there is, but it's almost like there is like, who needs a press release? You can just put on Instagram anyway. And anyway, so look, having looked at these and compared them with NASA and, you know, European space agency issues spacesuits and such, they certainly look a lot less bulky and whatever practical method or measure matters or is relevant to a spacesuit, they look nicer and more sleek. But does that matter? I don't know. It's just, I just, I find it interesting that he said, yep, it was hard to get fashion and function to work well together. And I'm like, what does fashion have to do with it? I'm going to- Once you get to colonising Mars or if you do want to get to colonising Mars, you have to make space cool. And those bulky Apollo era space suits, they're not cool. Oh, man. They do not look fun to wear at all. I think that from a flexibility point of view and making sure that the suit doesn't get in the way and interfere with your mobility as much as possible, that is absolutely practical. But I think we're a real long way from us having a contest over who's got the nicer looking space suit. I'm just saying. But hey, anyway. And who knows, maybe someday like Armani will release this version of a space suit. I mean, I got an Armani space suit, so okay. But anyway, it's just hard to find the whole thing to be a bit odd, but you know, they do look very nice. But did they say- It's funny because a picture of this actually leaked a long time ago, but no one took it very seriously because it looked like a concept art and then they released the image which looks pretty much the same and it's not just a concept art, it's an actual working prototype which has been tested, pressurized and whatnot Did they say, give any idea of when they would most likely be first put to real world use? because I'm not sure even when that's planned or even if that's been released. I believe they're going to be used on all of the crude missions. And let me look at it really quick. I think the first crude demo is planned for August 2018. So probably early 2019 is when it's going to happen. Well, L on standard time and all that. So, yes. idea anyway cool so yeah um spacesuit yeah okay cool nice um I think that it's it's good that that they looked at it but yeah anyway that's anyway but that's all good so that's that not sure what else there is to say about the spacesuits to be honest I just wanted to mention it because there's nothing SpaceX are working on and um the other thing I did mention sort of briefly was the um because you know you mentioned the uh that you saw one of the Falcon 9's, the reused ones, in shrink wrap. I was very fortunate back in '97 when I was in North America at that point and I was in I was spending a lot of time in Dallas working for Nortel and I was able to visit Houston and the Johnson Space Center and I walked around the Apollo 18 Saturn V rocket. That was in the days before they built the building over it because of corrosion, corrosion issues and such. But in any case, the thing that I just want to quickly mention about that was that, and I meant to mention this before, is that the Saturn V is still the tallest, heaviest, most powerful operational rocket ever produced, but and its payload at low earth orbit was 140,000 kilos, which is still more than double than that of the current Falcon Heavy projections, but still. powerful by far, there's a large margin. It's just that there hasn't been much motivation to do that again. Like Saturn V was insanely complicated and expensive, but Cold War. And so that's why. Yeah. And I think also that the whole approach and attitude towards like the whole idea of Orbital Rendezvous and sending up multiple pieces and sending up separate fuel and having multiple launches rather than doing it all in one hit. I think that that approach is going- is much more sensible because you can get away with much, much smaller rockets and have like two or three launches all assisting the one mission to the moon, rather than putting all your eggs in one basket or on one rocket, as it were. So, I think that that's actually a far more sensible approach, to be perfectly honest. I actually think the Saturn V was more like a- more like a sledgehammer. It's like, you know, here's this monster of a rocket go. I mean, it's a three stage rocket. It was just enormous. Yeah. But anyway. Right now, I would agree, but I guess the interesting thing is SpaceX's plan for the next big thing. And it is a big thing. Yeah, that's what I want to talk about now. Yes. Yeah. Because the thing is that once you get to full reusability, now the equation changes. Because with Saturn V, yeah, it's an insane rocket. But the thing with Falcon 9 is you're recovering the first stage, which is very big. It's the largest part of the rocket and it costs the most. But you're still only "recovering" 70% of the value of the rocket. And there's just no practical way of recovering the second stage yet. You have to get much bigger in scale to make that viable. So the thing that's interesting about the next generation or the next after the Falcon series is so the guys, Elon Musk, okay, he's been teasing this for years, but it was really in mid, I think it was mid 2016, maybe it was September of 2016, Elon Musk announced the details about SpaceX's long-term strategy with a much, much larger rocket for interplanetary transportation. And I think they called it the ITS, Interplanetary Transportation System. And it was a concept design and its goal was to have mass transportation of people and cargo to and from Mars as a regular shuttle service, if you'd like, between the two. But not a shuttle, but shuttle service without the shuttle. You know what I mean? Not a space shuttle. Anyhow, so that was really, really fascinating. And just recently, only a month or so ago, I think it was at the time of recording, there's a slightly smaller revision of that concept. And I think that the idea, I'm trying to remember the scale of these, was that it was going to launch several hundred people as opposed to just seven. And the scale of these rockets would be huge. And there'd be a constellation of like, there's a 39 engines or something like that on the original one from last year. The original one, I believe, had 42 engines on the first stage, which is absolutely insane. Yeah, no one's ever done that. That's insane. But yeah, and it was going to be like the outside ones were fixed in the center core was going to be on a gimbal or something like that. I believe some of them would gimbal and some of them for simplification wouldn't. Which is just because once you get to 42, it becomes very complicated. That's part of the reason why Falcon Heavy has been so delayed and delayed. Part of it is just because of how Falcon 9 architecture has evolved. But part of it is it looked easy to just drop additional rockets on the sides, but then Then it turns out that when you have 27 engines on the bottom of the rocket, it becomes really complicated. You have to time it perfectly, the calculations for fluid dynamics for all of the exhaust get much more complicated. It's just really hard. No one has attempted to build a rocket with that many engines, 42. The closest would be the failed Soviet Moon rocket, the N1, which had something like 30 or so and it bailed quite spectacularly. Yeah, that didn't go so well. And I think that something that you alluded to before was the fact that they've had so many multiple engine rocket launches that the aggregate total of individual rockets engines that they've launched, that gives them a much better, they're in a much better position than I think that the Soviets were at that point for, which is an interesting position to be in. And so it's going to be interesting to see how that pans out, actually. Now, the revised version was on a slightly smaller scale and more focused on the moon at this point, which, you know, with the longer term strategy to go to Mars, which I think is far more sensible. So Alan's been talking more about the moon recently, I think. Yeah, historically, Elon has not been talking much about the moon. Elon is not a big fan of the moon, maybe. I mean, well, maybe not that. It's just that the moon doesn't, like in the grand vision of Elon Musk, the moon doesn't give us that much in terms of colonization. They're just a lot more useful stuff on Mars and that's the thing that is kind of gives the humanity backup. So that's kind of the ground goal for Elon Musk. But in terms of strategy, going to the moon first makes much more sense, if only because it's much cheaper. It's much closer to get there. It takes a smaller rocket. And SpaceX is a private entity. So building a smaller rocket makes a huge difference. Yeah, exactly right. So I think that was always the general strategy from a NASA point of view back when this was was a thing way back to go to colonise the moon, right? But that just the problem is the economics and what's the driver other than saying, yeah, we got people on the moon. Yeah, it's kind of in terms of science and such, you can get most of that done on the International Space Station in a 90 minute Earth orbit, which is a heck of a lot cheaper to get to and from. And you can get most of that experimentation and such and scientific discovery done in microgravity in a 90 minute Earth orbit rather than having to go to the moon. Because if you go to the moon, you build a lunar base. It's like, yay, I'm on the moon. Okay. But anyway, I don't mean to sound all meh about it, but it's just, you know, I understand the mentality, but you can road-test and trial out stuff like the same type of technology that you would use, even though the moon has no atmosphere, at least, you know, you could road test and harden a lot of technologies by developing a moon base first, which I think, you know, makes more sense. But whether or not you would launch a whole bunch of stuff, and then sort of like park it at the moon and then head to Mars, I think that was one of the ideas originally, like going back 20-30 years. But that doesn't make much sense because I mean, then you still got to escape from the moon. The moon still does have gravity. So, you know, why would you, why would you launch things like fuel and then put them on the moon's surface and then relaunch them off the moon? So it doesn't make any sense. You just, you just park it up in orbit somewhere and grab it when you needed it, which was part of the interplanetary transport system idea and that full reuse thing. So, it's exciting times ahead, but we could be 20 years away from having, you know, regular travel to and from Mars, maybe 30 years away. I'd be surprised if it was going to happen much sooner than that, because our standard time, the grander the scale, the longer the delay. And that's okay. That's fine. Yeah, it's true. On the other hand, it really depends on the success of the the new rockets, the BFR, it's right now just a code name, a big Falcon rocket or a big something else rocket. Yeah, we're not going to say that, but yes, the big, yes. Yeah, exactly. Because what the interesting thing, what Elon said on the latest international astronomical conference, I don't remember the exact name, is they plan to obsolete all of the Falcon rockets with that thing. That it would be one new architecture that would also be able to bring satellites to orbit which sounds insane for such a huge ship to carry some small payload. But if they can actually have full reusability of both the stages, then that might actually turn out to make a lot more sense. Like imagine the difference between a tiny airplane which can only fit you inside and it costs maybe 2 million to build and use it once versus you use a Boeing 747, which is a very big airplane, but then the cost of just fueling it up for one trip is $400,000. So if they can actually figure out full reusability, which is not viable for the Falcon family, then that might actually work. And that rocket is in theory capable enough to perform Moon and Mars missions. So it really depends on how well it works and there's still a lot to figure out. But the two hardest pieces are the engines and the carbon fiber tanks. And it seems that they've made quite a lot of progress on both fronts. So at least that's promising. Yeah, there is there is there has been a lot of progress made. And I feel like Colomy, well, I'm not skeptical. I think they will achieve it. It's just a matter of when. And I don't know, I find I find that the thing that's interesting about SpaceX is that the difference between them and NASA is that NASA have been talking about a moon base and new space transportation system for so long and space launch system for so long, it feels like it's never going to happen. You know, and there have been quite a few programmes, like I remember some of the launch return vehicle and the X38 or whatever else, and I, or the CR, crew return vehicle that they had, they were developing to return to earth, like a, you know, from the space station a while ago, and that got canned. And there's been so many projects that have happened through NASA that have just died, have never gone anywhere. I feel like SpaceX, although they dream big, they're actually executing on a strategy and you can see the clear path from where they are, where they've come from, where they are and where they're going. And it clearly has a path and they are starting to deliver on some of it. Yeah, the idea of landing rockets propulsively and relaunching them seemed ridiculous to a lot of people just a few years ago and now it's happening. So we'll see about that. I think the largest problem with Moon and Mars is not getting to it, it's just you need a lot more other stuff than just this powerful rocket. I think with the powerful rocket, I'm pretty sure they will do it. as fast as they think they can. They intend to launch the first mission I think in 2020 or 2022. That might take a bit longer but again with the huge tanks which actually seem to work and the engines they'll probably do it. But for Moon and Mars you need habitats, you need life support, you need all of these other things and for Mars you also need you need to make a propellant plan. Those are other insanely difficult projects to accomplish. So that might take a lot longer because of that. And they might be a bit too optimistic about this problem solving itself and other people tackling that problem. But the BFR itself, I think it should be flying in a few years and become the most powerful rocket ever. Absolutely. And I think that the thing that I find so inspiring is how far they've come. The company started in 2002. It's now 2017. You know, so in 15 years, they've gone from having no rockets and they're basically they've got a 16 out of 18 first stage re-landing success ratio. They've relaunched some of those already and they can deliver most, almost everything except the super heavy lift, basically, which is what the Falcon 9 heavy is supposed to fix. And it's just, it's incredible that they've come this far so quickly. So I'm thoroughly impressed with what they've managed to achieve. The scale of the company continues to grow. And I think that it is the game, it is the game changer in the space industry. And it's, It's also pushing more competition, which is great. So, yeah, I think it's very, very impressive. And in terms of one of the things that I sort of bring up with with Alan Musk, one of the reasons that I'm so impressed with the guy is that he he has a long-term vision, a long-term dream, and it's all good stuff. You know, it's all good. It's a good- they're good goals to have. And he wants to change the world in a good way. And I think that honestly, he actually is making decent strides in that respect. The thing is, I think Tesla's having the bigger impact more quickly to the world. But there's no question that SpaceX is going to be the next big thing after that. I think it's going to be it's going to be huge, because, I mean, if we can actually get the costs down, make it more cost effective, then suddenly we can have all sorts of different satellites. We can actually maintain space stations better. We can actually have moon bases and we could go to other planets. And that can only be a good thing, you know, for us as a species, I suppose. But in the grand scheme of things, I think it's wonderful. So my hat's off to Elon Musk on SpaceX. I think he's doing a great job and I'm very excited about the future for them. - Same, and the future for space travel and Rocketry is looking quite bright. And a lot of that is at least partially thanks to SpaceX because of competitive pressure, ULA, the US, the only pretty much US competitor for SpaceX. The prices for their rockets have gone down dramatically, even though they're still way more expensive. It looks like they're going through with their new rocket, which is going to be much cheaper and is going to have an engine built by Blue Origin, which is another private company owned by Jeff Bezos, funny enough, another person with very long-term view of the world. - Yep, Mr. Amazon. - Yeah, Mr. Amazon, which is pretty insane for this conglomerate of Lockheed Martin and Boeing, those really big companies with so much history behind them buy engines developed by a new player, you know, run by someone selling stuff on the internet. But it's actually happening. And yeah, and Blue Origin is also doing really interesting stuff. They're not as far in the game as SpaceX and they don't talk much about what they're building, But they've managed propulsive landings for a much smaller rocket than Falcon 9, but still something that reaches space, not orbit, but reaches space. That's still super impressive. And their new rocket is going to be more powerful than Falcon Heavy and is going to run on methane instead of RP-1. Like a lot of really interesting technology and also is supposed to be reusable the first stage. And there was nothing like that before and SpaceX showed the template that it can be done and now it's being replicated. And we have Rocket Labs with their Electron rocket, which is a small rocket about the size, actually smaller than Falcon 1, but actually also, I believe, cheaper than Falcon 1 and with technology like carbon fiber tanks, which, again, no one has actually flown an orbital rocket with carbon-fibre tanks and now it's being done by this tiny new US/New Zealand player. It's amazing. It is. It's kind of like a new space race or space age, I guess, if you'd call it. There's a new level of excitement about space. After things had gone very quiet, money just seemed to be too hard to come by. There didn't seem to be a particularly good reason to do these things. And if you can reduce the cost and make it more accessible, and SpaceX have shown that it can be done, these other players are coming into the market and shaking it up. And all the government bodies in the past and all of their suppliers and everything have had a bit of a wake up call that yes, it can be done better. And this is how it can be done better. So yes, I catch up or be left behind. And I think that it will not be unreasonable in the next 20 to 30 years to expect that government driven space launches are essentially gone and that all of it is subcontracted and nothing will be done by the government. Perhaps missions will be planned by the government, perhaps facilities like the space station will be planned by governments, perhaps. But I think even that will tend to get subcontracted out. And it's the sort of thing that that in and of itself is a revolution. So exciting times ahead, I think. - Yeah, I agree. That's also to me a fascinating part of SpaceX. The thing that most people know is the landing rockets part. But actually, even without that, they have the cheapest rocket on the market for the class by a pretty large margin. And the reason why that's exciting is because of the approach they took. Historically, in the US, you could see how the government would contract Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, etc. to build the rockets and they would pay whatever they would charge them plus premium so that they can make money. And because of that, because of government bureaucracy, you had this very inefficient process. And with SpaceX, we see a lot of thinking that's quite natural, again, for me and the software development industry. Their process is so iterative. They started with a small rocket, developed an engine for that, and then they built a rocket that's so much larger and just stuffed nine engines in it. And why would it need a different engine for the second stage? just use the same engine just with a larger bell. That's actually not usual, right? The second stage is just a shorter version of the first stage. Again, it seems natural now but that's not how things used to be done. They do so much testing. When you have a Falcon 9 launch, just for this launch the center engine of the first stage will be lit up to seven times because every engine after it's built is tested individually and then they assemble the first stage and they test the first stage on a rocket stand in Texas then they assemble the whole rocket together then they test it again for a few seconds before launch on the launch pad and then they launch it and then they will have up to three burns for the landing right I mean just just this without even relaunching the rocket, the fact that an engine would be lit seven times and they'll be able to handle that is unusual, right? Or when you have stage separation and payload fairing separation, traditionally you'd use pyrotechnic bolts which, you know, work most of the time but you can't test them and so SpaceX doesn't do that. They use pneumatic systems. Just all of the small things like that are pretty fascinating, just a very different approach. And when you see the difference between Space Shuttle and the Falcon 9, Space Shuttle, the whole idea was to be as reusable as possible. But guess what? When you count up all of the price for the whole program, it comes down to about $1 billion per launch. That's insane, right? And they built so much advanced cutting-edge technology for the space shuttle and that was part of the problem. It was way ahead of its time. And Falcon 9, the interesting thing is that a lot of things on it are pretty boring. They're using RP-1 and liquid oxygen, not hydrogen, not methane, higher energy propellants, but also more complicated. using a very simple what's called a gas cycle for the engines which wastes like a few percent of the propellants to spin up the turbines to pump the propellants and again that's inefficient. Why would they do that? Because it's simple, because this way they could iterate. They started with a very simple engine and the first version of it was like 300 kN of thrust and the current version is more than 900. So they went more than like about three times the thrust for essentially the same architecture of the engine, right? And that's in a lot of things that SpaceX does, that they start with a very simple architecture and then they optimize it over time. And And this sort of thinking is just very new in rocketry and in anything space related. But that's kind of what's necessary to be able to get to this point where it's cheap to manufacture, it's cheap to launch, and because of all of the testing, and because they have so many engines, and because of reuse, over time you get more reliability actually, and not less, even though it's the cheapest system on the market. So, good times ahead. Sorry for the rambling. No, no, no, no, don't apologize. No, absolutely right. And on the engine side of things, it's where I don't have as much knowledge. And the other thing that's interesting as well is some of the avionics. I haven't really spoken about this, the flight control computers and the redundancy and all that sort of stuff. And I could probably spend a whole episode on that architecture as well and how that's been evolving and so on. It really is quite fascinating and the whole concept of reuse is the way that Elon was sort of, he knows that's the only way to get the costs down to make it manageable to make it cost effective in the future. And all the design decisions that they're making are in aid of that final goal, which is awesome. And it's just a different mindset and the iterative approach that they're using is just a different, it's a more, I think it's not fair to say that NASA didn't do that because they did if you look at the Gemini and the Apollo missions and it was iterative in its own way. But it wasn't iterative at the sort of speed that SpaceX is. But then again, the technology has changed. And I just love the fact that SpaceX have illustrated, with practically illustrated, that what they can iterate on in the space of time that they have is truly impressive and that it is possible and it can be done safely, which, you know, even though they've had a couple of failures, to be honest, it's been pretty good. So my hat is off to Elon Musk and the team at SpaceX. They're doing a great job and I'm very excited about the future. So if you would like to talk more about this, you can reach me on mastodon@[email protected] or you can follow @engineered_net on Twitter to see any show related announcements. If you're enjoying Pragmatic and you want to support the show you can, like some of our backers Ivan and Chris Stone. They and many others are patrons of the show via Patreon and you can find it at all one word. Patron rewards include named thank yous on the website, a named thank you at the end of episodes, access to pages of raw show notes as well as ad free high quality releases of every episode. There's also a back catalogue of ad free episodes available and a new making of the episode tier if you're interested in that sort of thing. So if you'd like to contribute something or anything at all, there's lots of great rewards and beyond that it's all very much appreciated. Pragmatic is part of the Engineer Network and you can find it at along with other great shows like Causality, which is a solo podcast that I do that looks at the cause and effect of major events and disasters in history, including the Titanic, Challenger and Fukushima, plus lots and lots more. So if you're a fan of Pragmatic and you may like it too, so be sure to give it a listen. Now, if you'd like to get in touch with Radec, what's the best way to get in touch for people to get in touch with you, mate? - Well, the best way would be on Twitter. I'm right now on a Twitter detox, so I don't look at it as much, but you'll find me at Radexp, R-A-D-E-X-P on Twitter. And you can find my blog at, and there's my email address there. So if you want to shoot me an email, you can do that. - And also don't forget that Radec also makes a wonderful podcast called "The Podcast." And what's the best way that, just find the podcast, you'll see it. A little lightning bolt thing. - Yeah, at this point, I think it's going to be at the top of the search results, if not the podcast at the time. - There you go, fantastic, excellent. So once again, a special thank you to our patrons, a big thank you to everyone for listening and thank you, Radek, for taking the time and sharing your knowledge about rockets and SpaceX. Thank you so much. - Bye bye, thanks for having me. 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Duration 1 hour, 59 minutes and 29 seconds Direct Download

Show Notes

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Episode Gold Producer: 'r'.
Episode Silver Producers: Chris Stone, Eivind Hjertnes and Carsten Hansen.
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Radek Pietruszewski

Radek Pietruszewski

Radek is a software developer and is behind both Tadam App and Nozbe, podcasts regularly on The Podcast and is an avid follower of all things Space X.

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

Described as the David Attenborough of disasters, and a Dreamy Narrator with Great Pipes by the Podfather Adam Curry.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.