January 4, 2019: Weekly Spatial Resolutions

starship musk
Because it seems like the future is here (or at least in Boca Chica, Texas). Image from Elon Musk’s Twitter feed, posted December 24, 2018. This site contains my opinions and ideas only, not the opinions or ideas of any organization I work for. It’s my idea playground, and I’m inviting you in. Welcome! Image from NASA site.

Taking off: Work accelerates at Boca Chica launch site

Some of you might be wondering where Boca Chica is. Well, it’s in Texas. Way south in Texas. But SpaceX wants to launch from Boca Chica (I call it “Bocanur”). And SpaceX is building the Big Falcon Rocket/Starship prototype there, with plans to test launch/land the prototype. The company will likely be able to make that happen.

To me, the second-to-last Musk quote is fun to think about. He indicates these rockets will be so big, they won’t be able to transport them by road. What does that leave? Well, Boca Chica is right next to the water, so maybe by boat. It probably would be quick and relatively easy to transport rockets to the Cape from Boca Chica. It could also be on the back of airplanes, a la space shuttle. But both the port and the runways required for these would require significant infrastructure upgrades and are generally out of SpaceX’s expertise.

I think using those options would offend Musk’s sensibilities, as transporting another transport vehicle seems horribly redundant and wasteful.

What is in the company’s expertise tool-suite is launching and landing rockets, as well as building launch pads. SpaceX could actually fly the rockets from one pad to another, whether close by or halfway around the world. Maybe not surprising for those monitoring SpaceX activities, but still–things might just get a bit more interesting in this and the next few years.

Government shutdown delays commercial launch

…and why government should be less involved with space launch…

There are a few stories out there about this problem. Such a situation wasn’t so much of a widespread problem maybe only five years ago, but 2018 was a record year of launch activity (at least within the past two decades or so) for the world and for the U.S. launch industry. Things have changed, obviously, and if the government shutdown negatively impacts commercial launch operations, that only highlights just how immature and dependent the U.S. launch industry still is.

space shuttle GIF
What’s the worst that could happen when the government shuts down? Image from Giphy.

2018 ushered in “a potential space renaissance”

This has been a long time coming. I don’t think I would call it a renaissance just yet.

Rockets are still launching the way humans have launched them for over 50 years. Prices for launching people and objects into orbit are still too high. Worse, at least for the U.S., we have no ability to launch humans to orbit from the U.S. (yet). Almost all nations with launch capabilities are still have a lot of government “assistance” in the form of red tape (primarily, it seems to me, because of legacy concerns regarding defense). Even the money invested in the industry annually is a drop in the technology sector bucket.

That’s not to say things aren’t changing. The focus of the TechCrunch article seems to be on the investments going into the space industry–which is somewhat new. Satellites are becoming smaller and less expensive, while being able to accomplish certain missions just fine. Because of those small satellites, a few dedicated small satellite launchers have popped up. Maybe more will start launching successfully this year, too. More satellites are being deployed in numbers that would have been eye-opening just a few years ago.

But, maybe to make it a renaissance, getting to space will have to be affordable? Maybe SpaceX’s Starship will be one way to do that. Maybe Blue Origin will be another way. Maybe one of China’s projects successfully accomplishes that.

This Year SpaceX Made Us All Believe in Reusable Rockets

Read any comment section on “SpaceNews.com” or in the space sections on Reddit, and you’ll see not everyone believes what this writer believes. But to paraphrase Morpheus, SpaceX’s success doesn’t require them to.

Belief is optional–contracts are ironclad.

keanu reeves aliens GIF
Image from Giphy.

Commercial rocket companies are already changing the ways war will be waged in space.

Upshot of this article: small, inexpensive satellites aren’t just good for commercial purposes, but for the military, too. If it’s relatively inexpensive to put a “good enough” satellite in space, replace a destroyed satellite and do it in a timely fashion, then it makes good sense for the military to do this.

Does this means small satellites replace ALL large satellites? No–of course not. In fact, Earth observation constellations like those from Planet seem to complement the larger, but fewer, satellites of DigitalGlobe. The world is still exploring what small satellites can do. Many are going the Earth observation route, but a few are testing more interesting missions, too.

The Quiet Rocket Startup That Doesn’t Want To Be The New SpaceX

Orbex, the company the article is focusing on, definitely doesn’t sound like SpaceX.

If anything, the company sounds like it’s in the same stage as many other vaporware space companies around the world. A lot of buzzwords, promises, and even the validation being invested in (similar to investments in Theranos). And, just like those other companies, Orbex is being secretive, promising new technologies and ways of launching.

I am not saying Orbex isn’t legit. But it seems to have the hallmarks of many other “promising” small satellite launch companies with no actual launcher.

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