back to article Elon Musk: Just watch me – I'll put HUMAN BOOTS on Mars by 2026

Electrocar and rocket tycoon Elon Musk says he'll put the first human beings on Mars well before the 2020s are finished – and also promised to float his SpaceX firm on Earth stock exchanges once the interplanetary mission gets underway. "I'm hopeful that the first people could be taken to Mars in 10 to 12 years, I think it's …

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Off topic

"a battery that can be built for less than $5,000"

That's fine for those who can afford the expense that goes with the deal. For my financial reality, I can buy a decent second hand VW golf tdi for a few grand more, and get better value & mileage in the bargain. Just sayin'.

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Re: Off topic

Yes and no.

Yes for now - my car cost me £600 and it runs fine, if a little rusty. The cost savings in fuel alone would keep me going for many years, include insurance and day to day running costs and two years on it's still not cost me that much.

However, with the patent sharing and (presumably) economies of scale from mass production of Tesla spec batteries, if you could get the cost down to, say, £500-£1000 for a battery, you're talking about the equivalent of replacing the fuel tank, fuel lines, high and low pressure fuel pumps, injectors and airflow sensors.

Which is a more comparable cost on any modern car with relatively sophisticated fuel injection (IE anything from the late 90s onwards) - to do all that by yourself would probably cost close to a grand when you figure your own time into it.

So for now, no. In ten years time? Quite possibly.

Steven R

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Re: Off topic

Given how cheap the charges are, that £5k battery is the equivalent of your fuel bill, not your car bill. So at £1.30 a litre, £5k gets you 3,850 L of fuel. Or 874 gallons. Or 35,000 miles at 40 mpg.

35,000 miles is 2-3 years fuel for a lot of people. So if the battery lasts 5-10 years, I guess that means you're quids in. Not that I'm a massive supporter of electric cars - but you may as well analyse things properly.

It's only supposed to be 10p-20p to charge one of these things up, so that's only £70 for a year's charges, and I'm ignoring it from my back-of-envelope calculations.

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Re: Off topic

The problem isn't that it's £5k for a battery or that it costs more of less than petrol per mile, etc.

The problem comes when the car is six years old and needs a £5k battery pack - when the car itself will be worth around that (or not, if people take the battery pack costs into account - which just compounds the problem as new car buyers will be very wary of buying an ultra-high-depreciating asset).

If it were £1-2k, and you could get five years of 'no petrol costs', that would be much less of a problem and something I suspect most people who can afford to run a 30mpg car would think carefully over (as the costs of a small bank loan would probably still be less than the petrol on, say, a Fiesta).

So I don't disagree with you per se, but down here in the sub-£2k/month pay bracket, things work on a slightly different level ;-)

Steven R

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Re: Off topic

I've always quite appreciated Richard Branson, but a lot of people moaned that he was a bit of an attention seeking a-hole who was constantly in the media due to press releases about non-events, publicity stunts etc.

Now I understand what they mean. Will Musk ever shut up?

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Re: Off topic

I guess when people stop asking him questions, he will stop answering. It's not as if he goes out of his way to attract attention, unlike, well, most celebs.

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The 5K upfront cost for a battery would be quickly remedied by companies leasing batteries and their maintenance/replacement to electric car owners.

It would require some sort of automotive battery standard, but that's gotta happen anyway for electric cars to gain much market penetration.

And to the guy listing all the costs made irrelevant by a battery, don't forget the exhaust system, including muffler and pollution control. That latter is a pricey item if it needs replacement.

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@ Steven Raith

That was my point - guess I wasn't clear on that, thanks for the additional thought. Depreciation + a (currently) major component replacement within 5 years still renders the electric solution unrealistic for a lot of people. Add the fact of increasing energy prices and beefing up any national grid to cope with the increased electricity demand, and it all adds up.

I'm just looking at the bigger picture, y'kow?

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" It's not as if he goes out of his way to attract attention, unlike, well, most celebs."

But he did have a cameo in "Machete Kills"...

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Where does the 5-year datum come from? All electrocars I've read of guarantee the battery for 8 years. At the end of the battery's life there is still some value in it, so not a total loss.

A holistic accounting of any electric car must include the satisfaction in knowing the petroleum-pushers and their horrible tin pot dictator employees have taken a small kick in the cods. Not to mention the avoided costs from ever rising prices of petrol.

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Re: Off topic

Ian, I think the lack of reliable data is part of the problem.

IE, if I win the lottery tomorrow and buy a Tesla Roadster, what are the power cell replacement options - does it have to be brand new at a hypothetical £5k cost, or can Tesla refurbish it, at a £2.5k cost? Could their patent-openings allow a third party to refurb/part-ex it against a new one for £2.5k?

And yes, the 5 year figure is a bit 'pulled out of the air' but it's an easy number to work with. Eight years is probably more realistic in terms of depreciation though, have a look at the prices of 2006 cars of normal standard (your Focus, Fiesta, BMW 3 series, etc type cars) and see where a £3k+ bill would cause a problem - the car itself costs around that.

If the cost of a battery financed over a few years costs about the same as the petrol would, it's a complete waste of time.

After all, if you buy the Focus, and it gets written off after six months, you then have a hypothetical two and a half years of finance left to pay on the battery. Will the insurance cover the cost of hte battery? If not, you're screwed. Cars are not a stable enough asset to put a huge amount of finance (for the average Joe) into so the battery would *need* to be low enough price to make it less of a risk.

As I say, from down here closer to the breadline, this stuff matters. I'm happy to admit the numbers are all about loose and vague, but for examples sake, they are fine. Costs are too high and timescales too long at this rate. Costs need to be lower, timescales could be longer, although really anything over five years is probably fine.

Anyway, it's a fun problem to wrap your mind around if you're used to running sub £2k cars - at what point will a sub £2k electric car be worth it from an all round point of view? Look at the number of RX8s on Auto Trader - £800 Xenon self levellers and £1000+ rebuilds mean there are a glut of them. Electric cars could go the same way if the battery requirements aren't sorted out.

Steven "Really wishes he could justify an RX8 for that 10,000rpm rev limiter" Raith

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Re: Off topic

Upvote for that sweet, sweet (9.7K) rev limit. It freaks your passengers out when you do 65 mph in second!

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It could be considerably longer than 6 years before a refurbished and much less expensive battery pack replacement is required. Prices per kilowatt hour of battery are dropping. The packs being used in electric cars are very modular and individual underperforming cells can be swapped out by a refurbisher. Just as it's possible to find a larger capacity battery for a laptop or digital camera, by the time the battery in your electric car needs replacing, it might be possible to get a better version that gives even more range.

The Prius batteries (NiMh, btw) that everybody was saying would have to be replaced every couple of years for thousands of dollars are holding up even better than Toyota predicted. There are some taxis in NYC that have gone for 600k miles on their original battery. Many early owners are posting in forums that even at 150k miles, they are getting reasonable range. Pretty encouraging.

I'm looking at a new job (I really need it too) that would be 20miles each way. The place provides charging for electric cars at not cost. I'm looking into a used Nissan Leaf for a good price. My cost to commute to work and run errands around town would cost me zero each month if I do all of my charging at work. The leaf gets about 80 miles or so of range. More than enough to commute a couple of days without charging. If the company suddenly decides to rip out all of the charging (they're not, but let's pretend) I would wind up paying less than $2/day to charge up the car. That equates to a petrol/diesel car that gets 80mpg. The VW Polo isn't available in the US.

The current Tesla Model S and the announced Model X are both so expensive that I could buy and fuel a used Hummer for less over 6-7 years. I'm sorry, why is Tesla so great?

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Re: Off topic

Renault has a plan in some countries/areas where you buy a Zoe and lease the battery. If the battery dies or the capacity drops below a certain level, they install a new one. Renault also has a plan with the Zoe that gives buyers a certain number of coupons for free car rentals each year. That way you can get a petrol car for that long trip to grandma's house that everybody claims they must do and can't because there isn't enough range in the electric.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Off topic

If you're looking at the bigger picture then consider many people choose their cars like expensive toys. There's no reason why an electric car can't be bought as an expensive toy. The near silent ride and instant chunk of torque is a new and exhilarating experience as it is.

Also in 7 years, my own vehicle has been through 2 turbos, MAF and MAP sensors, EGR valve, 2 crankshaft oil seals (it still leaks). 2 Cambelts, 2 water pumps. A battery. I change the oil and filters myself, at a bit under recommended mileage. Give me a 5 year battery worry over all of the above any day.

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Yikes, I'll bet you won't be buying that brand again!

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Re: Off topic

Sorry to hear about you maintenance woes - perhaps choose more carefully next time you buy?

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@ ian 22

I get your point about fuel price hikes, they bug me too. However you do know electricity charges are subject to cost increases also, and that a significant portion of electricity is still generated with fossil fuels & their derivatives?

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Totally agree.

Really efficient petrol cars exist now, and yet people still buy Lambos and Porsches.

Electric cars are at that stage. It's new, it's cool in it's own way, so there's no reason why they won't sell enough for a small niche market.

They also look good. It shouldn't be important, perhaps, but it is, and Musk has done a good job of making a car you wouldn't be embarrassed to drive.

Formula E starts in a week or so, so that will probably boost the "cool" of electric cars a little. Because at this stage in the market, it isn't really about efficiency or cost. That will come later, when the technology matures.

Actually, maybe we should just forget total reliance on battery, and build our cities into a giant Scalextric set, with a little metal strip running down the centre of every road. Or big poles like bumper cars...

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AK Stiles - I can do 65 in second, too, it's just at 6500rpm and it sounds like a fucking BDA engined rally car from the inside - intake manifold tuning for the win! Really must drill the airbox. I do like the idea of the RX8 though, I just can't justify the fuel costs, especially not as I'm looking at moving to working in an area with 80 miles a day commute - 25mpg would hurt, quickly.

HippyFreetard - it should be noted that cars, in terms of air pollution, are an issue in built up areas. Cars, in terms of hydrocarbon usage, are a drop in the ocean. Everyone in the UK could buy a Diablo GT and within a few years there'd be a marginal increase in oil usage (compared to air flight, industrial use, etc), and a marked drop in air quality in built up areas.

Buying sports cars is not just about getting one up on the Jones' either - sports cars are almost always safer (better brakes, suspension, more responsive handling) and for the performance, more repsonsive engines, and quite often the tech they use - five valve heads, variable valve timing, variable geometry turbochargers etc - trickle down to cars like the Fiesta Ecotec, which you can tweek for 100hp and 50mpg with a good torque curve.

The reason I drive a Puma rather than it's under-the-skin-brother the Fiesta is because it is a Fiesta - with more predictable, responsive handling, more absolute grip with a chassis set up to allow progressive breakaway at the front and rear, and the power curve of the engine and gear ratios means that overtaking is safer (and sounds better). It also has a better boot than a Fiesta thanks to having no real back seats ;-)

That said, I'd take the electric equivalent of a Lambo/Ferrari any day - all that torque, all the time. Anyone fancy making an electric Caterham with 100bhp and sub-700kg? That would be a fucking riot!

I'm well up for electric sports cars - just give me 0-60 in under 8 seconds, 100mph being easily attainable and cruisable (for where it's legal, natch) and a range of 200 or more miles on a moderately spirited run, and I'll be happy with that, as long as it still handles like a good hot hatch/GT/sports car does today.

Steven R

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@Steven Raith

I'm well up for electric sports cars - just give me 0-60 in under 8 seconds, 100mph being easily attainable and cruisable (for where it's legal, natch) and a range of 200 or more miles on a moderately spirited run, and I'll be happy with that, as long as it still handles like a good hot hatch/GT/sports car does today.

..

I agree. I'd want a sub 6 0-60, but acceleration is easy for an electric so that's not a problem. Cruising at 100 mph isn't particularly difficult, either. It is that 200 mile range of spirited driving that will be a huge problem. I think there are exactly zero electrics that would qualify today. Most can only manage their advertised range under specific circumstances - i.e. highway cruising, and at lower than normal speeds for the US.

I'd settle for 60 miles of spirited running and 120 miles of "real" driving (everything from stop and start around town, to 75-80 mph freeway cruising) but even that is not easy today.

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@Mitoo Bobsworth

I agree, everything you say is true- to a point. Yes, electricity can easily become more expensive, but it is starting at a lower price than petrol, so for now it is the better choice.

Electricity generated by burning fossil fuels? Depends on your location. Recently, renewables provided Germany with 74% of its power. Granted it was temporary, but it points the way.

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Float? More like Sink!

For a company like SpaceX, floating on the public exchange would sink the company.

Commercial Rocketry is a long-game, you cannot run that kind of business in a manner compatible with publicly held companies. They require CEO's with drive and vision and the ability to run a business over the long term. Elon Musk has such drive and vision.

SpaceX's bottom like will be looking very good over the long term (much longer terms than wall street investors look at) and unless you are turning over huge sums of cash every quarter then your a bad investment, I can well imagine SpaceX having quarters full of red ink due to the expenditure of capital on valuable R&D which then gets topped up when launch contracts are fulfilled. Because of this red ink, SpaceX will suffer as a public company.

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Happy

Re: Float? More like Sink!

Actually, (and remember that Elon's talking about going public AFTER the R&D is done) once the R&D is done - something investors hate spending money on unless there's a guaranteed return (something rare with R & D) - then SpaceX will have...

A light-to-medium-payload rocket (Falcon 9) which already undercuts the market by a significant degree, not to mention the probably significant cost reduction of getting your first stage back along with possibly getting your 2nd stage back.

A medium-to-heavy-payload rocket (Falcon Heavy) which will lift a lot more payload than any other rocket currently operating for a lower $ per Kg. Note: Since the 1st stages will return and FH has 3 of them, then that 128 million dollar price tag will probably come down to less than the current price of a F9.

A heavy-to-super-heavy-payload rocket (MCT) which will, if it works (not guaranteed, but IMHO, I think it will work) be taking humanity to Mars, and probably for a LOT less than the only alternative, SLS.

So, a dominant tech position, much, much lower prices, and an almost-certain dominant market position (does anyone think ULA will still be operating 10 years from now?).

So SpaceX will suffer as a public company... Yeah, I see how you got there.

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Re: Float? More like Sink!

Actually, Kharkov, you explained exactly why SpaceX will suffer as a public company.

First off, there's the concept that R&D will at some point be "done." R&D is by its very nature never complete. The concept of R&D being done is a misconception on the part of management once it reaches a stage where some results can be profitably exploited. But one exploitable result is not the point of R&D, nor is two. The purpose of R&D is a continuous stream of exploitable results. This is also known as "progress."

You then go on to describe the results which will be profitably exploited, and the environment which will allow them to be profitably exploited.

Then the decisions come in. What to do with the profits? Risk them on more long-term R&D? Invest in marketing and production efficiencies? Return to shareholders?

A board elected by public shareholders will almost always favor the latter two options, as they are much less risky.

So a public SpaceX will sit on it achievements, and milk them for what it can, until another private startup develops a better solution. That will take longer than it would if SpaceX continued to invest in R&D, as some elements will have to be relearned/redesigned by the new startup to avoid infringing on SpaceX's IP.

Yes, SpaceX may succeed financially as a public company, for a short term, but its original vision will suffer and so will progress.

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Holmes

Re: Float? More like Sink!

Oh, R&D will never be 'done', I agree, but once they have the big, difficult-to-do stuff (like getting off this planet at a low cost while taking as much mass as possible with you) out of the way, everything else that they're likely to do (like a Mars-orbit-to-surface-&-then-back-to-orbit craft) is much, much simpler.

Given that there'll likely be people living on Mars in the (probably) late 2020's, they, or their backers/supporters back on Earth will likely pay SpaceX to do Mars-related stuff like that.

A publically-owned (read: mostly owned by corporations who WANT a dividend each year) SpaceX is bound to be a more conservative, charge-as-much-as-we-can-for-as-many-launches-as-we-can-do-per-year beast, true but they're not likely to charge so much that they won't fill their roster so they'll STILL be putting a lot of stuff into orbit.

And a new company trying to outdo SpaceX? I wouldn't mind an even-cheaper company arising, and to be honest, I don't think Elon Musk would either. Just look at what he's done with Tesla.

Come to think of it, what are the odds that SpaceX's proprietary technology gets 'outed' in some manner prior to the IPO...

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Other Difficult Stuff

> once they have the big, difficult-to-do stuff (like getting off this planet at a low cost while taking as much mass as possible with you)

Launch costs are important, but not the only important thing needed to colonize the Solar System. Even with cheap rockets you can't afford to haul an entire city's worth of habitats and equipment with you. Thus you need to mine and produce most of what you need locally. Ideally what you want to send is a core set of starter machines, and use them to build out the rest of what you need.

The technology for that is much less developed than rocketry, which is why I have started working on it now: http://en.wikibooks.org/wiki/Seed_Factories By the time it's needed in a decade or two we hope to be ready.

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Re: Float? More like Sink!

Might I point out here that Amazon has barely made a profit for its entire existence. It doesn't make profits, even though it runs profitable business units. Because it plows its profits back into new investments. And has consistently done so - and yet the shareholders seem perfectly happy, and the shares keep on going up.

How many billions did they spend on cloud servers and infrastructure when they had no market, no customers and definitely no profits to speak of? I don't remember hearing a peep out of Wall Street.

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Re: Float? More like Sink!

Excuse me for going off on a massive tangent to the space stuff, but that's just struck a note with me: If Amazon genuinely barely make a profit, why do they bother with the whole double Irish Dutch sandwich half hitch shave and a haircut stuff?

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Re: Float? More like Sink!

auburnman,

There are several reasons I suspect. They like to pay as little VAT as they can. Hence the CD/DVD bit of the company was in Jersey. Also, I think that a wholly-owned subsidiary has to pay tax on profits it passes back to the parent company. But the parent company doesn't make more than a few tens of millions a year profit. As the rest keeps being spent on R&D or expanding the company.

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Re: Float? More like Sink!

Robert Hefferman, you are right about the launcher business. From the rumors I get coming from the aerospace industry and knowing a bunch of people that SpaceX has burned out, they can't go public right now. They have been given a s**t pile of deposits on launches and that money has been spent and they still need to put those satellites in space. It's not too hard to keep some secrets when you are a private company. Once you go public, your financial statements go public too.

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Re: Float? More like Sink!

Would you mind an even-cheaper company entering the market, if you were one of the SpaceX shareholders?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Float? More like Sink!

> For a company like SpaceX, floating on the public exchange would sink the company.

Musk said, during a similar interview a day or two ago, that he's not planning to take SpaceX public precisely for the reason you mention. He said that might be reconsidered once the Mars thing is underway, but unlike this article suggests, the plan for now is not to go public.

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Re: Float? More like Sink!

Big Pharma companies have huge R&D budgets and very long concept-to-market times, and they work just fine as public companies. So there's no reason to think it won't work for a space company too.

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Anonymous Coward

The only way mankind is getting off this planet

is by some James Bond villain-esque big-check-writing. And even then it's only a handful.

You're the man for the job, Mr. Musk.

[SPOILER: it ends with a whimper]

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FAIL

That about wraps it up for SpaceX

The thing that everybody needs and SpaceX was doing nicely was drving down cost-to-orbit.

As Clarke always used to say, if you can get to orbit your half-way to anywhere becasue the delta-V profile is so different.

However letting SpaceX get sidetracked from doing the useful (and profitable) work is just going to sink the compmany with the same old "we go to mars becasue it'll sound good" rubbish that NASA's infected with (at least NASA has the excuse of trying to get congress interested).

All we ever seem to see from Musk is marketing hype that sounds good, SpaceX lucked out, mainly becase if Launch Alliance/NASA incestuous relationship was so toxic.

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Pirate

Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

Ok, first: Getting to orbit & you're (Yes, I'm a grammar nazi) halfway to anywhere? I agree.

Now, SpaceX is currently charging way, way less than anyone else in the launch business. Gwynne Shotwell, of SpaceX, has stated that, starting next year (I think that's what she said), they plan to ramp up production and start getting 10 to 20 (or more) birds away EACH YEAR - that's 2 per month, almost.

Why are you assuming that SpaceX prices will go up? They're already lower than anyone else and they're likely to come down even more as the flight rate goes up and reusability kicks in. SpaceX will likely dominate the market up to the early 2020's.

SIDENOTE: I think Skylon will be serious competition but that's a rant for another time.

SpaceX will send, probably, a small amount of stuff to Mars on a Falcon-Heavy-launched mission and later, an MCT-launched mission but that's just to demonstrate that it can be done.

Post-Mars-Mission-1, Elon will probably have a press conference saying, "We put X kilograms on the surface of Mars for Y dollars per kilogram and we can do Z missions to Mars a year. Now who wants to go to Mars or send stuff there?"

And, having built it, they will come... paying money. And SpaceX will likely get even richer...

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Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

I suspect that the reason Mr. Musk got involved with electric automobiles is that he wanted a way to power his planetary rovers. There are no planets other than Earth inside our solar system with substantial quantities of oxygen in their atmospheres. Internal combustion engines simply will not work as a power source for a planetary rover, largely because you cannot build a system large enough to carry the amount of oxygen an internal combustion engine requires.

On the other hand, if you could create a battery, or something battery-like that would produce a similar amount of power, then you would have a workable solution to your problems caused by the remarkable lack of free oxygen in the solar system. Methane-Oxygen fuel cells might prove to be workable, but I don't know how far along that research has gotten. There is some 13 calories per gram of energy in methane.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX (grammar)

> Ok, first: Getting to orbit & you're (Yes, I'm a grammar nazi) halfway to anywhere? I agree.

As a self proclaimed "grammar nazi" you need to be re-educated and likely eradicated.

Let's start with an inappropriate use of the ampersand...

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Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

I would argue there's a lot more long term commercial viability with Mars as the focus rather than as short haul teamsters. If SpaceX does manage to make money with satellite deliveries and ISS supply missions you're going to see scads of new companies spring up and quickly cut the bottom out of any real business opportunity.

That's always the case with new industries, the first movers get the biggest financial benefits and the best partnership deals, but their cost structures are also always the highest. Nobody actually knows if there really is any significant money in private space ventures, but if it turns out there is money to be had then you're dealing with business fundamentals that are universal, regardless of the industry.

You'll see 'advancement' and 'innovation' redefined to mean clever ways of cutting costs, increasing efficiencies, disingenuous contract semantics and leveraged financial shenanigans. That's all normal and an unavoidable part of business. The kids come to play in the pool after somebody else has built it.

However, once you get past short term things like IP litigation and traps created by lobbyists the first mover has no choice but to look toward bigger things and get there before anyone else. That's the little discussed downside to being a first mover, you don't get to play with your own toys for very long. But like I said, the money is huge and will roll in for as long as you can keep moving forward.

My point, is that SpaceX will see much larger returns by pressing ahead instead of instead of lazing about in NEO and getting the shit kicked out of them by the legions of companies that are going to warp to parity with SpaceX the moment (if) the financials are validated.

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Boffin

Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

Read Bob Zubrin's The Case For Mars. He talks about making methane from a small amount of hydrogen feedstock, brought from Earth initially until a supply (water) is found on Mars, and Carbon Dioxide, from Mars' atmosphere, plus oxygen to fuel any Mars rovers.

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Grammar Nazi

I have to admit that I'm not happy with the phrase 'Grammar Nazi'.

It conjures up the metaphor of someone collecting together double negatives and split infinitives and then gassing them alive until they are no more.

It reduces the horror of what the Nazis did by making the term commonplace for something relatively petty.

The word 'pedant' is defined at dictionary.com as:

1. a person who makes an excessive or inappropriate display of learning.

2. a person who overemphasizes rules or minor details.

3. a person who adheres rigidly to book knowledge without regard to common sense.

And this seems to fit the bill quite nicely.

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Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

> Nobody actually knows if there really is any significant money in private space ventures

On the contrary, space industry is $300 billion a year worldwide, and about 2/3 of that is commercial. Satellites deliver TV, music, internet, navigation, and other services. Satellites are expensive and are discarded when they break or run out of fuel, so the next growth area will likely be refueling and maintenance. Robotics and remote control have gotten to where that is feasible, and ion thrusters can get you there efficiently.

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Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

Satellites is my hope. Maybe once repair of satellites is possible, they'll be designed for in-orbit repair. In which case great, that's what'll be done. But there's a huge fleet currently up there, which are all basically custom designed. You'd need to custom design the repair robot. Which is hideously expensive, and would need lots of research and testing. So it may well be cheaper to bung a few mechanics into orbit with a refuelling and repair tug plus small space garage.

If you can do minor repairs on, and refuel, 2 satellites per month (24 per year), at an average of $200 million cost each - giving them say another 30% lifespan - that's $1.6 billion worth of new satellites people don't need to build. Give 30% back to the customer, so it's worth it, and that gives you $1.1 billion to play with.

Say it takes 4 Falcon 9 launches a year for crew rotation and new parts deliveries, at $100m a pop, that gives you $600 million per year income to cover the debt costs of the station and space tugs, plus $100 million per year in non-rocket costs, satellite spare parts manufacture, and salaries.

Back-of-a-fag-packet I know, but that looks like a viable business model to me. $600m a year over 10 years ought to buy you a decent little space station.

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Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

I think you're massively underestimating the barrier to entry for other new companies. For once, it IS rocket science. Any new entrant would have to do all the development, building and testing that SpaceX has already got out of the way, sort out their own launch facilities and hire a shitload of scientists and engineers just to get to a position significantly behind Musk. They'd still need a compelling reason for send-stuff-to-space customers to switch from a proven company, and SpaceX would still have lucrative NASA contracts until they run out.

It took a visionary billionaire to get his company to where it is today, to get another SpaceX you'd need another Musk and they're few and far between.

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Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

Indeed, a repair / refueling company might even manage to get someone to pay them to start deorbiting some of the hazardous debris we've been leaving up there over the past few decades.

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Re: Grammar Nazi

But then, dictionary.com spell overemphasizes with a "z" so why would we pay any attention to them? Plus, point two uses a relative comparison with no base factor rendering it meaningless. Your overemphasis is the pedants appropriate oversight.

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Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

That $300 billion figure includes the monies that go to companies like mine that make tools and other assorted 'stuff' to support aerospace companies and the various government space agencies around the world. There's good money there, without a doubt. But as far as the actual space part of the equation? Nope. Nobody knows if there's real money there. Every single launch facility and every single bit of every post launch operational support infrastructure is wholly dependent on government subsidies to make any of the actual space stuff profitable. We'll just have to wait and see if SpaceX can change that equation.

The barriers to entry aren't nearly as significant as you think. The costs aren't even that high, the risks are incredibly high though, and that's what keeps people out. If those risks can be mitigated and money can be made you'll see a crowded field in a quick fast hurry. This is absolutely no different than aircraft manufacturing, computer processor fabrication, or precision machining at the highest levels. There are zillions of ways to get the job done, but there only has to be one proven way, and everybody hops onboard.

What you aren't recognizing is that SpaceX has no exclusivity on the technology they are proving. None of this technology is new, it's all probably older than you actually, it was just passed over in the 1960's because the needs were radically different. Recovering and reusing launch vehicle components was seen as fairly superfluous since those parts would just be vaporized when the Commies returned fire. The very idea that 'The West' would be in a space station partnership with the Russians was simply unthinkable.

That's not taking anything away from SpaceX. What they're doing is great! But you've got to realize that they are simply picking up the field trials where they left off half a century ago. If they prove that technology can be used profitably then there's absolutely nothing standing in the way of anyone else who wants to get in on the action.

I've got a fair amount of confidence that SpaceX will prove the financials and that SpaceY and SpaceZ are waiting for that to occur. I've got enough confidence in that happening in the next decade or so that when we were designing our new mirror production expansion we did so with the growth of our aerospace wing in mind. I could have saved a shitload of money by tacking the mirror fab onto the end of our building, but that would have meant buying and building around a second gantry crane when the time came to make things for those new players waiting to enter the market as soon as SpaceX validates it. I haven't made a career out of being wrong about that sort of thing.

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Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

Rocket science is easy.

It's rocket engineering that's difficult, and right now the only people doing it are SpaceX, the ESA (Ariane) and the Russians (Soyuz and ULA).

If the engineering was that easy, why are the ULA buying their engines from Russia?

Nobody else is making the size of rocket engine needed to put tonnes into orbit.

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Re: That about wraps it up for SpaceX

I went over this a while back, but the ULA deal was made solely to improve diplomatic relations between the US, EU and Russia. It's all publicly available information, and if you care to go have a look, the details of the arrangement, and the vendor contracts that more than doubled the actual overall cost of the motors was happily accepted by all parties.

The US and UK subsidized NASA and ESA projects by giving the vendors to those projects enormous guaranteed contracts for products and services that were already 'catalog' parts requiring no R&D. It has all been great for me. Because we're the sole provider for more than a little of the tooling, QA and test equipment those vendors use, I've been able to structure raw materials purchases and adjust our capacity forecasts enough to save several million dollars over the lifetimes of those contracts.

I'm in no way saying that the technical aspects of space projects are 'easy', but the technical side of all of it is not the most challenging aspect. There are far more difficult things to manage through if you want to be in the business. Politics being the thorniest of those issues. Like I said, all this is public information, start looking into it and I expect you'll discover even more things you didn't know. The world is far more complex than you know.

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