Two bits from Elon Musk

This profile of Elon Musk* has two fun bits in it:

He investigated the science behind rocket launching and concluded that there was no real reason why it was so expensive. He believed the space industry was dominated by inefficient government bodies. By starting afresh, and going back to basics, Musk believed getting into space could be done quickly and cheaply. He was right. SpaceX\’s Merlin engines are beautifully engineered and powerful, but simply made. They run on highly refined kerosene that costs less than petrol. The rockets they power – in the shape of the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 – are also simple. They have fewer stages (where one bit of the rocket separates from the other) than their rivals and are mostly re-usable. Thus they can put cargo into space for a fraction of the cost.

It\’s that old markets thing again. Through experimentation with different methods of doing things and testing one against the other in said market we end up improving productivity. Something that government mandated monopolies rarely do.

And through it all is the desire to colonise Mars. Musk insists that his most powerful Falcon 9 rockets could already launch missions to Mars if assembled in Earth\’s orbit.

Well, yes, but that\’s not the difficult bit. As has been pointed out, once you\’re in orbit you\’re not half way to the Moon, you\’re half way to anywhere. It\’s all about delta-v you see. It\’s getting a complete Falcon-9 into orbit that\’s the tough bit…..

* Bit surprised a few years ago to get an email from Musk asking me to call him. \”So, this aluminum scandium, is this the stuff I should be using?\”….\”Umm, maybe, for the welding properties, but probably not. What you really want is scandium aluminide for re-entry bits but that\’s another decade or more away.\” \”OK, well, we\’ll leave that sort of research to other people…..\”

First, and quite probably the last, time I\’ve spoken to a billionaire.

1 thought on “Two bits from Elon Musk”

  1. “highly refined kerosene that costs less than petrol”: wot larks. Is trhe writer really suggesting that other rockets use petrol? Is he trying to suggest that the cost of petrol is determined by anything other than taxes and duties? Is it important that the kerosene is “highly” refined, as opposed to the other sort? And as for “They have fewer stages”: yeah, yeah – we did the stages calculation in Calculus when we were sixteen. Must everything scientific or technological covered in the papers imply that the writer is a fifteen year old airhead? (Question expecting the answer “yes”). About the only saving grace is the chappy’s satisfyingly amusing name.

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