Saturday, March 20, 2021

A Couple of Things I Couldn't Resist Posting

A couple of small, but fun stories.  

The first is a Scott Manley story I came across during the week. When SpaceX launches a Falcon 9 mission, they recover the booster about 9 minutes into the mission. The upper stage that actually deploys the satellites is left in a higher orbit and is currently not considered recoverable. I believe they are put into a destructive de-orbit, using some onboard thrusters or perhaps some residual fuel, so that they reenter the atmosphere and are destroyed. During the couple of days this takes to have its affect, the second stage is still operating on battery power and transmitting telemetry, including video. 

It seems a group of hams in Europe figured out how receive the Telemetry and decode the video. 

Scott does an OK job of describing what the hams did.  The "gizmo" he mentions at around 3:28 or 3:29 is called a downconverter.  Fundamental, essential technology, and if you have a typical house, you're probably surrounded by half a dozen of them.  In my talk about superheterodyne receivers, every block diagram starts out with a downconverter.

All that aside, it's a fun story.  It comes down to SpaceX using open standards for their telemetry and a bunch of hams willing to try lots of stuff. 

NASA has a mission on the planning books called TROPICS - the kind of name which is almost legally required to be an acronym, in this case: Time-Resolved Observations of Precipitation structure and storm Intensity with a Constellation of Smallsats (TROPICS).  It's actually an interesting mission, but that's not tonight's story.

The story is they bid the launch of a handful of cubesats that will conduct the measurements.  the launch is to be in July of 2022.  Three launch suppliers bid the mission.  To tease the story a bit more, here are the three launch vehicles, courtesy of Twitter user SotirisG5.  One of these things is not like the others. 

The vehicle on the left and the vehicle on the right bid the same launch price: $8 million.  The company in the middle's bid was "significantly higher."  NASA choose the guys on the left.

By July of 2022, in time for the TROPICS mission, the Starship and Super Heavy booster might well be fully operational.  If they can launch 220,000 pounds to orbit for $8 million, that's $36.36 per pound or $80/kg.  That's cheaper than the over the counter rates at FedEx's website.  I just asked for the rate to ship 1 pound to Tokyo and fastest delivery was $115.94.  Another Twitter user said that's 1/35 the cost of a Falcon 9 launch.  The potential is there to completely revolutionize commercial space flight. 


  1. I saw the article about the Hams decoding the video on QRZ and got quite a chuckle out of it.

    Looks like they have better landing legs on the Starship upper stage, and the grid fins on the booster.

    Always thinking ahead! GO SPACEX!

    1. I should have mentioned that on the Twitter thread, the guy who made that graphic said it was nothing official, just "artist's conception."

    2. It wouldn't surprise me if the flight-ready vehicle looked similar.

  2. SpaceX has several videos out on the youse-tubes of video from inside the tanks during flight, especially when they go zero-g. Very interesting how liquids handle high thrust and negative acceleration and zero g. Why? Because all of this is very important to how liquid fuels feed and can be used. Can't use a liquid if it's nowhere near the suction end, can it.

    And... the videos themselves are mesmerizing, almost hypnotic. Much more 'trippy' than any 'LSD trip' video I've ever seen.

    When Starship flies, small cargos are almost an afterthought. "Oh, we're taking a bunch of stuff and people to LEO and we have a ton of 'free space,' what shall we do with it?" Yeah, it's almost to that point now with Falcon 9 launches and cubesats being added on to many missions.

  3. So, you're suggesting that Fed-X should probably move to rocket boosters for intercontinental cargo transit, just from a cost perspective...?
    "Well, we can ship it by rapid overnight cargo aircraft for $116 and it arrives tomorrow morning our time; or we can just rocket it there on the 6PM launch for $36 and it'll arrive by 7PM our time. Which would you prefer, sir?"

    How very Heinleinian. ;)

    And $8K to go US (or anywhere) to Tokyo (or anywhere else) in 29 minutes? Somebody would pay that, right now. (More so, considering the cost would be a business tax write-off.)

    And for reference, JAL first-class LAX to Tokyo is 11h 35m, for $17,774.
    Hmm. That, or rocket flight in half an hour?
    Puh-lease. No contest.

    Now all I need is my flying car and jet pack, and I can start living up to the promises made in my youth of 21st century life.

    1. That's part of the SpaceX business plan. At least it was at one point. It used to be on their Starship Page. Now you have to search YouTube for the (2017) video.

      It's hard to know what the status is but I think if space travel at the pace and reliability of airline travel can be achieved, that's the killer app. Absolutely world-changing.

    2. SiG, I saw something in the last few months that Elon Musk did acknowledge they would be doing Earth-to-Earth flights eventually. I think though that it is currently behind anything Starship to orbit, Moon or Mars.

    3. Intercontinental Ballistic Delivery Vehicles?

    4. Yeah. And on the "This could work!" Dr. Fronkensteen side of things, it totally could.

      Which is great, right up until Iranian Airlines decides to use one to send a package to D.C., or Jerusalem.

      Laszlo Hollyfeld would like a word with Elon about now...

  4. Is it just me or does that Starship look like it was taken from the cover of a 1950s "Analog?" Life imitating art.

  5. Does, doesn't it. There have been many similar comments around the Starship internet world (blogs, comments, FB and Twit).

  6. Musk should get in the aircraft carrier building business. Its most certain the ships toilets would work as designed, and not require periodic $400,000 acid flushes to keep the waste systems working.

    The military industrial complex needs to be shocked into reality by Tesla getting into the weapons business. I dont know Musks position on building weapons for his country but the taxpayers would welcome his entry into field. I sure would.

    1. He's pretty close to being Tony Stark these days. If he went into armaments, he'd really turn things upside down!

    2. Since Robert Downey Jr. based Tony Stark on Elon, the resemblance is not coincidence. Musk had a cameo in Iron Man 2 and allowed some scenes to be shot in their Hawthorne, CA Falcon 9 assembly line.

      As for getting involved in aircraft carrier design and production, I have no idea. Sure would be interesting to see.

    3. I'll have to watch the movie again. I vaguely remember him doing a cameo.