Point to point sub orbital

Preparing for “Earth to Earth” space travel and a competition with supersonic airliners From NASASpaceFlight.Com an important and fun source on space activity all around the world not just NASA/US

So this seems crazy but in all honesty it has actually been a thing for a long time. It is mentioned in a lot of sixties/seventies SF not focused on space flight. It was seriously studied several times as a sort of replacement for parachute insertion of military force. And like most of those sorts of efforts there was a commercial concept to support the technology since the folks in the defense industry understood that military programs cannot support a robust industry on its own.

Just look at nuclear power, there was a reason that nuclear power stations evolved as the Navy came to realize they wanted nuclear ships. And there is a reason that small aircraft carriers and non nuclear submarines are anathema to certain parts of the Naval establishment. They know that if non nuclear CVs and SSs became common the industry required to support the nuclear fleet would become unaffordable.


People have already talked about the DoD buying Starships and using them as bombers / hypersonic weapons platforms. This is just turning the model above around.

Back in medieval times freighters and warships were the same thing, they just tacked on some fighting platforms and went at it with bows, crossbows, catapults, swords, etc. Even the Vikings probably started out as traders though always ready to ‘raise the black flag and slit a few throats’ if that looked like the right business strategy.

Anyway…sorry for the side commentary, it’s evening and I had a good dinner so I’m wandering a bit.

So, again anyway…if you look at it, a craft like the Starship, which has the performance as a single stage vehicle to haul 100 tons 10,000 miles in less than an hour has some attraction on its face….but in reality?

  • To my mind the most value dense time sensitive cargo is people but that’s years out at the least.
  • In the meantime are there cargos that are so time sensitive that something like a starship might make sense?
    • Couriered documents. Maybe
    • Mail. Does not seem like it.
    • Medical supplies only if the ship could land almost anywhere and take off again.
    • High value tech like chips? Maybe but 100 tons is overkill.
    • In fact most of the above are not 100 ton class cargos and frequency and flexibility of landing seem critical.

So dead on arrival? No there are customers who might pay for a a limited 100 ton capability. I think it would need to be anywhere in the world which is more than 10,000 miles but is probably within the capability of a modified Starship with more fuel and less cargo…or maybe an extended tank Starship could do 100 tons out to 18,000 miles (my wag of anywhere in the world from anywhere in the world.)

A somewhat smaller starship could do 10 tons 18,000 miles and probably land at just about any port or airfield as long as you can supply LOx and LNG, which is not that uncommon.

Go back to the start. If you burn a couple of hundred tons of LOx/LNG what is the cost? Does it make economic sense? Is it safe, is it going to be acceptable?

  • Economics:
    • LOx/LNG are in the same $/ton range as Jet fuel, you are burning a couple of times the fuel since you have to haul up the oxidizer with you and pay for that as well so say 4x the fuel bill.
    • The hull is in line with a modern airline.
    • If you can do a trip a day or so with support costs in the same range as a jet, it would appear to me that for the right cargo you could make it work.
  • Is it safe?
    • Well not right now but once the tech is wrung out ?? I think so.
    • the big difference is much higher energies than a jet.
    • But…your exposure time is a fraction of that of a jet over the same range. Accidents in mid flight are rare but generally lead to complete loss. Exposure time is probably the most important difference…advantage Point to Point
    • Ok so the major threat time is when you are near the ground around take off and landing, Those are shorter for the Point to Pointer.
    • And to me the difference in energy involved is immaterial…dead is dead and most of the time accidents of any magnitude in those phases are not survivable.
    • Accidents on the runway often have survivors but that is eliminated in the Point to Point case…up and down…no in between…
  • Acceptable?
    • Only time will tell, my guess is YES.
    • It will be a bit like the glamor days of the early airliners I would expect point to point for certain segments to be a real elite punch card
    • Especially as near earth space becomes an exotic but achievable location.

Exciting times indeed.

SpaceX and COVID 19 Relief

Sunrise at Boca Chica, SN9 on Launch Mount B being readied for the test campaign. Thanks to Mary and all the gang for keeping me sane.

So one of the things that has kept me a little bit sane this last 9 months is SpaceX, Starship, and 24 Falcon launches… All I have to say is WOW and thank you Elon!

I’m in the periphery of the electric car business and have been for over twenty years now. The only thing that made me a believer was Tesla.

I’ve been watching space since I sat in front of the telly as Armstrong stepped off the lunar lander. The first time I believed that the final frontier finally within grasp was watching SpaceX doggedly pursuing landing Falcon boosters.

I’ve been a big believer in sub surface transportation, in particular for cargo and rapid medium distance, since high school! And the first time I saw it really taken seriously was Elon’s Boring Company.

It is really hard to think of another great innovator who had such a broad impact in the world. Brunel maybe (Victorian England) Edison, Tesla, Marconi, the Wrights, Sikorsky, Johnson…they all did great things only Brunel had as broad as Elon Musk. Maybe some of the other engineer entrepreneurs of the 1850’s to 1950’s working in what would become industrial powerhouses might have been similar but a different time and public culture hid them…maybe it’s just that Elon’s working today and as a geek I gravitate to him and the search engines feed my observer bias.

Design, fab, test, iterate…. NASA gets 3D Printing’s advantages

Ars techica: NASA test-fires 3D printed rocket parts: low cost, high power innovation
Propulsion engineers focus on R&D and pushing new tech into private industry.20130828-222007.jpg

A 3D-printed injector plate delivers 20,000 lbs of thrust in a hot-fire test on August 22.

Fidelity is an issue with 3D printed parts, even using advanced techniques like DMLS. (direct metal laser sintering) Greg Barnett, the lead propulsion engineer on the project, … “The surface is a little rougher,” he explained; however, those variations are within a consistent range and can be compensated for in the design. …

The test results on the 3D printed components have been extremely positive; Barnett and Williams told Ars that the 3D printed injector is equivalent in performance to the traditional machined one. The next step is to move on to an injector with more elements, which will mean testing with more power.

3D printing—or “additive manufacturing,” as it’s called when you get industrial like this—is seen by NASA as a vital way to keep rocket component development costs down. In a lot of ways, the ability to rapidly prototype via DMLS harkens back to the Apollo-era development method of fast physical iteration. Rather than spending a tremendous amount of time performing deep, computer-based analyses of rocket components, NASA can rough in a design and then print and test a component within hours or days.

The deep analysis and simulation tools are still available and still used, but the months- or years-long physical manufacturing time is drastically reduced. This gives engineers the flexibility to design and build in the most optimal fashion. They can use complex software analysis where necessary, but they don’t have to rely solely on computer modeling.

In the days of Apollo, NASA operated with effectively unlimited funding, which it used to create a nation-wide army of contractors with tremendous manufacturing capabilities. Design-by-iteration was feasible because there was so much design going on. These days, the picture is entirely different. “It’s almost a cultural issue,” explained Williams, “where a part can cost so much, you get into what I call ‘analysis paralysis.'” Without additive manufacturing, prototype rocket parts that can withstand actual hot-firing can cost so much and take so long to produce that when you finally get a physical component to test, you’re already hoping the tests show that it’s perfect—otherwise it would take too long to redesign. With additive manufacturing, that paralysis goes away, and engineers can iterate as needed on actual physical components.

Ingenuity unleashed, development accelerated, designs simplified…the power of 3D printing.

Slash/Gear NASA 3D printed rocket injector test firing


…NASA didn’t use ABS plastic that most 3D-printers use. Instead, the agency used custom 3D printers to spray layers of metallic powder using lasers. The lasers spray the powder in a specific pattern in order to come up with the desired shape for an object. In this case: a rocket engine injector.

Read more at: Slash/Gear http://www.slashgear.com/nasa-3d-printed-rocket-injector-undergoes-first-test-firing-12290238/

Now this Really Is Rocket Science

New research key to revolutionary ‘green’ spacecraft propellant at Phys.org
Got me interested in this new material…liquid…which is REALLY cool, in a hot sort of way, look at this briefing by the Air Force Research Lab…this Rocket Fuel burns at 1600degC but it just sort of fizzles if thrown on a fire, sits there when hit by a hammer, does not create clouds of toxic fumes and while not a great ice cream topping is not wildly poisonous either…and this stuff was actively developed, not just stumbled across. Such is the power of modern research tools and materials knowledge.


The GPIM project aims to introduce AF-M315E as a green alternative to hydrazine (Credits: NASA).

Galactic Virgin Rockets Away!

Love the Logo-shot! The space ship’s pretty simple really, it’s biggest downside would seem to be no fly around capacity if one misses the runway line up, but 1) how often does that happen theses days? 2) if theirs any juice left in the oxidizer tank a short burn would do the trick. Anyone know the plan: depend on getting it right every time or lighting ‘er up for the go-round?


Merlin 1D engine ready for space

The SpaceX Merlin 1D engine, the more powerful, more robust and less expensive
follow on to the operational 1C, has been certified for flight.

This is the family, an interesting thing about the Heavy is the plan to have the strap-ons share fuel with the core, consequently when they separate the core is still fully fueled, a big performance increase.

The engines have been run far harder than standard rating regimes require, 1) to solidify their ‘man rating’ for future crew lofting flights, 2) because SpaceX wants to reuse them, 3) because SpaceX wants top line insurance rates for their customers even while brining new approaches to the party.

Rocket engines, so ugly you just know they’re powerful!

SpaceX Grasshopper, hops up 820ft

Cool videos at the Verge article.

Held at height and then landed straight down unaffected by what looks like a reasonable breeze.

Second gen Falcon this year, possibly Falcon Heavy first flight, soft water return for a booster this year and ground return next year! Each demonstrates fundamental capabilities and the power of a committed commercial / civilian play with tech and team unfettered by bull crap FARS oversight dead weight. But each is advancing tech at a rate that seems more reminiscent of the sixties NASA and aviation tech| 2nd gen Falcon: new improved engines, Heavy: buddy tank w/ common boosters engines, any of the above: fly back boosters w/ powered soft landing first at sea then on land. Each step something daring and commercially valuable. I’m not sure how some of the competitors keep from going into terminal depression, if Musk’s SpaceX team nails the string the old guard are toast.

Soviet era rocket tech powers Anteres


File photo of the NK-33 engine firing on a test stand. Credit: Aerojet

From space flight now an article on Orbital Science’s Anteres launcher, specifically the rocket engines. It’s interesting that the Soviets were so good at some things and awful at others.

But then engineering is a very neutral endeavor and one that can adsorb your passion and develop your stoic nature…very good things in Stalinist Russia.

One should also remember that while ‘the west’ got the ‘brains’ of the Nazi German Rocket cadre (like Werner vonBraun) the Russian’s got the great majority, the working engineer types, who in the end have to slog through the agony of turning strokes of genius into real hardware, and it’s the slog that gets you deep capability not the strokes.