Big Risk: Bezos Bros launch to space

Initial reactions to the announcement that Bezos is going to take one of his Blue Origin Shepard rockets to outer space include excitement and enthusiasm, and yes – we’re all excited that commercial spaceflight has seen such a surge over the past few years. The more progress, the better, right?

For $2.8 billion, who wouldn’t want to join in on that Bezos bros group hug?

As cool as it will be to see another manned rocket takeoff towards the stars, someone has to be the Dad speaking with a voice of reason.

There are two reasons that a crewed launch by Blue Origin might be too big of a risk to take:

  1. Passengers: The crew includes three civilian passengers – people that have not been formally trained as astronauts.
  2. Launch Vehicle: Blue Origin spacecraft has not yet carried humans, and has only done 16 flights total, launching only once in all of 2020. By contrast, SpaceX has done over a hundred launches, yet doesn’t expect to have its first civilian flight until 2023.

As much as we all want to see space travel rocket us into the future and beyond, it is important to take things one step at a time.

The last thing that anyone wants to happen is for someone to get injured or worse on a mission to space that is largely a vanity stunt.

There have been tragic incidents in spaceflight in the past. The tragedy of the Challenger spacecraft killed seven astronauts in 1986. In addition to grievances over the loss of loved ones, the macro impact of this horrific event resulted in a major setback to the crewed space program and suspension of the Shuttle program for 32 months. This horrible loss may have ultimately contributed to slowed progress in space travel overall.

The small risk that something goes wrong on a manned mission would leave a sour taste in the mouths of space fans across the globe, and could even cause stagnation in space technology progress.

In an age of autonomous vehicles and artificial intelligence, it is a tremendous risk to launch living humans on a rocket unless the technology is advanced enough or it is absolutely necessary. Since the rocket is fully autonomous, why not let it perform a few more test launches to ensure it is re-tested and 1000% safe?

Assuming the technology is mature enough for manned space travel (it surely is), there’s just so many other things Blue Origin could do – like, work on getting to Mars, and perhaps start getting things setup for a propellant production facility there. Human flight will have its heyday, but we should focus on industrial and non-human cargo first. Life is precious.

On the other hand, I get the need to publicize the progress in space travel technology. The more eyeballs that are following space travel, the better. Bezos’ launch is extremely inspirational, and will definitely draw more attention means more interest, which could correspond to spaceflight companies raising more money for R&D, etc.

And for a hefty sum of $2.8 billion dollars, you could join the Bezos on their Super Space Bro’s mission to the stratosphere.

Look – this post sure can’t stop Bezos from going to space. I’ll be crossing my fingers and cheering him on, but it does make many of us nervous.

What do you think? Would you go?

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How to see tech trends before everyone else

“Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it.” -Mary Schmich

To understand the future (in any subject) and keep up with latest in emerging technology, there is a broad strategy that is immensely beneficial:

Follow and learn from where smart people in are investing their time, effort, energy, money, and other resources.

Why? Because those most knowledgeable people in a field often have early access to data and information to use in their endeavors. Keeping track of what smart people are doing allows you to benefit from their information access.

Although information feels more accessible than ever, top researchers know about ground-breaking studies before everyone else. Breakthrough research papers are often not widely discussed and are missed by the headlines. Data also can take time before being published.

Venture Capitalists fund companies that no one has heard of; they have perspectives and hypothesis that most of us have not considered.

Who is worth following?

“What you listen to and who you listen to is what you become.” – Gary Vee, recent post on LinkedIn.

Mark Andreesen calls it the ‘What do the nerds do on nights and weekends?’ test.

What are the nerds talking about and working on that the greater population of people is not even aware of? Video games is a great example. Most people never would have thought that being a professional gamer was a viable way to and earn money by livestreaming on platforms like Twitch. In fact, many people in 2021 probably still don’t even realize this.

Identifying influential and intelligent people who’s ideas are worth spreading is somewhat subjective. There isn’t a sure way to find the brilliant minds of a given area, but a few things to look for include:

  • Track record of success.
    • Which people have founded of been an early employee at successful companies? Which angel investors have had successful exits with their portfolio companies?
  • Network of other influential people in their circle.
  • Contrarian, not dedicated to mainstream ideas and conventional wisdom.

Against consensus:

In his book Zero to One as well as his talks on YouTube, Peter Thiel shares his favorite interview question: “What important truth do very few people agree with you on?”.

This is not an easy question to answer.

To invest successfully, being able to think from contrarian viewpoints is extremely important.

Holding a hypothesis about a business or about the world that is against the consensus of the general population creates the risk of being wrong. However, by applying the scientific method, a founder can test whether or not this hypothesis is indeed true.

Holding contrarian viewpoints means betting on something that is underrated and undervalued. It means people must disagree with you today, and agree with you in the future.

Although tough to stomach, having people disagree with your hypothesis in the present is a pre-requisite to successful investment thesis.

When done well, spending time and energy on contrarian ideas resembles the “buy low, sell high” approach in investing. When most people regard something as worthless or irrelevant, it is affordable and easy to access. The thing is, most people don’t care about being involved with something that isn’t worth anything today.

A recent example is cryptocurrency. In 2009 or 2010, conversations about cryptocurrency were probably generally ignored. People working on crypto had a unique hypothesis about the future of this technology, and spent time building projects. Vitalik Buterin was building the Ethereum blockchain before most of the world even knew what cryptocurrency was. At the time, cryptocurrency was highly undervalued. Because Vitalik believed there was value in working on building projects in this arena, he spent massive time and energy creating a platform and accumulating skills and experience. Now that the rest of the population is realizing the value of cryptocurrency, Vitalik’s project Ethereum has grown exponentially in value.

This type of growth would not have been possible if Vitalik did not initially pursue and idea that most people would have considered worthless.

Often, the smartest people in the world know things that you don’t. They sit on the boards of highly technical and innovative companies. Their circles include influential people in business internationally.

How and where to find new ideas?

Its easier said than done, and there really isn’t a single way to discover emerging trends.

Ultimately, I would recommend thinking about commonly held beliefs and accepted truths, then flipping them around to find areas where the majority may be wrong.

Follow people on Twitter. Being able to read the real-time thoughts of someone that has figured out how to start and launch successful tech companies might give you ideas about how you can do the same. Paul Graham, who has written timeless essays that dispense wisdom for technology founders, Tweets quite often. His essays on business, software, and startups are second to none.

Read subreddits. Despite the large amount of trolls, misinformation, and time-wasting content on this website, Reddit is a great way to obtain a general understanding of a topic by reading forum-based threads with what everyone is saying about a topic. Find the small communities with a dedicated following, and become a contributor.

Listen to interviews and podcast appearances with noteworthy people.

Set specific Google Alerts. For example, setting a Google Alert for Gwynn Shotwell, COO of SpaceX, might help you stay up to date with the excitement in the space travel industry such as rapid point-to-point rocket travel. Some of the greatest business minds don’t have a huge online presence. Setting a Google Alert for the words “Warren Buffett” will help you stay ahead of any big moves that Berkshire Hathaway has made, for example.

Following Exploding Topics may help you keep track of where there is greater interest in specific Google searches. Following the Espresso Insight newsletter help you follow insight on space, technology, and the future.

Every piece of knowledge acquired is just one data point – not everything should be acted upon. Accumulation of knowledge and insights comes with slow and gradual realization of how much you don’t know. I will leave you with this: As Socrates said, “I know that I know nothing”.

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Progress of Autonomous Vehicles Over Time

Humans are really bad drivers.

To get a driver’s license, you’re given a 25 question multiple choice test at the DMV and then get behind the wheel. Driving might be the most dangerous endeavor that humans do on a daily basis.

Humans don’t work towards being excellent drivers the way they train for a marathon, study for medical school, or practice an instrument.

We’re such bad drivers that about 40,000 people die in cars each year. Our poor driving is amplified by our distracted lives. Most of us can hardly pick up our phone to make an important phone call without getting distracted and checking our notifications, texts, social feed, etc. Should we expect people to be able to drive without taking their eyes off the road?

Autonomous vehicles could save tens of thousands of human lives per year.

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The image below shows a graph of the advancement and sophistication of autonomous vehicles as time and technology moves forward.

Apologies for the low-quality image. Until I figure out proper graphic design, hand drawn squiggles will do the job. 🙂

Progress of AV’s hits an inflection point where quick progress displays itself as a steep learning curve, slowly approaching an asymptotic limit of perfect, flawless autonomous driving. As advancement of AV’s approaches this limit, the system will never be theoretically perfect, but it will surely become good enough that the chances of a collision by an autonomous vehicle with another object is extremely negligible – practically zero. This point is highlighted as the green line.

Before we reach a point where it is statistically unlikely that a collision will ever occur on a road, an autonomous system will need to reach a point where the risk of fatality is practically zero. This may be mitigated by incorporating risk avoidance technologies such as slowing down in high-traffic areas, or even designing fleets of cars that are able to communicate from one to the other.

Although autonomy progress has been drawn as a sigmoidal curve above, there may be an argument that the actual progress would look more like a logarithmic curve, if there were no time of slow progress before the inflection point.

In either case, self driving cars continue get better. Some companies have already built autonomous vehicles that feel safer than human driven cars. But these systems are still not entirely ready for the roads.

Humans do not accept AVs unless they are 100% safe, even if they are safer than human drivers. It’s not that humans feel nonchalantly towards the 40,000 people that dies in car crashes each year, it more that humans have extremely high expectations of technology.

Despite the fact that our cell phones send information through the air, we get frustrated when internet speeds are slow and it takes us a few seconds longer to get an answer from Google. A lack of complacency isn’t exactly a negative thing, it promotes technological advancement.

Any non-zero number of self driving car crash fatalities is absolutely unacceptable. The infamous av-Uber crash in Phoenix, Arizona was a tragic nightmare. Ultimately, autonomous vehicle technology must be perfect before humans will accept it.

Does this highlight some principle that is distinct to human mentality? Here are two examples:

Example 1: Humans have irrational fears

I have a few close friends who choose not to surf or go in the ocean because they are afraid of sharks. This is socially acceptable. But I have never met a single person that avoids riding in an automobile out of fear.

To be fair, transportation is pretty much mandatory for a lot of things in life, whereas going swimming in the ocean is trivial and not a requirement.

Why does a fear of sharks continue to be so disproportionally high among humans, compared to driving, which is orders of magnitude more dangerous?

Example #2: Humans are borderline incompetent at most things…

And our only hope is to create tools to help us accomplish the things we need to do. Expecting a human to drive a car is like expecting someone to prepare and serve a full course dinner without any of the tools that exist in a kitchen. While it is surely possible that someone might be able to build a fire without matches and maintain a consistent temperature with which to cook their food, it is extremely likely that they burn the food and making an awful tasting meal. Without tools that help us cook, we’re incompetent. With tools like utensils and appliances, most people still have a hard time successfully preparing a meal. Even with the most advanced stovetop and cookware, cooking is difficult and takes just the right amount of time and patience to get right.

Transportation is no different. Humans were incompetent at all forms of transportation before railroads and the combustion engine. With engines and automobiles, we’re still awful drivers.

Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) - GP of Spain 2019
source: Eurosport

A car is just a tool. It is a solution to the slow transportation problem.

Some people drive cars for fun. Most people drive cars because they have the human centric need to move around from one place to another at their free will. Autonomous vehicles will make transportation more safe and effective.

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Source:

  1. According to the National Safety Council, over 40,000 people were killed in vehicle-related incidents in 2018. During the previous 3 years, there were more than 120,000 total fatalities.

Tesla Accelerates Sustainable Energy

How will Tesla enable sustainable transportation?

disclaimer: written by a TSLA shareholder. Opinion. Not investment advice. Do your own research. All information here comes from publicly available sources or is speculation / guessing. Please fact check this blog post. (going overboard on the disclaimer after a particularly funny reddit comment).

Tesla has distinguished themselves as a company that builds both software as well as physical products and hardware.

One of the few companies whose mission appears to be sustainability over profit, they continue to innovate and create the best technology, forcing other players in the market to try to keep up.

Tesla’s Big Goals:

Tesla’s number one mission is to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy. Tesla is progressing in a few main areas to achieve this goal:

  1. produce more affordable electric vehicles
  2. build systems for energy storage
  3. be the best at manufacturing

The CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, has stated how he believes “you have to have a goal”. Following his earlier statement, Elon kept his word – the company’s goals were concisely outlined during the Tesla battery day event this past September.

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Goal 1: Tesla building Affordable Electric Vehicles

Today, less than 1% of the cars on earth (the “global fleet”) are electric. To increase this, Tesla will build a car that anyone can afford. Tesla has announced plans to build a $25,000 electric car.

With what started as a luxury, high-end car, Tesla is working towards reaching economies of scale to move towards high volume production of a car for the mass market.

Once Tesla reaches full-scale manufacturing and production, Tesla wants to produce and sell 20 million cars per year, enough to replace 1% of the gasoline cars with electric vehicles.

To achieve these numbers, Tesla must increase production of their cars by 40X compared to their 2020 manufacturing numbers.

The center controls are completely touch-screen. source: Tesla

Elon has hypothesized that internal combustion engine industry WILL NOT EXIST in the future, aside from perhaps in museums and hobbyists.

Autonomy & self-driving cars:

Creating self-driving cars is not directly related to reducing carbon emissions, yet it does provide a few solutions that will make buying a Tesla an extremely attractive purchase:

  1. Safety. Autopilot, designed to avoid collisions, has the potential to save the lives of at least 40,000 people per year that die in automobile fatalities. With traditional automobiles, accident probability is 2.1 collisions per million miles. With Tesla autopilot, the probability is 0.3 collisions per million miles.
  2. Entertainment will be important in the car once human attention is no longer just being used to drive. This could include video games (the vehicles already have a number of games available), socialization, reading, working, etc.

It is hard to say just how valuable autonomy is to each customer, but the parameters are as follows: Since autonomy is valuable to cars at an individual level, the value of autonomy for Tesla = value of each car * value of autonomy per vehicle.

Full-self-driving technology BETA version feels like it is close to being released to the market after seeing a few of the CEO’s recent tweets on the subject.

source: Twitter

If the FSV features help the company sell more cars, then the company is that much closer to achieving its mission of an automobile economy based on sustainable energy.

Goal 2: Energy Storage – Tesla Batteries, etc.

To be truly sustainable, energy must be accessible and affordable to everyone. Tesla plans to make vehicles and grid batteries that cost less. This includes reducing the cost of energy per kilowatt hour by one half.

Tesla is working to change the trajectory of the curve of cost per kilowatt hour of energy, pushing the cost lower, shown as the red line. source: Tesla Battery day.

At Tesla battery day, the heads of the company mentioned that reducing the cost per kilowatt hour of batteries is not happening fast enough. This was demonstrated by showing the curve of cost per kilowatt hour of batteries and the slow rate of improvement. Its flattening out, as shown in the photo above.

Battery design:

Tesla is al re-engineering the battery cell design, manufacturing, and production processes to create more affordable cells.

Tab-less batteries. source: Tesla Battery Day
  • Tesla batteries are cylindrical, and newer versions are larger (bigger cylinder cells cost less)
  • Tab length in batteries: older batteries had tabs located at anode and cathode ends, which added to the distance an electron has to travel through a battery. Tesla got rid of tabs, so the electron only has to travel a shorter distance, making them more efficient.
  • Battery filler is not only flame retardant, and it is a structural adhesive. Glues cells to the top and bottom of the sheet.
  • Battery cells are load-bearing, made of steel, dual-purpose as the structure of the car itself. (see below)
The image shows how larger battery cells (blue cylinders) in the bottom image are more efficiently packed into the car. Older design at the top has a large amount of wasted space, shown in red. source: Tesla Battery Day
  • Anode: Tesla uses silicon instead of graphite (graphite is carbon based) for the anode. Silicon is the 2nd most abundant element on Earth, present in Earth’s crust as silicon dioxide, commonly known as sand). Stores 9x more lithium than graphite. Problem with silicon is that it expands in the cells. They use raw metallurgical silicon and design batteries to be able account for expansion.
  • Cathode: the cathode holds the lithium and retains its structure. Nickel is the cheapest and has the highest energy density, but Nickel presents challenges with chemical stability. Cobalt is more expensive, yet more stable than Nickel. For the most energy intensive batteries (like the semi-truck or the cyber-truck) they will use full nickel. The goal is maximizing nickel and gradually removing cobalt from battery manufacturing. The company has added coatings and dopants to stabilize nickel in the batteries. Cathode materials are purchased and priced based on the London metal exchange (LME).
  • Lithium: lithium is plentiful in the US, Tesla already has access to enough for every car (once they are building 20M+ per year). The company mines clay containing lithium in areas of the US where the ground has high concentrations. They extract the lithium via an environmentally friendly process involving table salt NaCl. After mixing it with salt and water, the lithium is extracted because lithium bonds extremely strongly to Cl-. The lithium effectively knocks off the sodium atoms, and we are left with LiCl salt, which the company can use for their battery manufacturing.
  • The company will eventually recycle materials in the used batteries to make new batteries.

Goal 3: Manufacturing

In addition to the number one goal of accelerating the adoption of sustainable energy, Tesla wants to be the best at manufacturing. Elon stated Tesla needs to be “better than anyone at manufacturing”. The company has created a vertically-integrated car from the ground up. They build everything in house, outsourcing little of the process.

The remarkable thing being built by Tesla is actually not the car, but how. The way the company built the car, with heavily automated robotic factories is impressive.

Tesla is building 4 types of products for consumers:

  • Energy generation (solar panels / solar roof)
  • Energy storage (Tesla Powercell) – customers want the freedom to charge at home. The Tesla Powercell product allows people to do so.
  • Electric vehicles (cars and trucks)
  • Automated factories. The company has engineered machines to build the car, supporting the creation of each product. While these three products are very much in the foreground, the importance of the robotic factory in the background has given Tesla a wide competitive advantage that will be extremely difficult to copy.

Factories

  • Sustainable factories include car factories built with solar.
  • Factory close to consumers (on each continent) shortens the supply chain, quicker delivery to customers. Factory in Fremont California, Nevada, Austin TX, Berlin, Shanghai China.
    • Tesla is the only American car company with manufacturing facilities in China.
  • Largest casting machine ever to make the front and rear casting in one piece.
source: Tesla Battery Day

Engineering

The ability to do more with less is an important strategy in engineering for elegance.

The company focuses more on metrics within the context of product improvements and manufacturing than purely financial areas. As of Battery day, the company reported:

  • Reducing number of parts in the car: now 370 fewer parts.
  • Reducing floorspace required in the factory by 35%.
    • Ensuring each cubic meter of the factory floor does useful work.
  • Stop using cobalt in batteries, mainly use nickel now.
  • Materials engineering the frame of the car: Developed their own high-strength casting alloy of aluminum that does not require coating or heat treatment. (Heat treatment historically causes alloys to lose shape)
  • Shortening the supply chain for resources: Reducing miles traveled by materials that end up in cathode by 80%.
  • 10% mass reduction in the car.
  • 14% range increase
  • “Electric energy costs are half those of diesel. With fewer systems to maintain, the Tesla Semi provides $200,000+ in fuel savings and a two-year payback period.” – Tesla.com
Tesla Semi-truck rendering source: Tesla

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Sources:

  1. Tesla Battery Day presentation Deck: https://tesla-share.thron.com/content/?id=96ea71cf-8fda-4648-a62c-753af436c3b6&pkey=S1dbei4
  2. http://www.ev-volumes.com/
  3. IHS
  4. OICA
  5. https://www.tesla.com/blog/secret-tesla-motors-master-plan-just-between-you-and-me
  6. https://www.tesla.com/blog/master-plan-part-deux
  7. Tesla website
  8. TSLA 10k / annual report
  9. twitter

Recap of Starship SN10 Launch and Landing

Starship SN10 (the rocket that will take humans to Mars) performed a historic launch, test flight, and landing on March 3rd, 2020 in Boca Chica, Texas.

Averaging 1 test flight per month (3 flights have happened since December 9, 2020), SpaceX plans to one day have regularly occurring Starship flights carrying payloads including smallsats, Starlink satellites, and eventually humans.

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The high altitude flight test began much like previous Starship flights of SN8 as well as SN9, with much anticipation, a few delays, and thankfully a successful take off.

Early in the day SN10 had a launch attempt, but the computer stopped the countdown just before lift-off because the thrust of a raptor engine slightly exceeded the allowable limit.

The team did a few evaluations, and later decided that the engines were good to go, ready for a second attempt.

Close-up view of Starship exhaust. source: SpaceX

Launch delays have occurred quite often leading up to the previous launches of both Starship prototypes as well as Falcon 9 Starlink missions.

Purpose of Starship SN10 test flight:

The goal of the SN10 test flight is to launch and fly to an altitude of 10 km while gathering data on how well the flaps function to control the vehicle while it is horizontal.

According to SpaceX’s website:

“A controlled aerodynamic descent with body flaps and vertical landing capability, combined with in-space refilling, are critical to landing Starship at destinations across the solar system where prepared surfaces or runways do not exist, and returning to Earth. This capability will enable a fully reusable transportation system designed to carry both crew and cargo on long-duration, interplanetary flights and help humanity return to the Moon, and travel to Mars and beyond.”

The rockets SpaceX is using for these test flights are not built to carry humans (yet) – they are very much prototypes built to be used as test vehicles.

During flight, SN10 engines shut down sequentially. The purpose of the engine shutdown is to reduce thrust, slow the rocket down, so that it doesn’t go higher and about 10 km as planned. Starship was not planning to enter orbit or reach higher altitudes.

Three raptor engines were intentionally shut off one by one and Starship was at one point accelerating vertically on just one engine.

As it reached apogee, peaking at around 10 km altitude, Starship hovered in equilibrium, where the engine thrust force was equal to the force of gravity.

Apogee is the point at which an object (such as a moon, satellite, or in this case, Starship) is furthest from Earth.

Finally, the last raptor engine shut off, and Starship began its free-fall descent. Controlled by the flaps, Starship rocket maintained aerodynamic control with a high degree of finesse.

The rocket continued falling, rotating into the famous “belly flop”.

SN10 belly flop. source: SpaceX

Starship continued to fall in its belly flop, reaching terminal velocity. Eventually the engines re-lit to make the entire vehicle to rotate vertically in preparation for landing.

From the viewer’s perspective, the rocket appeared to be somewhat slanted from vertical as it landed moved towards the landing pad.

Space enthusiasts across the globe held their breath in anticipation, watching live streams as Starship inched closer to the landing pad.

Creating a huge cloud of dust, Starship SN10 has history, successfully landing. There was no explosion on landing, as happened with both SN8 and SN9.

source: SpaceX

Starship gleamed in the south Texas sun on the landing pad, while the rocket’s reflective steel shell illuminated, signifying a job well done. Congrats, SpaceX team!

Post-flight ends with a big bang

Although the rocket did land successfully, SN10 would not have fit in with both SN9 and SN8 if it didn’t ultimately end with a rapid unplanned disassembly. As viewed from the streaming cameras of Everyday Astronaut and others, a few minutes after landing, SN10 exploded.

While Starship is of course still not passenger ready, viewers get to enjoy the excitement of a massive explosion that resembles something out of a Hollywood movie.

It is unclear what caused the explosion, but according to Toby Li’s tweet here, SN10’s landing legs may have been damaged.

Regardless, the high-altitude flight test of SN10 was a massive success.

The SpaceX YouTube channel provides footage and commentary from the SpaceX team. The commentator mentioned that the next test flight would be held with Starship SN11.

SpaceX was able to record a few segments of amazingly high-definition video. The ultra up close take-off and landing clips appear to have been taken via drone and are quite spectacular. Worth a watch below:

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How To Get Hired At SpaceX

What does it take to get a job at SpaceX?

SpaceX’s prime objective is to build a self sustaining colony on Mars.

Achieving a mission of this level of impact requires the company to hire the brightest minds in the world. If you have what it takes and believe in the mission, you should try to work there. What SpaceX is trying to do is not easy – the team needs all the help they can get.

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As of 2021, SpaceX wants to hire engineers, supervisors, and technicians for its Starship project.

The company’s career website mentions that it is looking for world-class talent ready to tackle challenging projects that will ultimately enable life on other planets.

The company of course mentions that they are an equal opportunity employer offering competitive salaries, comprehensive health benefits and equity packages.

“We hire great engineers as fast as we can find them” – Elon Musk.

They are also looking for hardware, software and firmware engineers. Firmware engineers are needed specifically for the Starlink project, which will be one of SpaceX’s first revenue streams to help fund missions to Mars.

Firmware is software (often written in C) that is stored on hardware device to make it run properly.

SpaceX Hiring Strategy:

“There’s no need even to have a college degree at all, or even high school” – Elon Musk

No Degree Required

You don’t need a college degree to work for SpaceX. CEO Elon Musk has both tweeted about this as well as mentioned it in multiple interviews.

When the founder of SpaceX was starting the company, he had no experience building rockets. Elon came from a background in the software industry. He reportedly cold-called rocket scientists to learn about building and launching rockets, and even apparently tried to buy a ballistic missile from Russia to use as a first test.

Elon mentioned that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Larry Ellison, all did not graduate from college. However, if you had the opportunity to hire any of them, it would be a great idea.

Americans and Internationals:

SpaceX is legally prevented from hiring people from outside the US. According to the US Government, working on Rocket Technology in the United States requires employees to be a US Citizen or green-card holder.

How Does Elon Describe Hiring at SpaceX?

In an online video, when asked about what skills he wants people to have, CEO Elon says he is looking for evidence of exceptional ability.

He asks candidates share the story of their career. He specifically wants to know about challenging problems the candidate has dealt with and how they make decisions. Elon stated that he wants to know if the person was truly responsible for the accomplishment or if someone else was – he can ask for details and the one that was will have those details.

The SpaceX hiring team looks for at track record of exceptional achievement. In order to actually get to Mars, the company needs to hire people that have “some evidence of exceptional ability that includes innovation”. Since the company is creating new technology, they expect their employees to have a deep drive to do so too.

TechCrunch has called SpaceX “one of the world’s most demanding engineering companies.” As you can imagine, the hiring process at SpaceX is unsurprisingly grueling.

By hiring only the greatest minds, SpaceX’s strict approach to hiring let’s the company focus on that which truly matters: solving big problems.

Next steps for job seekers

I follow the company on LinkedIn and they publish new jobs all the time. The company is in fact rapidly hiring, albeit incredibly selective, and will be for many years (going to Mars is no small task).

Wanna give the SpaceX application process a shot? They have job openings on their website, or hit the company up on Twitter and maybe you’ll get lucky.

Recap of Starship SN9 Flight Test

SN9 Starship Test Flight

SN9 test flight of Starship was delayed a few times, but fortunately it finally launched last week.

Spoiler – the flight ended much the same way that SN8 did – with a big, fiery explosion.

On 2/2/21, according to Twitter, Starship launch area was being cleared of vehicles. Launch anticipated for today and it happened! Starship SN9 launched.

On 1/26/21, Elon confirmed on Twitter that the FAA has reviewing the prospective test flight.

Starship launchpad update: on 1/19/21, SpaceX purchased two floating oil rigs which will become floating launchpads for Starship. The two launchpads have been called Deimos and Phobos, named after the two moons of Mars.

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SN9 UPDATE 1/14/21: Starship SN9 performed three static fire tests.

What is a “Static Fire”?
– A static fire is a planned system test that launch vehicles and ground support equipment undergo to verify that the rocket is ready for flight.
– During a static fire, the rocket’s engines briefly perform a test fire while staying bolted to the ground.
– The goal of a static fire test is to identify problems during the test, before the actual launch.

SN9 performed another static fire on January 6, 2020. A successful landing of SN9 would be a major milestone.

Delays of scheduled flights are common due to weather as well as the FAA regulations

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Recap of Starship SN8 Test Flight

Starship – the grand vessel that will take humans to Mars – performs its historic 12.5 km launch.

Starship SN8 Test Flight Recap

spacex starship hop 1
source: NASAspaceflight

On December 9th, 2020, people gathered on the beaches, parking lots and balconies in the surrounding areas of South Padre Island in Boca Chica, Texas. Space enthusiasts had flown in, YouTubers had their streaming cameras live and ready, and millions more tuned in remotely in anticipation of SpaceX Starship’s 12.5 km unmanned “hop”.

All day, people waited. Hours pass, with not much action. The first sign of advancement was the formation of a small condensation ring on the body of the spacecraft, just above the fins. This happens during fueling, caused by the overflow of liquid oxygen from the condenser as it fills the tanks. The rapid expansion of pressurized gas (in this case, liquified oxygen) is an endothermic process in which the gas loses heat energy, making the surroundings extremely cold.

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Liquid oxygen is an important component of the fuel, serving as the oxidizer. Starship uses liquid oxygen (aka LOX), and Methane (CH4) as rocket fuel.

Key Events from Starship Hop:

  • Successful ascent
  • Successful switchover to header tanks
  • Successful pivot
  • Flap control
  • Longest in-flight firing of a raptor engine
  • In control until the end
  • On target
  • Sufficient data gathered

Starship Launch

As the engines fire, there is no turning back. All or nothing, skyward.

spacex starship hop 2
source: nasaspaceflight.com

As the rocket takes off, as clouds instantly balloon to twenty times their size. As they grow larger, and seem to resemble exhaust smoke, the clouds are actually just steam, H2O water vapor. This is the main byproduct of the combustion reaction.

The other byproduct of the combustion reaction between methane and liquid oxygen is carbon dioxide, which is invisible.

spacex starship hop 3
source: Nasaspaceflight

Surprisingly, shortly after launch, one of the Raptor engines goes out, leaving the rocket with 2 engines to finish the remainder of the test flight.

From the multiple YouTube live-steams, including EverydayAstronaut, NasaSpaceflight.com, SpaceX, and more, there was some confusion among viewers.

spacex starship hop 4
source: SpaceX

It is unclear whether or not this was a planned outage or not, as Starship has three engines, and the other two can function completely fine on their own. Being down to two engines did not appear to interrupt the flight, and there is a chance this was done purposefully in order to control fuel loads.

As Starship progressed further towards the peak of its flight, another raptor engine apparently shut off, which is also believed to have been intentional. At this point, the rocket began to progress skyward on just a single engine. Moving at a slight angle it performing a couple of hover maneuvers, barely in view of the cameras.

At this point, the flight was over 4.5 minutes in total, 10:16:04 on nasaspaceflight video, and the rockets had been firing the entire time.

spacex starship hop 5
source: Nasaspaceflight

The Belly Flop

The next occurrence was the “belly flop”, a stunt where Starship will orient itself 90 degrees sideways, falling horizontal to the Earth’s surface at terminal velocity.

spacex starship hop 6
source: nasaspaceflight 10:16:23

The photos above and below were taken just 7 seconds apart, during which time the rocket appears to have repositioned itself by over 45 degrees. We can tell that Starship has quickly begun its free-fall because none of the engines are firing at this point.

spacex starship hop 7
source: Nasaspaceflight 10:16:30

As Starship continues to fall, it surprisingly further orients itself towards the Earth, nose down. Watching the video live, the nosedive appeared slightly nerve wracking, but it was in fact planned and supposed to happen, thankfully.

spacex starship hop 8
source: Nasaspaceflight 10:16:40

The wing-like flaps of the rocket, two on the front and two on the back, angle themselves skyward to apply air resistance drag to control the direction of its free-fall.

spacex starship hop 9
source: SpaceX

As Starship nears the Earth’s surface, the flaps are doing their job. Starship appears to float almost effortlessly towards Earth’s surface, during which time we getting the sense that terminal velocity doesn’t actually seem that fast when we’re watching such a massive vehicle.

spacex starship hop 10
source: SpaceX

When its time for the cigar-shaped rocket to begin preparing for the landing, two of its raptor engines re-engage, swiveling at an angle to control the degree to which it will turn. Within half a second, the ship has rotated ninety degrees, now facing vertically. Starship then re-orients itself vertically again for the landing.

The Rocket’s Downfall

spacex starship hop 11
source: SpaceX

In the moments leading up to landing something strange starts to happen as Starship gets closer to the landing pad.

The flame turns green, as if this is a prelude to some gnarly fireworks display. It is unclear what causes the color change.

Looking closely, the human eye can observe a slight angle between Starship and the landing pad, which is a sign that something is not quite right.

It was at this moment that we all knew destruction would be inevitable.

In the photo to the right, we know something is wrong for two reasons:

  1. Skewed angle of Starship
  2. There are no landing leg folding out

As soon as Starship hits the ground, it immediately explodes, disintegrating, leaving almost no remains. Apparently, the driving cause of this was “lack of header tank pressure”. This means there was not enough fuel to produce the required thrust to slow down the rocket before the landing pad.

In the inevitabilities of what seem to be failure, somehow, the company still managed to put on a show. SpaceX Starship SN8 hop test flight ended with a literal BANG.

spacex starship hop 12
source: SpaceX

It seems there is consensus among SpaceX that many test objectives were successfully achieved. The company was able to gather sufficient data, so… the mission was a success! (regardless of the fact that they didn’t quite “stick the landing”).

crash landing gif
source: the atlantic

All in all, the rocket was airborne for 6 minutes and 42 seconds, and was well in aerodynamic control the entire time up until the crash landing.

What did you expect? SpaceX has a long history of testing rockets, many of which have failed the first time. As with any innovative and new technology, there’s never any guarantee. But one thing is for sure – SpaceX Starship will fly again. There will be another test flight in the not too distant future. There were a few key wins and objectives complete, which we will stay updated about as we learn more.

Wins for Starship

  • “Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!” – Elon
  • This was the longest in-flight firing of a raptor engine, ever.
  • The spaceship was in fine-tuned control almost the entire time.
  • Starship demonstrated a successful pivot
  • SpaceX gathered all the data they need.
  • The world has been inspired.

The victorious path towards Mars is well underway, its going to happen faster than we realize! Stay updated with the latest on Starship, missions to Mars, and more space technology by signing up for the newsletter.

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This Private Company is Exploring Deep Space

Xplore is Sending Missions to Deep Space

Headed for the Moon by 2021, with plans for Mars, Venus, and the dwarf planet Ceres in the asteroid belt, Xplore is a company that specializes in sending ships beyond Earth’s orbit into deep space.

Deep space probes – sometimes confused with cubesats or smallsats – are special because they are not restricted to the orbit of any single celestial body. These vehicles travel beyond Earth orbit to untapped places in our solar system.

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Xplore focuses on a “Space as a Service” business model, which means that any company, university, or community can design their own mission into deep space.

The Space as a Service – or SaaS – acronym is a play on the large “Software as a Service” industry based around Silicon Valley tech companies.

This business model will enable greater partnerships to form with other companies and organizations to provide more opportunities for scientists study the unknown mysteries of deep space.

Xcraft: The Spaceship

Xcraft is a multi-mission spacecraft.

From a single launch, the goal is to be able to deploy multiple cubesats to orbit different planets and gather data from all over.

The Xcraft is Modular meaning it can scale to accommodate unique requirements, payloads, additional sensors, etc. The company can easily scale-up and increase the capabilities of the spacecraft based on the needs of a specific mission.

source: Xplore

Missions can last years because it use electric propulsion. The ability to do in-space refueling means the mission doesn’t have to end when fuel is gone, so it has the bandwidth to perform multiple objectives.

Xcraft is designed to be stable for high performance sensors.

Xplore Partnerships

Partnering with the Spaceil Arch Mission, Xplore has helped to send send human data to the Moon as an archive. We now have a 30 million page library documenting all of human history on the moon.

And for $12,500 you can send a tube of 1 gram of whatever material you want into deep space. Partnering with the company Celestis, you can send time capsules, engraved messages, data archives, genetic material, you name it. Some people use this as essentially as a space memorial service for loved ones.

source: Xplore

Beyond Earth Orbit

Great excitement and wonder about space lies beyond Earth orbit. There are these worlds that exist, of which we have fragmented, pixelated images of at best. There is SO much to learn and explore.

There might be life. No one knows the answer.

With the help of Xplore, humans are progressing onward towards deep space!

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Please find a 60-second overview video of Xplore below:

sources:

Building Solar Panels Around the Sun – Dyson Structures

Building solar panels in orbit around the sun would give humans unprecedented amounts of energy, rendering fossil fuels obsolete. In sci-fi, this is called a Dyson Structure.

A Dyson Structure is a hypothetical megastructure built out of solar panels (or mirrors focused at a single point) that a civilization could build around a star to absorb and utilize its energy.

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How would a Dyson Structure transform Humanity?

The Sun is effectively a nuclear reactor in the sky. Collecting even a small fraction of that energy would be transformational.

A Dyson structure would transform humanity by allowing humans to harness the total energy output of the sun.

Angus McKie
source: Angus McKie

The energy output would be able to support 100% of life on Earth. Energy costs would drop significantly.

We would have more power than we would know what to do with.

No more fossil fuels would be needed. The Sun might look a bit different, but we would still have enough solar rays reaching Earth to maintain the greenhouse effect and climate.

Additionally, a large megastructure around the sun would have a surface area of 550 million times the surface of Earth[9], providing a larger amount of space where a civilization could live.

How would energy transfer and storage be managed?

We would not want to send the energy back to Earth. Doing so would cause our planet to heat up to a point that it would be un-livable.

Dyson structures would enable a civilization to tap into virtually unlimited amounts of energy in order to perform work within the infiniteness of outer space.

Ultimately, it would enable a us to become a truly space-faring civilization.

To build a Sphere or a Swarm?

The initial theoretical structure described by Olaf Stapledon in his scifi novel Star Maker in 1937 [1] was a hollow rigid sphere, however, this less realistic than building separate free-floating solar panels.

File:Dyson Swarm.png
Dyson Swarm. source: wikimedia commons

According to Stuart Armstrong, the tensile strength (ability for a material to resist cracking / breaking when being stretched) needed to prevent the Sphere from being ripped apart is too large.

Rotational and gravitational stresses would be immense because the Dyson sphere would have to revolve as a whole.

The sphere would not gravitationally bind to an orbit. There is no center of mass.

A connected spherical design is impossible because the large forces are too large for any material to withstand. As it rotated, the forces would tend to move material towards the equatorial plane.

Possible or Not?

Many consider this to be practically impossible. Dyson Spheres are difficult to build and require an entire planet’s worth of material.

The reason is related to engineering and construction. Complicated design, resource collecting, transport, manufacturing, engineering, construction, and maintenance.

The most practical solution is to build free moving solar panels. Imagine a ring of solar panels around a star, for instance.

“The form of “biosphere” which I envisaged consists of a loose collection or swarm of objects traveling on independent orbits around the star.” – Freeman J. Dyson

Albeit still futuristic, a swarm of panels is the best way to try and harvest a star’s light energy.

What would it look like?

A Dyson structure would be about the size of Earth’s orbit, with a surface temperature of 200-300 deg. Kelvin. It would be radiating infrared radiation.

How would we build a Dyson Structure?

We could build the first Dyson panel in a few decades. Because a megastructure would use such a large amount of material, advances in nanotechnology would help.

Since we do not currently have the ability to successfully use nanomaterials to build structures, the first step in building a Dyson structure is resource gathering the old fashioned way – we would need to start drilling and mining on asteroids or planets to get the required materials.

Thanks to Zepherus’ YouTube video who did the math for this, we know that you would need to mine 12 planets the size of Earth to make a Dyson structure. We would have to dismantle entire solar systems, and then transport these products light years to a star.

Mercury, the closest planet to the sun, contains iron oxide hematite from which we could make mirrors. Mercury is advantageous because it has a small gravitational force, so less energy is required to take off and land rockets there.

WLA hmns Hematite.jpg
Hematite. Source: Houston Museum of Natural Science

Mirrors would be used to reflect light into a small solar plant that would concentrate light energy for storage and utilization.

Autonomous mining, manufacturing, and transportation would be mandatory. It turns out that asteroid mining is important not just for procuring precious metals like gold and silver, but would enable a civilization to increase space manufacturing technology and build stuff in space.

Building the first would be the slowest, taking perhaps 10 years which would lead to of magnitude better capabilities.

The reason individual panels are best is because it would allow humans to take a phased approach to construction. We could start by building just one panel, and then use the energy from that panel to help in creating more. This would create a positive feedback loop, where the more Dyson panels we build, the more energy we have to help us build more, leading to an exponential increase in construction speed.

You would start with just a few mirrors orbiting the sun that could reflect light into a solar power plant.

Some companies, such as Made In Space, are already working on 3D printing giant telescope mirrors.

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Q&A: Frequent Comments from TikTok

  • Q: Would the sun be blocked off?
    • A: In short, possibly. But in practicality, no. We would not cover the entirety of the sun in solar panels.
  • Q: Isn’t a Dyson swarm is better than a Dyson sphere?
    • A: Yes. A rigid and hollow Dyson sphere is impractical for a number of reasons discussed in the article. A Dyson array or swarm is more practical. Since no one has experience building one of these and it seems silly to argue over the design of a hypothetical structure that does not exist yet, I have renamed it: calling it “Dyson Structure” should suffice without being overly ambiguous.
  • Q: How would we get the energy to Earth?
    • A: We wouldn’t want to do this. Building a Dyson sphere would enable us to become a space-faring civilization. We could use the energy there.
  • Q: Would this be better suited for a dwarf star?
    • A: Long-term, since dwarf stars don’t expand, yes.
  • Q: Would we have to disassemble every planet in our solar system?
    • A: Possibly. We could build the first few solar panels and send them in to orbit around the sun in the matter of a few decades if we begin mining Mercury.
  • Q: Is nuclear energy much better than this?
    • A: Hard to say. I’d like to learn more about nuclear energy in the future. What are your thoughts on this? Let me know in the comments below or email me espressoinsight@gmail.com.

Sources:

  1. Olaf Stapledon first proposed it in 1937 in his book Star Maker.
  2. Startrek Episode “Relics”
  3. Freeman Dyson paper published in 1960 about Dyson Shell
  4. http://www.islandone.org/LEOBiblio/SETI1.HTM
  5. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/131/3414/1667.abstract
  6. Future of Humanity by Michio Kaku
  7. Stuart Armstrong
  8. TikTok
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dyson_sphere