Airport Hacks I Have Known and Loved

Business professionals end up flying more than expected

Air travel ends up being a big part of the day to day experience of busy professionals.

As I’ve posted specifically about the future of air travel before, at espressoinsight.com, I generally attempt to cover the future of business and emerging technology. To minimize travel stress and maximize comfort, it is important to know how to optimize your experience as a passenger.

Moving to Oahu, Hawaii meant flights between the island and mainland became a regularity.

As taxing on my personal budget as this has been, taking a minimum of a 5+ hour flight everytime I want to go anywhere off-island meant that I quickly adapted to quick a few tricks of the trade of air travel.

I hope these are helpful – not necessarily to hack the system, but simply to make the flying experience more enjoyable.

Airport Hack #1: Boarding time

Oftentimes, when the planes are not at full capacity, you will be able to have your choice of seating if you are last to board the plane. Flying during pandemic times with a large percentage of empty flights is just glorious.

The best seats in first class and even the ones that aren’t quite first class but are still premium seats are often open.

As a bonus, you can opt to find a seat by the window or aisle to your choosing, and may even be lucky enough to get a whole row to yourself as I have a few times.

(add photo).

Boarding late on my flight from San Francisco to Honolulu, more than half of first class was completely open, as well as many seats in the premium / upgraded section, where I was able to find an entire free row.

Words of advice: Even if first class is open (the ones with the lounge chairs and private rooms / pods etc), avoid sitting in first class, though, because the flight attendants will often keep a seating chart to greet first class by name, which would be a dead giveaway for you, in which case you may be asked to move.

Airport Hack #2: Optimizing carry-on luggage

Depending on your ticket, you might not be allowed more than one personal item, meaning no bringing an extra carry on. If this is the case, there is a way to sneak an extra bag on if you absolutely need to.

On personal items and carry ons: Not all of us are minimalists, sometimes we have a lot of stuff to bring with us.

Let’s be honest – bringing extra stuff on the plane isn’t going to hurt anyone. There’s always plenty of room – and even if there weren’t, the gate attendants will start offering people a “free checked bag” directly at the gate, so there’s always a solution.

The bag rules are the airlines’ way of encouraging customers to upgrade their tickets and spend more money.

Heck, I’ve brought my guitar on the plane and stuck it in an overhead bin with absolutely no issues whatsoever. When carrying on such a large item, keep an eye out for bin space anywhere on the plane. You don’t necessarily have to use the bins directly above your seat, just find a spot that will fit your instrument and remember where you put it!

However, to ensure the overhead bin space isn’t full, consider trying to get in line to boared sooner rather than later (yes, this optimizing for Airport Hack #2 goes is the opposite strategy of Airport Hack #1).

Here’s what you do: opt for a small-ish duffel bag and a backpack, and don’t jam-pack them too full. When you walk to the gate and scan your ticket, arrange your backpack so that it is on top of your duffel with the straps of the straps of the duffel wrapped around the backpack.

(show photo here).

Voila, you have technically “consolidated” your two bags into one, and may carry on in peace! To avoid any hassles from the gatekeepers, walk up to the gate attendant with the bags in your left hand, low and at your side, with a big smile and friendly greeting, and scan your ticket / ID with your left hand exclusively.

Airport Hack #3: Masks

Mask hacks: Masks are important an a necessity on all airlines currently, however, often, masks can become uncomfortable when worn for 5+ hours on a flight because they pull on your ears.

An easy fix for this is to bend the metal nose bridge so it squeezes and affixes the mask to your face, allowing the mask to remain in place without the need of the ear-loops. Unhooking your ear loops and balancing the gently pinched mask onto your nose, I have even used a small piece of tape to keep it in place. You be the judge on what’s most comfortable, but I’ve found that it can be nice to give my ears a break from being pulled forward.

Additional options are to find a mask that has looser ear loops so that it is less tight on your face.

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NASA Mission to 16-Psyche Asteroid 2022: Preview and Updates

The asteroid 16-Psyche contains an estimated $10,000 quadrillion worth of precious metals.

Psyche Mission Key Takeaways:

In Depth | 16 Psyche – NASA Solar System Exploration
source: NASA

–> Purpose: to study the chemical composition of the 16-Psyche asteroid.

–> For the first time ever, study a terrestrial world not made of rock and ice, but made of metal. [2]

–> To determine the asteroid’s age.

–> To analyze the topography

–> Launch Date: August 1, 2022 from the NASA Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida

–> Estimated arrival date: January 2026

–> Trip Length: 3.5 years

–> Mission Length: After reaching the asteroid, the plan is to spend 21 months in orbit studying and analyzing 16-Psyche.

The Psyche Mission: Why it Matters

“What makes the asteroid Psyche unique is that it appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, one of the building blocks of our solar system.” – NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

The mission is planning to explore 16-Psyche, a metallic asteroid, and will launch from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in August 2022.

Sending a robotic spacecraft beyond Earth orbit into deep space is always a big milestone. When dealing with distances in the neighborhood of millions of miles, we’re talking about so long of a voyage that the spacecraft components will never come back to Earth.

The Psyche mission may present unique insights for a future industry in asteroid mining.

Most asteroids that are made of rock or ice. Psyche is special, as it is composed almost entirely of metal.

Metal is much harder than rock, and perhaps would allow the morphology and crater formation on a metallic asteroid to be quite different from that of a rocky object.

Psyche holds one the the big mysteries of the universe – one of the only mainly metal object in space, how did a metal asteroid like this form?

The metallic composition is interesting because Earth’s core is made of up to 95% metal (iron and nickel) as well. Unfortunately, Earth’s core is 1864 miles bow the crust and mantle, so we can’t directly study it.

Seeking answers to the origins of an asteroid like psyche may help us unlock answers to our own planet’s formation – how might planetary cores have formed?

The metallic core of Earth is unreachable, so we can only indirectly observe its unique properties, magnetic field, etc. By exploring a metal core that resembles that of Earth, but isn’t surrounded by the mantle and crust, we may gain a better understanding of our own planet, and even the formation of other rocky planets like Earth.

The Asteroid Belt

Psyche is located within the asteroid belt, an aggregation of rocky debris of various size between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

Illustration of the location of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Source: spaceplace.nasa

Jupiter, with such a strong gravitational field, plays a large role in protecting Earth from experiencing too many asteroid impacts. Jupiter’s proximity to the asteroid belt means it attracts a large percentage of rogue asteroids, keeping Earth out of harm’s way.

While moving through space, asteroids and comets smash into each other at 11000 miles per hour, causing the surfaces to have contours and craters from these impacts. [11]

What Does 16-Psyche Look Like?

Humans have never visited a celestial object like this up close, so we literally can only guess what features the images might show.

16-Psyche is one if the largest metallic asteroids – an M-type asteroid, meaning it is made up of primarily metal, iron, nickel, and other substituents.

Given that the asteroid is made primarily of nickel/iron metal scientists can hypothesize that 16-Psyche may resemble nickel/iron meteorites that have hit Earth.

The 16- stands for the fact that it was the 16th asteroid discovered in centuries past.

Comparing the unexplored asteroid to meteorites that we have directly observed, we may expect to find the rock exhibiting crystal structures resembling octahedron (known as Widmanstätten patterns), and potentially even crystals embedded within the rock.

There are many M-type meteorites that have hit Earth. These may provide an example of how the 16-Psyche asteroid might look up close. Source: Wikipedia

How big is 16-Psyche?

Not a perfect sphere, Psyche has an average diameter of 139 miles across [11] and is 3% the mass of the moon.

The size of Psyche. source: Vissiniti [8]

Technologies used during the Psyche Mission

The spacecraft, named Psyche after the asteroid itself, is being built for NASA by Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California.

With the ultimate purpose of testing hypothesis for how 16-Psyche was formed, the spacecraft will use the following tools to study 16-Psyche asteroid:

  • multispectral imager
  • gamma-ray spectrometer
  • neutron spectrometer
  • magnetometer
  • X-Ray / radio instrument (for gravity measurement)
  • solar electric propulsion mechanism (ion thrusters)

Imaging Technologies

Multispectral imaging technologies are able to capture images including wavelength data within and beyond the visible light spectrum.

Humans are able to see between 400-700 nm wavelengths of light; however, imaging beyond these wavelengths into the UV or infrared range can allow scientists to gather information about the greater electromagnetic spectrum.

Spectrometer Technologies

Spectrometers are tools that measure light. Although there are many different types of spectrometers, the name literally means “light measuring”. The root word “spectrum” comes from Latin, meaning light. The work “meter” comes from Greek, meaning “a measure”.

The spectrometers used on this mission will identify the way that light reflects off the asteroid to identify its physical and chemical composition.

Magnetometer

An instrument used for measuring magnetic forces, especially the Earth’s magnetism.

The spacecraft will use a magnetometer to measure 16-Psyche’s magnetic field, seeing how it might resemble earth.

Propulsion System

Although NASA has used ion thrusters for deep space missions to Ceres, another asteroid, in the past, this will be the first time a mission has used hall thrusters to go into deep space, and will use Xenon gas as propellant.

Hall thrusters are a type of ion thruster that use a magnetic field to confine the flow of propellant consistent. For example, the NASA developed X3 is a type of hall-effect ion thruster.

CSU's Hall Effect Thruster Operating on Krypton
Hall thruster testing with Krypton. Source: Colorado State University

Hall thrusters are commonly used in Earth orbiting satellites. SpaceX Starlink satellites famously use hall thrusters to alter their orbit and trajectory.

Ion thrusters are the ideal propulsion system for long-term missions because they allow for a slow but consistent and energy efficient acceleration, allowing the spacecraft to reach a higher max velocity. These ion thrusters are often solar powered via electricity.

Whereas chemical propulsion (which rockets use to take off from Earth) are useful for short bursts of power to reach orbit, these systems are not ideal to sustain long-distance space travel because the fuel would take up much more space than we have room for.

If the mission leaves in August 2022 as planned, it will take 3.5 years to reach Psyche, arriving in January 2026.

In addition to determining the feasibility of possible mining missions in the future, scientists hope that studying a metal based asteroid will uncover insights into Earth’s core, which is also composed mainly of metal.

How Much Money is 16-Psyche Worth?

According to one of NASA’s principal investigators for the mission, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, the fact that an asteroid contains trillions of dollars worth of precious metals doesn’t mean that it’s going to make everyone on Earth rich.

Elkins-Tanton, who was recently interviewed by the Miami Herald, stated that although Psyche contains massive amounts of iron, nickel, copper, even gold and platinum, humans will not be able to benefit financially from it for two reasons:

  1. The logistics of mining and transporting that amount of cargo back to Earth is impossible from a practical standpoint. It would take us decades or centuries to develop and start this process.
  2. If we were to magically have all that metal on Earth, it would crash the markets due to an oversupply, making metals practically worthless.

Although the Elkins-Tanton’s logic is sound, perhaps there is a scenario where humans are able to overcome the logistics of asteroid mining for our benefit without downfalls of flooding the markets.

The way this scenario could play out is through exponential technological progress.

In the 1950s, for example, people never imagined that we would carry computers around in our pockets. We never would have imagined

In 2021, the industry for computer chips is worth around $500 billion. [10] Anyone who says we could have predicted this is lying.

Similarly, it is impossible to imagine what industries and markets will exist, or what manufacturing and commerce will look like as humans embark into the Space Age.

Perhaps someday, within a couple generations or even sooner, humans will be mining asteroids and using the materials to build unimaginable technologies that only exist in the world of science fiction today.

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Sources:

  1. NASA JPL
  2. Psyche Mission site
  3. https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/04/nasas-most-metal-mission-will-test-new-higher-power-electric-thrusters/
  4. https://solarsystem.nasa.gov/missions/dawn/technology/ion-propulsion/
  5. https://www.freethink.com/articles/hall-thruster
  6. https://spacenews.com/phase-four-launches-first-plasma-propulsion-systems/
  7. https://scitechdaily.com/nasas-electrifying-new-propulsion-systems/
  8. The Size of Psyche asteroid
  9. Psyche Asteroid Miami Herald
  10. Computer chips
  11. The Psyche mission blog on Medium

Tesla AI day 2021 Recap and Takeaways

The purpose of Tesla AI Day is to get the world excited about what Tesla is doing in artificial intelligence beyond cars.

AI day is also a recruiting event for prospective engineers as the company ramps up hiring.

Key Takeaways from Tesla AI Day 2021

Source: Tesla AI day

Make useful AI that people love, and is unequivocally good. – Elon Musk

  • Vertical integration is a common theme in the presentation. For both software, hardware, neural net training, and more. This means that Tesla builds and designs a large percentage of their technology in house.
  • The company is able to auto label data sets as well as create simulation data sets with unlimited scenarios for training the neural network.
  • DOJO is Tesla’s supercomputer designed for one purpose – training neural networks. It will be in use and available next year.
  • The neural net architecture resembles the visual cortex of an animal.
  • They will build a humanoid robot (see Tesla Bot at right)
  • TLDR: skynet is born? Hopefully not. Although Elon said that human-level superintelligence is certainly possible, both the car and the Tesla Bot are examples of building “narrow AI” to avoid AI being misaligned with humans.

FSD beta version 9

FSD (Full-self-driving) is the autonomous system that is deployed to all cars, which customers can purchase for around $10,000.

The often debated fact that Tesla does not use LIDAR, as do many other autonomy oriented companies like GM cruise or Google Waymo, means that its cars use only cameras to gather data about the surroundings and navigate the world. Although the company mentioned plans to upgrade the cameras, the current cameras are still more than good enough.

The philosophy behind this decision is that roads were built for human eyes to see and navigate. Therefore, the cars should be able to gather sufficient data to navigate autonomously using only cameras.

Elon jokingly stated that because of this, someone could technically wear a T-shirt with a stop sign on it, and the car would stop. But ultimately, the company seems confident that cameras will be sufficient.

“It’s clearly headed to way better than human. Without a question.” – Elon Musk

Note: Tesla cars are not yet fully autonomous. Drivers still need to keep their attention and focus on the road at all times. [1]

Tesla still has yet to reach High Driving Automation level of autonomy (known as Level 4 Autonomy)

FSD driver-assist benefits:

  • Navigate on Autopilot
  • Auto Lane Change
  • AutoPark
  • Summon
  • Traffic Light and Stop Control

Neural Net Architecture

There are 8 cameras surrounding the video that capture images of the real world. Tesla’s system uses these images to create a 3D reconstruction of the scene in “vector space”.

Using these images and vector space rendering, the system makes predictions about what the car may encounter a few moments into the future, allowing the car to drive itself safely and without running into anything.

As the neural network improves as it is trained on more and more data, Tesla is slowly building a brain-like neural net that resembles the visual cortex of an animal.

The presenters mentioned that everything Tesla is building is fundamentally country agnostic. Although they are optimizing the neural net models for the US at this point, they will be able to extrapolate to other countries as well in the future.

The ability to plan allows the car to predict and make changes about what other cars are doing on the road in real time.

Predictive and planning themed capabilities aside, the upper limit of the neural network has enough power to remember all of the roads and highways on planet Earth.

The presentation spent a significant amount of time diving into the specifics of Tesla’s Neural Net Architecture. For specifics, watch the replay of the 2021 AI day livestream.

Source: Tesla

Training Neural Networks – Data Required

Every time a human driver gets inside a Tesla, they are helping to train the neural network. Although this may make an incremental improvement, this is not enough training data.

These networks have hundreds of millions of parameters – it is incredibly important to get as many data sets as possible to create 3D renderings in vector space.

Millions of labels are needed, and each piece of data is essentially just a small video clip. Associated with each clip, you have the actual image/video data, odometer information, GPS coordinates, and more.

Tesla needs millions of vector space data sets to train these neural networks. In the spirit of vertical integration, there was formerly a team at Tesla that tediously labeled all of that data. But manual labeling proved to be too slow – there is a better way.

Auto Labeling Data Sets

Tesla developed an auto labeling system, allowing them to generate extremely large training data sets much faster for training the neural network. The auto labeling mechanism is extremely important.

“Without auto labeling, we would not be able to solve the self driving problem.” – Elon Musk

Simulations

In addition to real-world data sets from camera footage, Tesla also is creating simulations of traffic scenarios.

It is like a video game, where Tesla Autopilot is the player. Simulation is helpful when data is difficult to source, difficult to label, or is in a closed loop.

Algorithms are able to create the simulation scenarios. These algorithms analyze where the system is failing, and then create more data around the failure points to allow the neural network to learn, improve, and handle those scenarios better in the future.

Elon specifically discouraged the use of machine learning because it is extremely difficult, and largely not the right solution for most use cases.

Project Dojo, Tesla’s Supercomputer

Dojo is the name of the neural network training system. Like a training Dojo.

Given all the data and simulations required, there is a demand for speed and capacity in AI neural network training. This is where Dojo comes in.

Dojo

Currently, it is difficult to scale up bandwidth and reduce latencies, because processors have not been traditionally designed for training neural nets.

This is why Tesla invented the DPU.

DPU – Dojo processing unit. Whereas CPUs and GPUs are not designed to train neural networks, the DPU is designed to train neural networks.

The goal is to achieve the best possible AI training performance, supporting larger complex models while being power efficient and cost effective. Elon said it will be available next year.

This effectively enhances the AI software system, improving FSD.

Dojo leverages a distributed compute architecture.

It is apparently capable of an exaFLOP, which mean is can do a super high number of calculations per second, way more than your average computer. It is a supercomputer, after all…

Tesla will also make Dojo available to other companies that want to train their own neural networks, effectively building a platform for improving neural networks. This feels like an optimum opportunity to apply the “as-a-service” business model to the world of artificial intelligence and neural network training. By licensing out the use of Dojo, Tesla may be able to create yet another revenue stream for the company.

Thay have reportedly innovated in these chips in a way that means there are no roadblocks to extremely high bandwidth.

The software stack is completely vertically integrated. They build everything in house.

Source: Tesla

As the Dojo computer and neural network data sets improve the neural network, it is likely that the company will deploy the improved brain-like software upgrades via their over-the-air software updates.

Hardware and Computer Chips

One of the biggest goals is minimize latency, and maximize frame rate. These metrics may be familiar to you if you are involved in video games & graphics.

There is a computer in the car that runs the neural network that has been trained by the massive data sets discussed above.

Allegedly, the computer chip for Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system are produced by Samsung. [1]

The importance of computer chips to Tesla cannot be overstated. Various computer chips are used in all areas of the vehicle – even in the typically non-tech intensive parts of a car: computerized airbags, seat belts, doors and door handles, etc.

Given the reliance on them, the computer chip and semiconductor shortage is an issue across the globe is certainly a hurdle to resolve. [1]

Tesla Bot

Tesla Bot – known endearingly by Elon as “Optimus subprime” – a 5 foot 8 inch, 125 pound humanoid robot.

Given that the Tesla car is already essentially a robot, the Tesla Bot will simply use all the same technologies, in a device with a shape like that of a human.

r/teslainvestorsclub - Tesla Robot Screenshot
source: Tesla

It will make use of all the same tools that Tesla has in the car… such as 8 cameras, FSD computer, etc.

Elon was unfortunately reluctant to share any specific use cases, other than stating vaguely that it will do boring, repetitive, and dangerous tasks that humans do not want to do.

There are still many unknowns. Will the Tesla Bot have features similar to Siri or Amazon Alexa / Echo?

In addition to being a large automaker, Tesla is showing that they are very much a robotics, artificial intelligence, and software company.

Disclaimer: TSLA shareholder

Sources and references

  1. Criticism of Tesla (wikipedia article)
  2. Tesla.com AI day

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Cholodny-Went: Mental Models To Know #1

The Cholodny-Went Model is an theory in biology from the 1920s that describes how light energy on part of a plant will stimulate growth of the entire plant by producing and transporting a hormone (called auxin), to other parts of the plant that don’t get the benefit of direct light exposure. This is how root systems are grown, as well as leaves and branches on the lower areas of the plant.

The Cholodny-Went theory is valuable because it serves as a model for processes in any realm – human life, business, industry, education, etc. that result in indirect improvements in other areas.

The model is a good example of how positive stimulus in even a small area can have a large positive impact on something that might be seemingly unrelated.

How can this be applied to life and business?

Self improvement: Apply the Cholodny-Went model to improve your life by realizing that certain behaviors and actions can have an indirect positive (or negative) effect on other areas of your life.

Hiring: Good employees are hard to come by. But if you can get hiring done right, the rest of your business will excel in multiple areas as a result. A company is simply made up of the people multiplied by the systems in place that allow those people to be productive. It is a simple principle: having more intelligent and skilled employees means that your company will do better.

Steve Jobs has discussed how getting “A-players” together results in future hiring becoming a self-policing phenomena where they only want to hire other A-players to work with. By hiring a few A-players at a company and allowing them to work together, a company will likely not only have more productive employees, but also impact future hiring by enabling

Exercise: Doing squats might seem like solely a leg exercise, but the effect of doing this simple workout may indirectly help stimulate hypertrophy (muscle growth) throughout the human body. Squats are so intense and require so much physical exertion that they help increase testosterone throughout the body. Leg workouts are known to have this effect as well, but squats have the greatest effect [2]. This indirectly helps you build muscle and strength in your upper body, core, and other areas. The simple act of exercise does more than improve your life physically. The act of doing hard things and pushing yourself may improve your mental and stress levels in other areas of your life.

Product development: Elon Musk has a common business mantra that goes “focus on making the product great”. By applying the Cholodny-Went principle here, we can begin to understand why Elon believes so fervently in this statement. By improving the product, this has a down-stream positive impact on other areas of the company:

  • Lower customer support cost: A better product means that the customer support team has an easier job, with fewer bugs and customer issues to solve.
  • Lower marketing budget: A better product also means that news may spread by word of mouth, so the company needs to do less in the way of advertising.
  • Better finances: a great product will be one that customers are excited to buy. If customers love the product, they will buy more of them, so the company will be more profitable.

Learning: The world of knowledge is seemingly infinite. One of my favorite instagram accounts shares a large amount of Charlie Munger Quotes.

Using the Cholodny-Went model in your own life

There are many ways the Cholodny-Went model may be applied to life and business.

As CMQ investing has discussed on his substack page, using various models when thinking about problems can help you make better decisions.

Leave a comment and share a few areas where you can apply the Cholodny-Went model to improve your own life!

Sources:

  1. https://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(02)70780-X.pdf
  2. Hormonal Response to Leg Exercise: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24276305/

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SpaceX Starship Propellant Production on Mars

Making Rocket Fuel on Mars

When humans get to Mars, Elon said the first order of business is propellant production. This means producing liquid methane and oxygen, Starship’s fuel, using only the resources and raw material gathered on Mars.

Why produce propellant on Mars?

The ability to produce rocket fuel without importing it from Earth is critical if humans want to successfully build a self sustaining base on Mars:

  • To ensure humans have consistent fuel supply on the red planet for return missions.
  • To reduce weight by minimizing the amount of fuel carried onboard Starship. Carrying less, we reduce launch mass and enable more efficient flights.

“In-situ propellant-production is critical to the space architecture needed for a long-term human presence on Mars, future interplanetary transport, and eventually, multi-planet colonization.”

– NASA

How does rocket propellant work?

Rocket propellant needed to launch rockets from the surface of a planet into orbit and beyond. Starship uses chemical fuel like methane and oxygen, in contrast to satellites and deep space probes which use electrical propulsion such as ion thrusters.

There are a few different types of chemical based rocket fuel, but they all have a few things in common.

Rocket fuel works similarly to the way gasoline in a car works, via combustion. For any combustion reaction, you need two things: a fuel source, and an oxidizer. The oxidizer accepts electrons. Because oxygen has 6 electrons in its outer shell, it accepts 2 electrons to create 8, a full outer valence shell.

For a combustion reaction, you really just need oxygen and a fuel source. The fuel could be liquid, like gasoline, or solid, like gunpowder. Rocket fuel is complicated – over the years, chemical engineers have tried different combinations of fuels and oxidizers to try to find the optimal rocket propellant:

  • Liquid Hydrogen, for example, is the most efficient. The problem with hydrogen fuel for Mars missions is that it has a boiling point of -423 degrees F, which presents a challenge keeping it in liquid state during long trips and during the friction-intensive high temperature entry burns.
  • RP-1 is another type of rocket fuel similar to kerosene, but is not suitable for SpaceX’s goal of having rapidly reusable rockets because it leaves a large amount of soot residue after use, which requires extensive effort to clean.
Chemical structure of methane. source: science.org.au

There are a few differences between gasoline and rocket fuel: In the case of an automobile, oxygen is readily available in the environment to be used as an oxidizer. In a rocket travelling through outer space, the oxidizer must be carried along with the fuel in a separate tank. Space travel means moving through a vacuum, where you don’t have the luxury of an endless supply oxidizer in the surrounding space.

To get to and from Mars, methane and liquid oxygen will be used. Although Mars doesn’t have an abundance of liquid Methane like Saturn’s moon Titan, the good news is that methane can be readily made on Mars from material that is available in the ground and atmosphere.

Key Requirements for Mars Fuel

It will be in our best interest to implement the following items into the propellant production process:

  • Minimize electrical power needs because all electric power will need to come from batteries, solar power, or nuclear power. There is no way of knowing whether or not Mars will have fossil fuels beneath the surface, and we cannot rely on this.
  • The propellant production process will be heavily dependent on chemical engineering and the ability to complete multiple chemical reactions and separations sequentially. In addition to the desired products of Hydrogen and Methane, the process will produce by-products, many of which are useable for other endeavors on Mars.
    • Nitrogen is one byproduct that is specifically useful because it is inert and non-reactive. The gas can be used used for flushing of tanks and lines through which other gases pass since it is reactive neutral.
    • Oxygen and water byproducts are both potentially valuable feedstock for making propellant oxidizer or for life support/drinking. For this reason, Mars engineers will need to consider options, means, and costs in any facility design with business analysts to determine the costs to market value of any manufacturing byproducts.

Efficiency: one metric ton of propellant per 17 megawatt-hours energy input. Starship needs 240 tons of fuel – which will require 4.1 gigawatt hours of energy input.

How long does propellant production take?

How much time does it take to make enough fuel for launching Starship.

This brings us to outlining the process of creating fuel. There are 4 key steps.

Chemical Reactions to make Methane Rocket Fuel:

Pre-Requisites to fuel creation:

Gathering CO2

Carbon dioxide is highly available in Mars’ atmosphere, 20 times as much as on Earth. We would likely use a type of air pump to gather the CO2.

Separation and removing contaminants

To obtain pure CO2, dust filtration will be important in this step of the process as well as removing the small amounts of ambient gasses including nitrogen, argon, neon, and krypton. Carbon molecular sieves (CMS) will be used to separate the carbon dioxide from the nitrogen, and a Vortex Swirl particle separator will use used as well.

As the reaction proceeds and produces methane and water, a separator will be used to remove the water vapor, leaving pure methane. This will be done by simply allowing the products to cool, so that water goes through the process of condensation then stored in tanks.

An important consideration is: How do we make sure no contaminant gasses are present with additional harmful byproducts?

The diagram below shows the reactions that will be required for producing propellant on Mars.

spaceX mars propellant production
source: SpaceX

The reactions get complicated, and while I started covering them below, I found this super helpful video on YouTube that covers the chemical reactions as well as a lot of other information about making rocket fuel on Mars.

1. Electrolysis of Water

Hydrogen is the critical component that is hard to get, which we must separate from water. We need to pump water from underground wells, use robotic vehicles to mine raw water ore.

– Robotic vehicles, such as the NASA KSC Regolith Advanced Surface Systems Operations Robot (RASSOR) prototype or the OffWorld Inc.5 smart robots, are likely candidates for mining the raw “water ore”.

Then, the water will go through electrolysis to break water into components Oxygen and Hydrogen.

Once this is done, we can use the hydrogen and CO2 from the atmosphere to run the Sabatier methanation reaction.

Note, we will have to do the electrolysis of water twice throughout.

2. Sabatier Reaction: Carbon Dioxide and Hydrogen to create Methane gas and Water.

The Sabatier methanation reaction has been recommended by many of the top researchers as the most likely basis for an ISRU propellant production processing plant on Mars.

This reaction leverages the abundance of CO2 in the Martian atmosphere to create both the methane fuel and water. CO2 is taken from the atmosphere by either freezing the gas into a solid, mechanical compression, and absorption pumping. Freezing will purify the gas, and may be advantageous.

Nickel or aluminum oxide transition metal catalyst is required (why?)

The reaction has to be carried out at high temperatures (why doesn’t it happen at low temp?) There is a principle in chemistry that describes the effect of temperature on reaction speed.
“Higher temperatures mean faster reaction rates; as molecules move about more quickly, reactant molecules are more likely to interact, forming products…” – sciencing.com
Since mars is cold, the reaction has to take place in an insulated container. The good news is that the reaction is exothermic, so once it starts, there isn’t much energy required to keep it going at temperature.

This is used today on the international space station to form water for astronauts to use.

3. Carbon Dioxide solid oxide electrolysis to create Oxygen and CO byproduct.

4. RWGS (reverse water gas shift)

A way to supplement producing methane and oxygen from hydrogen and carbon dioxide.

Sources:

Bezos Bros launching 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 “Who” is building and funding emerging tech.

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.

I’m not an expert but I try to really know what the experts think and keep up to date as the experts change their mind. – Tim Urban, talking about AI.

Identify “What” is new and obscure.

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:

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

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.

Start with 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

Driving a car is the MOST dangerous thing we do every day – 40,000 people die in cars each year.

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.

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

Poor driving is amplified by distraction – checking phone notifications, texts, social feed, etc. How much can the average person be expected to maintain focus with 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.

Progress of AV’s hits an inflection point where quick progress displays itself as a steep learning curve, slowly approaching an asymptotic limit of perfectly flawless autonomous driving.

As advancement of AV’s approaches this limit, theoretically, system will never be perfect, but it will surely become good enough that the chances of a collision by an autonomous vehicle with another object is practically zero.

This is the point at which vehicles are 99.9999…..% safe, highlighted as the green line. As systems continue to be developed, we expect the “march of nines” above to approach closer and closer to 100%.

There is a big difference between a small fender bender and a fatal collision.

Before self driving technology progress reaches a point where it is statistically unlikely enough that a collision will ever occur on a road, an autonomous system will need to reach a point where the risk of fatal collision 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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