Category: space

The Sun Becoming a Red Giant

Without the SUN, life on our planet would not exist.

Earth would be a lifeless, ball of ice.

It is the enabler of plants, water, heat, creating the entire ecosystem.

But the sun has a dark side.

Solar flares can interrupt power lines and radio signals causing blackouts.

Solar rays can cause skin cancer, which affects over 3.4 million Americans every year.

Sunscreen is the best defense, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a pain in the ass.

Its surface temperature of the sun is 10,000 deg. F.

90% of the sun is hydrogen, and while it might seem like a star that’s 300,000 times bigger than Earth would exist forever, it consumes 5 million tons of that hydrogen every second.

And one day, our Sun will die.

When stars die, they typically expand into a giant supernova releasing dust and other matter.

Our sun, however, is not big enough to become a supernova.

Instead, our sun will explode into a massive red giant.

The Sun will eventually engulf Mercury and Venus, while bombarding Earth with unlivable amounts of solar radiation

All plants will be burned to a crisp.

Rivers, lakes, and oceans will be baked dry.

Life on Earth will be extinct.

As life becomes uninhabitable on Earth, the goldilocks zone of our solar system will shift towards the outer planets.

This means other places in the solar system – even the moons of Jupiter and Saturn could be suitable for life.

But this will be temporary.

Shortly after the sun has shed its outer layers, it will condense to become a white dwarf, which is the small but immensely dense core of a dead star.

Planets in our solar system will continue to orbit this dead star, but will be too cold to sustain life.

If humans are to survive, we will need to develop space travel and colonization tactics.

The good news is that humanity has about 5 billion years left until the Sun begins to turn into a Red Dwarf.

But we need to continue focusing on developing deep space travel technologies immediately.

May scientists believe the Great Filter is real.

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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:

  • 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

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

“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

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

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

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

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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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 in Orbit 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.

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