Elon Musk’s Latest Corporate Welfare Effort?

Potentially Hazardous profitable Asteroid – 3D rendering by by Arlene Dacao

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

If the “Fire and Fury” Musk excerpt is true, Elon Musk appears to be rapidly adapting to the spending priorities of the Trump era – downplaying his climate ventures, advancing proposals for himself to be at the helm of the Trump push for exploration missions to other planets. But in my opinion there will be a terrible price to pay, if Elon Musk receives his free money.

Elon Musk pitched Trump on SpaceX’s mission to colonize other planets

BRYAN LOGAN, KIERAN CORCORAN, DAVE MOSHER
JAN 5, 2018

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk sought to pique Donald Trump’s interest in space colonization shortly after he was elected.

Musk has previously asserted that mortals need to leave Earth in order to preserve humanity.

Among the many claims made in Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” one passage described a scene at Trump Tower where then-president-elect Trump was taking meetings with tech titans like the Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, and SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

According to the excerpt, Musk had sought to get Trump interested in SpaceX’s “race to Mars,” ostensibly an effort to keep his company front-of-mind in the broad scope of national space exploration.

Read more: https://www.businessinsider.com.au/elon-musk-pitched-trump-on-spacex-colonizing-mars-other-planets-2018-1

Nobody knows for sure how much corporate welfare Musk has secured. Back in 2015, LA Times asserted Musk’s empire was powered by $4.9 billion worth of government grants.

Whatever else he is, Musk has a genius for grabbing and holding the attention of politicians, convincing them to shower his business ventures with vast sums of public money.

President Obama’s generosity with taxpayer’s money helped Elon Musk produce “green” cars only the wealthy could afford.

Much as I want to see expeditions to Mars and beyond, something feels very wrong about this approach. Musk’s planetary exploration venture, if it materializes, might well yield a successful manned expedition to Mars – but Musk’s space venture would be powered by a deluge of taxpayers’ money. The expedition would be a massive source of national pride, but financially it would be a gigantic opportunity cost for taxpayers.

What if we could do something useful, something which could provide value, a demonstration of profitability so compelling that no government would ever have to financially support another space venture?

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is putting a billion dollars per year of his own money into a company called Blue Origin. Blue Origin is focussing on building cheap space launch capability, the keystone of other efforts such as asteroid mining and space tourism.

Bezos is hardly alone – plenty of other investors are taking space seriously. Back in April this year, Goldman Sachs publicly claimed Asteroid mining – recovering high-value metals like Platinum from small Asteroids – might be a lot closer to financial viability than most people believe.

I’m not venturing an opinion as to whether Goldman Sachs is right – but the key point from my point of view is all these people are risking their own money. Not taxpayer’s money. Their own money. Sooner or later, one of these brilliant capitalists will find a way to make it work.

What happens if Musk receives free money? Why do I think there would be “a terrible price to pay”?

In my opinion, the easiest way to kill off this genuine private ecosystem of space venture capitalism would be to dump a deluge of public cash into the hands of just one player, or even a select small group of players. If Elon Musk receives a blank cheque from President Trump, the value of the private investments of all the other entrepreneurs essentially drops to zero. The risk Musk would get there first riding a tsunami of zero risk taxpayer’s cash would simply be too great to ignore. Everyone else would have to pull back until the government stopped funding Musk’s space efforts.

The private effort, the private cash invested by the likes of Bezos, will eventually produce an expedition to Mars, and many other exciting missions. But the private expedition when it comes will be undertaken for sound financial reasons. More than pride, an expedition to Mars mounted by US entrepreneurs using their own money would likely yield a profit, and wouldn’t cost taxpayers a dime.

President Trump, the US government, should stick to doing what the USA does best – removing bureaucratic roadblocks and political obstacles, so US based space entrepreneurs can reach for the stars.

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129 thoughts on “Elon Musk’s Latest Corporate Welfare Effort?

  1. Musk’s BFR has been designed so as to be self financing. Obviously, the more NASA funding it receives, the quicker it could achieve its goals. One thing I’d be willing to bet on, Spacex would put men on Mars earlier and far cheaper, than NASA ever would .

    • Guest essay by Eric Worrall
      No one cares what you think is going on.

      HE, has the power to launch….

    • A few people agreed with my point. Obviously a polarising issue – but if I was worried about stirring up a little controversy, I wouldn’t be a guest writer for WUWT.

      • The Falcon Heavy is about to launch (later this month). That’s a real vehicle capable of returning man to the Moon. Why did we wait 50 years to go back to the Moon? Bureaucratic paralysis and Congressional lack of mission and vision. Over BHO’s reign, ~$10T spent on what? Nothing to show for it. When free money is available, a smart businessman will never leave money on the table for his competitor. Gauge the person by results. Musk delivers, way beyond what NASA could have done. Moreover, because of Musk, we now have Virgin Hyperloop which will likely put Jerry Brown’s California “bullet train” in the grave before it ever makes a full length run.

  2. I have to agree with bloke down the pub. NASA and it’s prime contractors have done little to nothing to move space exploration forward. The U.S. has not had a heavy lift launch vehicle since Saturn 5 last flew in 1977. Yea that’s 51 years ago. America should be ashamed of itself. IF it was not for the 18 successful launches that Spacex flew with the Falcon 9 in 2017, America would still be far far behind Russia, China, and France in annual launches. ADD to that we haven’t been able to launch our own people to space since 2011. Paying the Russians untold Billions. ADD to the fact that NASA is still going to use Space Shuttle engines on the new SLS that is now Billions over budget and two years behind schedule, again using NASA tried and true prime contractors. Spacex is innovating like no other space launch vehicle company in the world. NASA’s prime contractors and their political leaders have abused the space launch systems since the end of Saturn 5. The greatest mistake America ever made.

    • -10:

      The U.S. has not had a heavy lift launch vehicle since Saturn 5 last flew in 1977. Yea that’s 51 years ago.

      2018 – 1977 = 41

    • I work for one of the “prime” contractors.
      Firstly it must be known that since the Mercury Redstone, NASA (actually didn’t exist just yet) HAS NEITHER DESIGNED NOR BUILT ANY ROCKETS. They buy them from us. NASA is a contracting administration which encompasses numerous scientific labs and maintenance facilities. As such this huge standing army of technicians extract a heavy burden on all space programs. The overhead is huge.

      Secondly, it take a very long time to develop a reliable and safe launch vehicle. It is rocket science after all. (well actually rocket science is easy…rocket engineering is a bitch!) Just look back at the history of Space-X. Early on, they thought they could cut some corners (that out of naiveté had been overlooked) and discovered that actually little things like corrosion in fuel fittings matters. And their first attempts at propulsive landings had one of their engineers quip “We don’t have a launch vehicle as much as we have an anti-ship missile”. When it comes to heavy launch vehicles I’ve had designs in work for more than 20 years, but the funding has never materialized to proceed. Politics ALWAYS trumps space funding. Currently we are eating our “seed corn”. When the populace decides to want exploration over free healthcare we may again make progress. I’m not holding my breath.

      Lastly, one must consider the consequences for privately funded exploration ventures. Once privately discovered they will be privately claimed.

      • “Once privately discovered they will be privately claimed.”

        I have no problem with that. Most exploration has been done due to the profit motive.

      • Funny, SpaceX accomplished it’s vehicles without that overhead. Maybe we should get rid of that overhead, since it seems to slow things down and cost too much. And no, SpaceX never cut any corners–leveraged to the hilt and on a shoestring, they probably couldn’t have changed those connectors in any case.

        ” And their first attempts at propulsive landings had one of their engineers quip “We don’t have a launch vehicle as much as we have an anti-ship missile”. ” <– So what? What that proves is the superiority of their approach–they used the data gathered to land rocket stages. Then the teardown of those rockets stages let them figure out a near refuel to refly stage, good for 10 flights, the Block 5.

        " Currently we are eating our “seed corn”. " <– No, the institutions producing such monstrosities as the SLS are a fungus destroying the seed corm.

        " Lastly, one must consider the consequences for privately funded exploration ventures. Once privately discovered they will be privately claimed. " <– Excellent!

      • tomdperkins:
        Space-X was able to bypass some of NASA’s standing army by relying on efforts that had already been accomplished. eg: All the material specifications that allow these systems to perform had already been developed.

        The propulsive landing efforts had already been developed by MacDonald Douglas with the “Delta Clipper”
        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonnell_Douglas_DC-X

        The SLS was designed for a different mission, one where a lot of items were to be returned from the ISS (International Space Station). Unfortunately all they ever brought back from LEO (low earth orbit) was dirty laundry. :(
        But, many of the bad choices were made for political reasons to get the jobs in the correct congressional district. and have been demonstrated by such efforts as the single stick heavy launcher or the dictate to use an SRB (solid rocket booster) from the STS as a manned launch vehicle (snicker).
        Regarding the STS: On this we are in some agreement as I spent a good bit of time convincing the decision makers on the uselessness of wings in space. In this regard I seem to have had some effect.

        The other downside from non-collaborative work is that much is compartmentalized and not widely disseminated. This actually stifles development time because you have multiple organizations working separately with much duplication of effort. I wonder how far Space-X would be if the had to develop everything by themselves first?

        “If they appear to have seen so far it is because they stood on the shoulders of giants.”

      • Rocketscientist: Your brief summary sounds about right. I grew up in and around the aerospace industry. In junior high we sat on Cocoa Beach one weekend waiting for a launch with one of the German scientists working at Redstone. He could believe the crowds Cape Canaveral launches attracted. Starting in the 1970s American progressives began moving us away from space exploration. Their mantra was basically it was a waste of money that could better be spent on earth. They started moving more and more money in to social welfare programs and away from space exploration. I was always amazed that we got such programs as Hubble.

      • And, rocketscientist, amid all the NASA-bashing, we must remember that Congress told NASA how to build the Space Launch System, requiring significant reuse of Shuttle systems and components. Which is why it is, quietly, called the Congressional Launch System. And Congress is full of rocket scientists and rocket engineers.

    • Elon knows where is supper hangs with Trump, just like he knew where it was with Obama – smart people pivot

    • I really hate saying it, but subsidizing SpaceX does appear to be cheaper than getting NASA to launch big ones again.

      • Contracting a supplier to provide goods and services is not “subsidizing”. It is hiring. America is getting something in return.

      • Trump’s nominee for NASA administrator, Rep. Jim Bridenstine, is in favor of using private companies for space exploration, so Musk and the rest will be happy if he gets the job.

      • If you look at how the American airlines started – by the state subsidising small carriers to deliver mail by air in the 1920’s. Not a lot of work, and not a lot of subsidy – but it turned aviation from a military curiosity to a domestic service, with corresponding development of aircraft themselves. Could be the same thing for space!

    • Mike Brown – I agree. Musk has kicked the pit props from under the turgid, ineffective and expensive providers and will in the end probably be seen to have saved trillions of taxpayer’s money that would otherwise have been spent with the existing providers.

      Musk may not be a hugely engaging character (!), but the “nose in the trough” picture of him I don’t buy at all. He bet is considerable fortune on SpaceX and Tesla and nearly lost the lot. Besides it pales into insignificance compared to the billions spent bailing out the old guard automotive dinosaurs

      • There is an old saying: “If you want to make a million dollars in the space business, start out with 5 million.”

    • “NASA and it’s prime contractors have done little to nothing to move space exploration forward.”

      well their muslim outreach program to send muslims to mars tanked………. :D

      • No, they just sent the Muslim kids to Space Camp. I think that cost American taxpayers about $500,000.00.

      • Retired_Engineer_Jim wrote: “NASA didn’t “kill” the STS – a President did.”

        That’s true. Now we are going to spend many more billions of dollars to develop a new heavy-lift vehicle that won’t be any better than the Space Shuttle Launch System.

        Retired_Engineer_Jim wrote: “NASA didn’t pick Dan Goldin – he was picked by a President.”

        That’s true, too. But it doesn’t change the fact that hiring Goldin was the worst mistake ever made in our space program. Goldin was a bureaucrat and he managed to turn a good potential space program into a fiasco. A hugely expensive fiasco.

        Retired_Engineer_Jim wrote: “NASA does whatever its political masters tell it to do.”

        That’s true, too, except when NASA leadership is made up of Obama appointees who defy their new political masters (at least in the Climate science category).

    • “the U.S. has not had a heavy lift launch vehicle since Saturn 5 last flew in 1977.”

      Not true. The space shuttle launch system was also a heavy-lift launch system, that could have provided all the heavy-lift the U.S. needed to support a Moon and Mars base.

      The Saturn 5 could lift about 130-150 tons to low-Earth orbit. The space shuttle could lift about 130 tons to low-Earth orbit. And with liquid-fueled boosters instead of the solids, it could have lifted even more. And with reusable liquid-fueled boosters, it could have been cheaper. But at the time, we had fools running NASA, unfortunately.

      Imo, killing the Space Shuttle launch system was one of the worst mistakes NASA ever made. That has set back the human space program by decades.

      NASA’s biggest mistake was employing Dan Goldin as NASA administrator. His decisions practically destroyed NASA’s human space program by choosing to build the worst space station design available and by placing all his emphasis on launching the space shuttle as many times as possible.

      Anyone who is interested can go to Usenet’s “sci.space.policy” and search for TA for an indepth critique of Dan Goldin, by yours truly. I was not kind to him. And he didn’t deserve any kindness.

      Of course, you can get pretty much the flavor of my posts on Usenet from this post. :) Goldin was a disaster.

      • Spacex website has the comparison of the different rockets systems up to but not including Saturn V and SLS. Falcon heavy is a heavy lift and is capable of almost 3 times the lift of the shuttle. Saturn V and SLS are considered Super Heavy Lift Launch Vehicles. If the information is correct on the Spacex website the space shuttle could only get 53,000 lbs to leo.

      • “Falcon heavy is a heavy lift and is capable of almost 3 times the lift of the shuttle. ”

        The Falcon heavy can lift 390 tons to low-Earth orbit?

        I’m being facetious. :)

        I’m looking at the SpaceX website:

        http://www.spacex.com/falcon-heavy

        and the only thing I see here says the Falcon Heavy-lift vehicle can put about 32 tons of cargo in low-Earth orbit. Is that all? Or am I not looking in the right place?

        The Space Shuttle Launch System (the Space Shuttle engines, solid rocket boosters and the External Tank) could put 130 tons of cargo in low-Earth orbit (space shuttle = 100 tons + cargo capacity of 30 tons =130 tons).

        If you remove the space shuttle and replace it with a cargo carrier, either on the side or on top or bottom, you can put about 130 tons of cargo into low-Earth orbit (minus the cargo carrier weight). You could actually put the huge External Tank in orbit along with 10-20 tons of leftover propellants in the ET, although you couldn’t carry a big cargobay payload on that kind of flight.

        The Option C space station design, one of three designs submitted to the Clinton administration in the 1990’s, used a habitation module (15 feet long and 27.5 feet in diameter) attached to the bottom of the ET, and was to be launched using a regular space shuttle launch. The only restriction being the space shuttle couldn’t carry much cargo in the cargo hold.

        With this combination, the space shuttle could put the External Tank and attached habitation module into low-Earth orbit, and the habitat with the addition of the huge ET (153 feet long and 27.5 feet in diameter) would create a space station larger than the International Space Station, with just two space shuttle launches. The second launch would bring up the solar panels and various other pieces of equipment.

        Musk would have to launch about four Falcon Heavy-lift vehicles at 32 tons each, to equal one Shuttle Launch System launch.

        I hear Musk is getting prepared to launch his automobile into space using his new Falcon Heavy. Going to send it to Mars.

        I said in another post (that has apparently disappeared) that if I were a billionaire with an interest in space development, I would have bought the Space Shuttle Launch System off NASA and could have probably bought it pretty cheap. Then I would be way ahead of all these other guys (depending on how many billions I was worth:)

        We should already have a base on the Moon and Mars and we could have done both for less than it cost to put the International Space Station in orbit, if we had done it properly. Imo, of course.

      • Looks like the Falcon Heavy-lift can lift about 70 tons to low-Earth orbit. I didn’t look close enough. :)

        That’s good, but still not as good as 130 tons.

      • TA,

        NASA didn’t “kill” the STS – a Prsident did.

        NASA didn’t pick Dan Goldin – he was picked by a President.

        NASA does whatever its political masters tell it to do.

    • Respectfully disagree. The shuttle stack was a pretty decent heavy lifter in the 300k to LEO range. Problem is that actual payload was only 50K (100+k if you took the ET to LEO).

      Here’s how I do the math (such as it is):

      Orbiter weight – around 200K #
      Max payload to LEO – just under 50k #
      ET to orbit – 58k# (plus 5-10k #of ullage)

      One of the things they should have done was sold the 4 remaining orbiters to outfit for turnkey ET-based manned (or man tended) orbiting platforms all in the 300k# range. It’s a variation on the old Convair wingless orbiter concept.

      But that’s just me. Cheers –

    • Mike Brown – January 5, 2018 at 3:51 am

      The U.S. has not had a heavy lift launch vehicle since Saturn 5 last flew in 1977. Yea that’s 51 years ago.

      Mike B, pay no attention to your naysayers, you were absolutely correct with your stated “51 years” figure.

      The “last flew in 1977” date has nothing to do with when it “first flew in 1967” or if it could have made additional flights after 1977 (or 1973), …… to wit:

      The Saturn V (pronounced “Saturn five”) was an American human-rated expendable rocket used by NASA between 1967 and 1973
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_V

      So, ….. 2018 – 1967 = 51 years

      • The last S-V launch was Skylab 1, May 14, 1973. There were three additional S-1B launches between May – Nov 1973. The last S-1B launch was ASTP July 1975.

        Most of the remaining Apollo hardware in various places is actual flight hardware from cancelled Apollos 18 – 20. Cheers –

  3. Seems like a lot of financial pundits are looking at 2018 as a make-or-break year for Tesla, and are already beginning to write-off Solar City, so maybe this is a last-gasp by Musk.

    However, as the comments, above, point out: There may be room in this world for a classic rent-seeker if they can, at the same time, do something of value.

    • SpaceX seems to be a good, well managed, company. Whether it’s because of Musk or in spite of him I have no idea but I like their innovation and output.

    • We should cut off the subsidies from things we can get cheaper, as in electrical production and automobiles

    • SolarCity no longer exists, it was bought out by Tesla. Also Musk is no rent seeker, GE and GM lobbied for the subsidies Musk’s enterprises have taken from them. That makes GE and GM the rent seekers, Musk is more like Robin Hood.

  4. Just run a competition, funded by the players themselves.
    Down-select a shortlist of winners after proof of concept.
    Share of public vs. private funding can be negotiated.

    • There already is a competition funded by the players. It’s called capitalism, and has bee ongoing for some time.

  5. “but Musk’s space venture would be powered by a deluge taxpayer’s money.”

    As opposed to NASA doing it?

  6. Eric, your anti-Musk bias is showing again. SpaceX and Blue Origin are remarkably similar. Both were started by silicon valley billionaires who invested a great deal of their own money in the venture to get it going. Both are building reusable rocket boosters to lower the cost of access to space. Both are/will sell their services to private industry and the Government alike and if they don’t provide value to their customers, they will go out of business. If you don’t like the way the government spends our tax dollars, then you need to aim your criticism there, not at the companies that are providing what the government wants to buy. That’s like blaming the liquor store for someone being a drunk.

      • Mark,
        I don’t know about his solar business, and I understand that the battery factory received some local and state tax benefits, but neither Tesla nor SpaceX have received any direct subsides from the government. So I fail to understand your categorization of Elon Musk as a “subsidy farmer”. As far as I can tell, all companies take maximum advantage of all the tax breaks, write-offs, credits, etc. that they can. How is Elon any different?

      • “The federal government has capped the $7,500 credit at a total of 200,000 vehicles per manufacturer; Tesla is about a quarter of the way to that limit. In all, Tesla buyers have qualified for an estimated $284 million in federal tax incentives and collected more than $38 million in California rebates.”

        Elon Musk’s growing empire is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies

        http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-hy-musk-subsidies-20150531-story.html

  7. My principle worry is for the rest of the Universe. Heaven forbid but what if a Liberal Progressive escaped the confines of this World and made it into the Cosmos at large? Imagine the first alien contact as our Liberal colonist insists that the aliens reconsider their inflexible gender assignments and demands aliens respect the colonist’s pronouns.

      • Well that would certainly confuse the heck out of the aliens as they encounter more rational embers of our species. it might doom us to be forever known as the “oddballs”.
        But, why should we assume aliens even understand the concept of gender?

      • But, why should we assume aliens even understand the concept of gender?

        Why, of course because genders are fundamental to the concept of life — all 17 of them.

      • Michael Palmer, gender is a social construct.
        “Sex” is fundamental to “our” concept of life.
        Humans are comprised of 2 “sexes” , male and female (with a few non viable 6 sigma variations).

      • But might not genders – and mixing genes – be a significant, possibly a ‘key’, part of evolution?

        Auto

      • Auto,
        Evolution simply happens. It has no preferred direction or goal. It is simply a series of random mistakes (improper sequencing of the genetic code) that cause physiological changes, some big, some ever so slight. Most changes are inconsequential. If the change finds some use, good for the possessor. if it doesn’t, well then it may not make it to the second round.
        Mixing genes just increases the variations of random mutations.

        Personal psychologies are up to the individual involved, however expect others to be confused as well as to the evolution of the nomenclature.

  8. The technology is here ( read science fiction ) it has all been done on paper.
    Talking about paper,what is needed ?
    A big 3D printer and
    $ and more $

  9. And further “But the private expedition when it comes will be undertaken for sound financial reasons.”

    And this remains true. If its financially viable to explore space then someone will do it for profit. But I wouldn’t count on it being in everyone’s interests when profit motives are driving the agenda.

    But nobody’s doing it yet. Or if they start soon, then it’ll be behind Musk’s ventures just like electric vehicles have also been behind Musk’s efforts with Tesla. Musk is the visionary. Nobody else was stepping up in the areas he’s pushing.

    • There are few successful scam artists who are not visionaries who have the power of vision to envision the scam and to identify the marks who are the potential victims. (In this case, the American taxpayers as a category.)

  10. SpaceX is saving money for NASA by contracting them much lower launch costs. $133 million for up to seven astronauts to the ISS instead of $70 million per seat paid for the Russians’ 60 years old Soyuz launcher today.

    Musk has of course been using the climate panic hype for his solar and electric businesses. But the only thing on his mind is Mars! Solar panels, electric vehicles, batteries, tunneling, launchers, communication satellites, AI. It’s all done in order to get himself to Mars. AFAIK he doesn’t do anything at all that isn’t getting him to Mars. He has just taken advantage of the political climate scare. Now he will instead emphasize that everything he does is made in America and that it will make America great again. Every entrepreneur has to adapt to the political currents. Elon Musk will walk on Mars, he’s dead set on it and fantastically enough look capable of making it happen. The nay-sayers will look awfully stupid after the fact.

    Mars’ surface is the size of all land mass on Earth. There’s some value to that, the future will certainly show. All these billionaires investing heavily in space exploration now, is not happening just because they happen to have a lot of money by chance and a crazy idea. These are the world’s best money makers. All of space is free to take, that’s by far the best investment they’ve ever done. Human kind hasn’t even seen any real estate yet compared to what will come.

    • “SpaceX is saving money for NASA by contracting them much lower launch costs. $133 million for up to seven astronauts to the ISS instead of $70 million per seat paid for the Russians’ 60 years old Soyuz launcher today.”

      Former NASA administrator Dan Goldin was a big fan of making the U.S. space program dependent on the Russians. That’s why we are where we are today.

  11. one small change: Gov should continue science based info gathering to support such enterprise. The Geological Survey is a universally successful data gatherer of data on the planet’s substrate that has been used by entrepreneurs to find mineral, metal and fuels resources efficiently. It also serves a host of other important purposes of benefit to the community at large.

      • If taxpayers are footing the bill for retrieving the platinum or whatever which is then the property of the “entrepreneur” (read scam artist) then the price can be minimal and the “entrepreneur” can “make out like a bandit.”

      • It will always be cheaper to mine anything on earth than it will be to mine it in space.

  12. Mr Musk should rethink the methods currently used to get into space. If you ignore all the bells and whistles we (not really ‘we’, the UK’s gutless and spineless politicians dropped out of the technology decades ago) are still using ICBMs to put men into orbit.

    There is another way. SSTO, single stage to orbit. Cheap access to orbit, and Mars is a doddle.

    Put a billion dollars into Reaction Engines Ltd for a start. See https://www.reactionengines.co.uk/ HMG gave them £50 million, NASA has evaluated the project. Mr Musk, what are you waiting for?

    JF

      • @ Julian Flood January 5, 2018 at 12:21 pm

        True for Skylon as well. It is also SSTO, and with a fantastically high cost for it’s dry pounds and a very high mass fraction compared to it’s fuel weight. It also has a drastically limited payload which can’t make up for it by flight rate even if it flies once per day.

    • Tom you and I may have crossed paths in the past. :)
      Yes you hit the nail on the head: SSTO’s are extremely dependent on payload mass fraction. For those unfamiliar with the concept: it is the fraction of useful stuff that can be delivered to LEO compared with the size of the vehicle needed to get it there.
      ?
      The margins are too slim to non-existent.
      Staging works!

      BTW once in LEO how do you plan to fly around, or are you suggesting that SSTOs only work for payloads who bring their own OMS

  13. All of the apparent relative and temporary competence considerations aside, if you want to turn Musk into NASA, give him NASA’s money and 25 years. He’ll be doing social justice outreach by then too.

  14. Interesting side note: saw a great PBS show on the Voyager missions. During the final phase of production, it was discovered that they would require a great deal more metallic covering than originally planned.

    Now, the window to launch was only months away, but the normal NASA procurement process (as per all large government organizations) was much, much longer.

    So the team caused a brief shortage of aluminum foil in Florida, and the rest is astronomical history.

    The point: while private business may be better at most things than large government run agencies, sometimes those agencies can bend or break enough rules to get things done.

    http://www.businessinsider.com/voyager-kitchen-aluminum-wrap-radiation-short-circuit-2017-9

    • Caligula,
      “The point: while private business may be better at most things than large government run agencies, sometimes those agencies can bend or break enough rules to get things done.”

      Agreed.

      But I – and you, and many readers – have done similar things – because it needed to be done.
      I had a problem with a ship my Recognized Organisation [Classification Society or RO] had certified – some years ago . . . . .
      It was in Bristol.
      I knew our Bristol boss well.
      Three phone calls and two hours later, the problem was – at least – no longer my RO’s – the relevant ship’s certificate was in a desk in our Bristol Office, and the ship manger had an unannounced audit arranged for the following morning at 0900 – the auditor was already at the airport, and had been instructed to get his hands on the certificate on arrival.

      And some stories I have heard – without verification – from the Armed Forces – covering centuries – exemplify this.
      Needs Must – so it IS done.

      A human trait, I suggest.

      Auto.

  15. I just finished a relatively new book on an earlier entrepreneur explorer (John Astor) who with the help of a President (Thomas Jefferson) tried to establish a colony at the mouth of the Columbia River to dominate the Pacific fur trade. There are some insights that Mr. Musk and others might want to examine. https://www.amazon.com/Astoria-Jeffersons-Pacific-Ambition-Survival-ebook/dp/B00DB361N8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515172053&sr=8-1&keywords=astoria+john+jacob+astor+and+thomas+jefferson%27s+lost+pacific+empire

  16. A few years ago Musk’s personal fortune was estimated at $5 billion. Up to that point, he had received about $5 billion in government grants and other public funding. Quite a coincidence.

  17. IMHO travelling to other planets is stupid; the future is in the asteroid belt, as predicted by Larry Niven.

  18. Does anyone else have a problem with an Australian (Eric Worral) complaining about how US Tax Dollars are spent — regardless of the issue at hand?
    Eric is great — but let him worry about his government’s spending — not ours — and let him complain about his national leaders, not ours. When he has immigrated and waited his time and passed the Citizenship exam and become a citizen — and begun paying taxes here — he will have earned the right to criticize and complain like the rest of us here.
    Eric seems to have a bug in his ear about Musk — dare I say a personal bias or a thinly veiled ‘editorial narrative’ — that is displayed every time he writes anything about Musk, SpaceX, or Tesla.
    just saying —

    Eric — please feel free to defend yourself against this scurrilous charge. :-) (no harm intended…just drawing lines in the sand here)

    • Kip what happens in the USA affects everyone.

      Something to think about. People who want to help themselves to your money without you objecting first have to convince you they are doing something you want.

      Not that I’m suggesting Musk would do that, of course.

      • Eric ==> So what happens to Australians if the US embarks on a quest for Mars? You seem to think the idea is a negative or a bad thing….

        What’s your beef with Musk? Doesn’t Australia have any over-the-top self promoting millionaires of its own to criticize?

      • I think Musk is a rent seeker. Just as Musk charmed the greens with his impossibly expensive battery powered cars, now he is charming you with his space ambitions.

        I’m serious in my belief that if Musk gets his truckload of money to send a mission to Mars, it will kill the real private US space industry. And that would be bad for everyone, not just people in the USA.

        Why do you think Trump is hesitating to fund Musk? Someone with Trump’s experience must understand the issues I have just described, more than anyone.

      • Eric, I think he’s more like Elmer Gantry though perhaps without the drinking.

        Elmer Gantry (1960) – Rotten Tomatoes
        https://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/elmer_gantry

        Elmer Gantry (Burt Lancaster), a drunken, dishonest street preacher allegedly patterned on Billy Sunday, wrangles a job with the travelling tent ministry conducted by …

        Based on his actual business ‘skills’ with Tesla (apart from sucking in True Believers and tons of taxpayer dollars) I expect one or more of his rockets to blow up or perhaps veer off into deep space.

      • Just to follow up on my Jan. 5 comment (above) which included:

        “Based on his actual business ‘skills’ with Tesla (apart from sucking in True Believers and tons of taxpayer dollars) I expect one or more of his rockets to blow up or perhaps veer off into deep space.”

        This just happened:

        “On Sunday [Jan. 7, 2018] night at 8:00 p.m. EST, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched the secretive Zuma satellite into space aboard its Falcon Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral. However, less than a day later, the WSJ reports that the secretive spacecraft built by Northrop Grumman for the U.S. government military industrial complex, and worth billions “is presumed to be a total loss after it failed to reach orbit.”

        https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2018-01-08/highly-classified-spy-satellite-total-loss-after-spacex-mission-fails

    • “Does anyone else have a problem with an Australian (Eric Worral) complaining about how US Tax Dollars are spent — regardless of the issue at hand?”

      Not me. If I can call France and Germany and South Australia stupid for intending to spend billions of their dollars to try to fix “Climate Change”, then I don’t see why Eric can’t comment on stupid U.S. government spending.

      Like Eric said, a lot of things the U.S. does affect Australia, too, in one way or another. It’s a small world afterall.

  19. I can’t see where Musk has succeeded at anything other than eating up taxpayer’s money. His electric cars and trucks are often behind schedule in production. Most are very, very expensive. He tied together thousands of little batteries, charged millions and can keep the lights on in South Australia for a few minutes if the wind turbines shut down again. Not impressive.

      • $7,500 credit per car.

        CREDIT, not deduction.

        About 20 years ago my State offered a credit for wood chipper purchase (air quality improvement was the rationalization). I did not acquire a free wood chipper at the expense of the other taxpayers in my State. I admit that I thought about it.

        Paul, do you think that the EV credit is necessary & will create a long term market change for the better, or will it be a short term boost/bubble?

        Do you think the solar credits/subsidies will (are necessary &) will create a long term market change for the better, or…?

        Do you think the original railroad land grants were necessary to create a long term positive market change, or were they an over the top give-away? (weren’t those rich railroad guys called robber barons from the very beginning?)

  20. “If Elon Musk receives a blank cheque from President Trump, the value of the private investments of all the other entrepreneurs essentially drops to zero. The risk Musk would get there first riding a tsunami of zero risk taxpayer’s cash would simply be too great to ignore. Everyone else would have to pull back until the government stopped funding Musk’s space efforts.”

    Eric? Where have you been for the last 15 years???? You speak as one ignorant of the history of SpaceX and the 25 years of commercial spaceflight before SpaceX.

    First, your idea, that SpaceX, as opposed to Tesla, is easily massively fundable by the WH, ignores the hatred of the Alabama congressional delegation, and their allies from Florida and Texas. It is led by Senator Richard Shelby, Chair of NASA’s Senate funding committee. His unwillingness to fund the COTS-D/Commercial Crew program, started under President Bush, for *anyone* in space launch who is not dependent on his power to appropriate NASA money for space launchers built in Northern Alabama, has demonstrated for the past 9 years, at minimum, what the prospects are for SpaceX. There may be purchases of flights on SpaceX rockets, but SpaceX is going to dominate only if their $7 million flights in their fully reusable BFS/BFR launcher become reality with payloads of 150 tons. If SpaceX succeeds in that, on whatever schedule, then they deserve the lead position in space launch.

    Beyond that, Tesla is not SpaceX. SpaceX has had funding through rounds A-H, with private investors who know that letting the government’s cost+ contractor corporate culture take hold will mean the end of their intentions to build a transportation system for settling the Solar System. Musk holds 75% of voting shares, but can be sued by other investors if he tries to dump those intentions.

    It is true that Tesla got the government to help, but *only* because no congressional coalition stood in the way. With SpaceX, Shelby’s SLS/Orion coalition would go to the wall to stop development funding of the magnitude you imply. This article is a really ignorant summary of Lexington Institute propaganda. Lexington Institute is the mouthpiece for the cost+congressional contractor’s club, schlepping for SLS/Orion.

    • Tom, great comment on the politics and purse strings.
      Yes, I’ve been through the cycle several times.

    • Good post, Tom, on a topic that doesn’t get much coverage. Congress critters are definitely an obstacle to our space program sometimes.

  21. Hello Eric…
    Thank you for trying your best.

    Hopefully, Elon one day will find it in his strength and ability to thank you too.

    From my point of view, the bigger problem, that Elon faces at this very moment in time, has more to do with his ability and strength to engage or not in a very clear public declaration of his victim hood status when it comes to Depp State and his relation – affiliation with it…

    From my point of understanding, even tomorrow could be considered as too late, if Elon fails with this…

    Elon happens to be a very clever guy, and if this thing of Deep State and his affiliation with it happens to be a little more than just a silly conspiracy theory, especially when it comes to Elon’s position, then the guy has seriously to consider whether in the end HE happens to be a victim or not….as most likely being the case of a victim.

    Failing to clearly publicly declare such as, and in same time failing to make amendments in a open clear attempt to depart from such ex affiliation, will render one as not a victim…Bound to stand up for him self…

    I know this seems and “sounds” a bit silly and maybe too much to expect, but you see Elon is one who actually knows better than any one else about his given position at this moment……and hopefully this Deep State thingy is just a figment of imagination……..so he may not have to worry at all, hopefully.

    You are welcome my friend..:)

    cheers

  22. It is a great idea to establish colonies of humans on other planets and Elon Musk should be one of the first people that they send there. Hopefully, it will be a far away planet too. Unfortunately, if there is intelligent life already on that planet, they would probably send Elon back immediately.

  23. Elon Musk is like Steve jobs with the cult-like following and a somewhat smaller reality distortion field but he is unlike Jobs in that so far he has none of Steve’s success. It would be like if you get to the end of the yellow brick road, find out there is a man behind the curtain and somehow you are even more impressed.

  24. Why the fragmented efforts of various billionaires, countries, and organizations to approach a mission as important to the world as Mars exploration? If Russia and the US can jointly man the international space station and even agree to build a moon-orbiting space station together, whatever happened to this kind of collaboration? Maybe collaborative work on Anti-Gravity Propulsion Systems for instance.

    IMO the world needs to get together in a combined global effort. This is far too important for a greed/power/influence fuelled country vs country, investor vs taxpayer ‘space-race’.

    Let’s approach this as citizens of the Blue Planet.

  25. Did someone invent the force field required to protect space travelers from the intense DNA-scrambling radiation?

    =====
    Most of the dangerous radiation in space consists of electrically charged particles: high-speed electrons and protons from the Sun, and massive, positively charged atomic nuclei from distant supernovas.
    =====

    Working safely on the moon – what it might look like…one day:

    (Imagination courtesy of ASRC Aerospace.)

    =====
    “Portable designs might even be mounted onto “moon buggy” lunar rovers to offer protection for astronauts as they explore the surface.”
    […]
    It sounds wonderful, but there are many scientific and engineering problems yet to be solved.
    […]
    “But, who knows, perhaps one day astronauts on the Moon and Mars will work safely, protected by a simple principle of electromagnetism even a child can understand.”

    https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2005/24jun_electrostatics/
    ======

    I heard that Musk was planning to send one of his heavily-subsidized electric cars to spend a billion years in orbit around Mars, launching this month. I guess a billion years gives us time to solve that little radiation problem. :)

  26. Does it sometimes see that Musk is self-consciously modeling himself on Heinlein’s D.D. Harriman?

  27. I forget who but someone wrote that the reason Musk and Bezos are doing space is not for the money (although they will make plenty of it) as they have enough already. They want to be D.D. Harriman.
    Stop quoting that stupid LA puppytrainer article Eric.It is lazy and makes me wonder about your other articles.
    SpaceX gets NASA money for delivering stuff to orbit. I’m sure Fedex and UPS etc get the same for delivering stuff elsewhere. There may be some other funding to develop things to NASA spec. If I was Trump I’d tell NASA that all services will be provided by commercial suppliers and no you don’t get to tell them how to do it or design the vehicles just as I or you do not get to tell Boeing and Airbus how to design the airliners we fly on.

    • Good comment Mike.
      The COTS/CRS programs Space-X developed the Falcon-9 under was pay for performance, at first for milestones (COTS) and then for deliveries (CRS). If the milestone wasn’t met or the delivery not made, no payment. Essentially the government is/was a customer paying for a service. This is unlike the usual cost-plus way of doing things where you pay-as-you go and if it doesn’t work you pay-as-you go to do it again (or cancel it with money lost). The program was/is a huge success for NASA and saved taxpayers massively. Some of the other comments also make my head spin. Reading that Musk has “no accomplishments” just floors me. If someone is able to watch a Space-X landing of a Falcon 9 on a barge at sea and think the man has accomplished nothing… I guess you are not into space! ;-)

      On another note, I think it is great that Bezos is investing a billion of his own money into Space, I think the competition will produce even better results. At his current net worth though he can probably comfortably lose a billion if his space bets don’t pay off. Early on Musk bet his entire (lesser) fortune on Space-X and nearly lost it. I think he has more skin-in-the-game as they say.

      From wiki (but sourced to the final report):
      NASA’s Final Report on the Commercial Orbit Transportation Services program considers it an unqualified success and a model for future public-private collaboration. Compared to traditional costs-plus contracts employed by NASA, such as the $12 billion Orion (spacecraft) contract, the unprecedented efficiency of the $800 million COTS investment resulted in “two new U.S. medium-class launch vehicles and two automated cargo spacecraft”.

  28. Musk is clearly a at best a sociopath but mostly a psychopath.

    Big on charm and manipulation low on actual performance, a con man.

  29. https://www.nasaspaceflight.com/2018/01/china-aims-record-breaking-year-40-launches/

    Here is another prime example of why the U.S. desperately needs Spacex to be successful. Particularly this year with Falcon Heavy. IF and this is a HUGE IF Spacex can deliver with Falcon Heavy like they have with Falcon 9, America MIGHT be able to get back into the driver’s seat. And IF Spacex can deliver on crewed flights in 2018, America can take it’s space program back from the Russians.

    GO Spacex Go!!

  30. I didn’t go on a date tonight, I woke up really upset this afternoon, my face was soaking wet, my dreams are worse than reality, like waves crashing over me, so much has happend I need time to slow my appetite and grow, become stronger, life is a crushing pain, continusly

  31. I seriously doubt that anyone is going to Mars, any time soon. We have pretty much used up all of our Pu238, which was the premiere battery material for space exploration. Even if we do start producing it again, it will take years to accumulate enough to manufacture the RTGs for one mission. We should have started twenty years ago, but nobody in government wanted to address the issue of building the nuclear reactors to do this.

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