Saturday, 12 January 2019


I have a love-hate relationship with Elon Musk. I love much of what he is trying to do, and his grand aims. I hate much of the way he goes about it, and in particular how he communicates. These latter feelings are not helped by the Musk fanbois online.

But he aims high, and when he delivers, he can really deliver. His company SpaceX have already revolutionised transport into space with their semi-reusable rocket system, Falcon 9. Not willing to rest on his laurels, for the last three years he has been heavily trailing a new fully-reusable rocket/spacecraft duo designed, so he claims, to take up to 100 people to Mars.

Yes, that is two Mars-related posts in a row.

The system has changed over the years, with the system downscaling to 9 meters diameter (probably from 12 metres) and, most recently, from carbon-fibre to stainless steel - a change that is probably worth a post of its own. It has also changed names several times, from ITS (Interplanetary Transport System), to BFR (Big F***ing Rocket), and now to the (IMO lame) 'Starship'. The initial launch site was announced as being a new site they were developing at Boca Chica in Texas, just a few miles from the Mexico border.

In December, keen-eyed observers noticed some unusual activity at Boca Chica. Engineers (allegedly agricultural ones) were building some tank-like structure that many thought might be a water tower.

Obviously a water tank

Spacecraft are built inside buildings by highly-skilled aerospace engineers. They are not built outside, exposed to the elements - and certainly not by agricultural engineers. There's no way this could be a spacecraft ...


As the structure grew and more parts became visible, it soon became clear that a real vehicle was being built. Later on, Musk announced this is actually a development version of the new BFR (I refuse to call it 'Starship') spacecraft that will be used to test systems. It is not the first time they have done this: a few years ago they developed a testbed for Falcon 9 landings called Grasshopper, as shown below. This new rocket will be performing a similar role for the Falcon 9's much larger sibling, and has already been named 'Starhopper' by fans.

And now, in what is an incredibly fast time, assembly has finished on the test BFR. And it is ... remarkable.

This is not a render.

I think this looks truly stupendous. And for scale, that is a human standing underneath it. Yet at about 30-40 metres, this behemoth is shorter than the 55-metre actual rocket, and has three rather than seven engines. And this is only the second stage: the first stage booster that will loft this high up into the atmosphere before returning to land will be much larger (63 metres high with 31 engines).

I wish SpaceX all the best with this. If function follows form, then this will do well. I can't wait to see it do its first hop in a few months time.

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