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SpaceX Archives - Answers With Joe

Tag: SpaceX

Could SpaceX Beat Artemis To The Moon? (And Other Questions)

From the mystery of what cars birds poop on to an update on the Dear Moon mission, these are the burning questions from Patreon this month.

TRANSCRIPT:

Hey today we’ve got a lightning round video, which is where I take questions from Patreon supporters above a certain level, that level being $50 a month.

Yeah, I know, that’s insane but those insane people are the ones who help keep this channel going, so I want to make them glad they made this insane decision.

And the whole “get a question answered” thing is one of their perks. But there are other perks at much lower levels, like interacting with me in live streams and zoom calls, and access to a private Discord server, this has now become a shameless Patreon ad…

Anyway, sometimes in these lightning round videos I get asked a question and the answer goes to a place I really wasn’t expecting… And today definitely had one of those. Actually 2.

So I encourage you to stick around to the end because it does kind-of spark a debate that I would really love to know your thoughts on. Anyway, let’s start this thing.

Brian Beswick
The first images from Webb are a big deal, but we also heard something big too. What’s your thoughts on the new FRB discovered?
So Brian sent me to this Space.com page where somewhere in this sea of ads is an article about a weird new FRB that was discovered last month.

FRBs are Fast Radio Bursts and they’ve been kind-of a mystery for a while now, I think the first one was discovered in 2009, and they’re basically extremely short, like millisecond-long but can release as much energy in a millisecond as the sun does in 3 days.

And the spooky part? Nobody knows what causes them!

The most likely candidates are pulsars or magnetars but it’s still not completely settled.

ANYFART…

What’s interesting about this new one is instead of the burst happening in milliseconds, this one is 3 seconds long, so like thousands of times longer.

And it also happens in regular intervals so they’re saying it’s kind-of like a universal heartbeat.

So poetic.

They named it FRB20191221A and what’s cool about it is they think it could help shed some light on what these things are but it s regularity could be used to help measure the expansion of the universe.

By the way, the instrument that detected it is called CHIME, which stands for Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment. Love me some acronym porn.

Fishtail
Are you planning on doing a speaking tour?

I was actually just talking to someone about that the other day. It’s being talked about. Nothing concrete but… Yeah. Maybe.

John Regel
Have you ever been recognized in public outside of Creator-specific venues? If so, would you mind sharing an anecdote about it from your perspective?

It doesn’t happen a lot, but it happens enough for me to always be aware that someone might recognize me, so I try to be on my best behavior.

The most recent one that really surprised me was when I was in Ireland, I got recognized in Galway, and I’m sorry his name dropped out of my head but that was a nice surprise.

For anybody who bumped into me out in the world, I guarantee I walked away from that encounter second-guessing everything I said.

What’s even weirder is when people see me and they don’t say hi but then they send a tweet at me like, “I saw you at the mall today.” (shiver)

But feel free to say hi if you see me, it’s always nice to meet viewers in person because this is so impersonal.

Fishtail
What do you think about YouTube thumbnails that are intentionally designed to make you “rage watch” the video? Example: The Empire Was Right in Star Wars.

I hate them. And I hate even more that they work.

“Rageonomics” is a term I’ve heard lately.

I don’t think anybody wants this to be a platform where people have to resort to that to get people to watch their videos. But here we are.

Robin Tennant Colburn
A friend told me that someone at a local scientific institution told her birds poop on blue cars more than any other because “that is the color of water, and birds tend to drop their and their offspring’s poop over water.” I started searching the internet for corroboration but I keep seeing the number one “pooped upon” car color is red. Is there a truth out there? Or is it really maybe just random?

RobIn always brings the weirdest questions. And I love it, because weird is fun. But I also kinda hate it, because they’re really hard to answer.

So Robin, love ya… But hate ya.

So I found this article from a site called the Charm City Circulator, which I can only assume is out of Baltimore, but it’s all about car repair and maintenance, but anyway, according to this article, a study was actually done on this in the UK by an auto parts company called Halfords.

They looked at over 1100 cars in five cities and found that red cars got it the worst at 18%, blue cars at 14%, black cars at 11%, white at 7%, gray or silver got 3% and green only 1%.

Now, they don’t provide a link to this study, so I don’t know exactly what their methodology was, like did they count individual droppings or was it just by car? Like did a car with 5 turds count the same as a car with 1 turd?

Actually the percentages only add up to 54 so I’m guessing they looked at 1100 cars, and of the cars that had turds on them, these were the colors.

But there’s still a lot I can’t know like what locations did they pick because different socioeconomic areas are going to favor different types of car, some of which are more popular in certain colors…

I feel like I’d want to see an experiment where they take 5 different colored cars and park them under a balcony, or around a tree and see if one consistently gets more than the others.

Like this is one of those studies that could be done in a million different ways and could lead to a million different conclusions.

In fact, the British Trust for Ornithology pushed back against the study saying, “We do know that birds can be attracted to certain colors during display but droppings on cars is probably more to do with where you park; if you park where birds roost, then you are going to get more droppings on your vehicle.”

So there you go guys, scientists have proven that if you park where birds poop, you’re more likely to get pooped on. (The More You Know jingle)

The article goes on to say that birds might poop on red cars because they think it’s food, because it’s the color of blood, so they’re drawn to red cars and therefore poop on them more.

Another theory is that red is a mating color, so birds might seek out that color to use to attract mates. And one theory even suggested that clean cars get pooped on more often because the bird sees their reflection and it scares them enough to poop.

“Females would poop because they thought they saw a male they could mate with. But they’d defecate out of frustration when they realized they couldn’t mate since what they thought was an actual bird was only their reflection.”

I mean who hasn’t been so frustrated with the dating scene that they physically shit themselves?

I don’t know, I think this might be one of those things like the claim that red cars get more speeding tickets, therefore if you drive a red car, you’re more likely to get pulled over?

And people look for all these reasons why that happens, everything from profiling to the color red messes with the cops’ radar guns…

When what it really comes down to is red is a popular color for sports cars. And people who drive sports cars tend to drive faster… Because that’s what they’re made for. Hence, more speeding tickets.

I imagine this is something like that, maybe red cars are more popular in places that have more pigeons, or I don’t know, park under trees more or something like that.

Assuming that this was even a real legit study, it was done by a company that sells car wash accessories. So take from that what you will.
And I saw a butt-ton of articles that referenced this study from back in 2012, it looks like it was first reported in the Daily Mail and even they don’t have a source linked so I can’t find the actual study to save my life. If any of you can find it, feel free to share in the comments.

So yeah, there’s a chance this whole study could turn out to just be one of those internet things where someone says a thing and then it gets passed around and eventually becomes common knowledge.

Fishtail
If Zoe chews shoes, whose shoes does she choose?

She wasn’t picky. Thankfully she doesn’t really do that anymore.

John Regel
How many Lowe’s could Rob Lowe rob if Rob Lowe could rob Lowe’s?

Okay, what happened on Patreon this month?

 

Cole Parker
What’s the update on Dear moon and would you think about applying to go yourself and do a few Answers with Joe in orbit around the moon!

Well they closed down submissions a while back and I did think about applying – and chose not to.

There really hasn’t been a lot announced, especially this year, but if you haven’t been following it since the first announcement, here’s some of the broad strokes…
It was first announced in 2018, it was the brainchild of Yusaku Maezawa and the original idea was he was going to invite 8-12 artists and entrepreneurs to fly around the moon on the SpaceX Starship so that they can share that experience with the world.

Actually, it was originally going to be on a Crew Dragon in 2018, but it would have required going up on the Falcon Heavy, and it hadn’t been crew rated yet. Eventually SpaceX decided not to crew rate the Falcon Heavy and focus on Starship.

So he upgraded the plan for Starship and set it for 2023.

In March of last year, Maezawa announced that he was going to open up 8 seats to the general public and encouraged people to apply with videos detailing why they wanted to go. Apparently they got over a million entries from all over the world.

They did close down applications later on last year and haven’t really made any announcements other than to say that they have narrowed down the finalists and are doing medical checks and testing qualifications and stuff.

And it hasn’t been publicly announced, but there are rumors that the crew has been picked… But I don’t know who those people are.

The only name that’s been floated around is filmmaker Damien Chazelle, he shot the movie First Man with Ryan Gosling and apparently in an interview Maezawa invited him to join if he wanted.

To my knowledge he hasn’t accepted. But they’re being super secretive around it so who knows.

Asking if I would ever want to do something like that… I mean… I’m probably not American Hero material but no, I’m not gonna be first in line to do something like that.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely a dream of mine to go to space someday and I hope space tourism becomes so commonplace that it becomes like taking a cruise or something, I would totally be up for something like that, but no… I’m not gonna be one of the pioneers.

I’ll just talk about it on my channel.

As for timelines and how realistic they are, it’s still being planned for 2023 from what I can tell but since SpaceX still hasn’t gotten it to space yet… Consider me super doubtful.

Now something I keep saying ad nauseum is that I think it’s going to be a while before they’ll be flying people on a Starship that involves propulsive landing, especially if the landing involves catching it in the chopsticks.

It’s just such a brand new thing that’s never been tried before (riff)

I know this is a private flight so it’s outside of NASA’s authority but I don’t know if they still have to be approved by the FAA… I’ll confess to ignorance on that.

So I think it’s more likely to get pushed to 2024 at least but if it does, that brings up a really interesting debate… Who’s gonna get there first? Dear Moon or Artemis II?

Because Artemis II is scheduled to go up in 2024, and it’s going to have almost the exact same flight plan.

Just sit with that for a second… if SpaceX sends a dozen artists and poets and dancers around the moon in a fully reusable ship BEFORE NASA can send 4 highly trained astronauts in a single-use ship that costs $2.2 billion… (shrug) I mean, I don’t think we’ll ever see SLS again.

BUT… And this is a big butt (sir mix-a-lot flash) that’s only if SpaceX can develop the Starship fast enough. Because as of the day this video goes out… assuming everything goes to plan… NASA will be ahead. Their vehicle will have gotten into space.

Of course, SpaceX could be right behind them, they might be doing their first orbital test in a month or two, so… Yeah. 2024 could be really interesting.

I’m curious to hear who you’d bet on in the comments but yeah… I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

 

 

Is SpaceX REALLY Bringing Down Launch Costs? (And Other Questions)

In today’s Lightning Round video, I talk about whether SpaceX’s reusability is actually bringing down launch costs, discuss deep ocean research, consider how fecal transplants could reverse aging, and other equally weird things.

TRANSCRIPT:

Hey gang, summer’s here and I’m gonna be doing a little bit of traveling, maybe to places where it’s not 100 degrees at 3am

But don’t worry, the videos are still coming your way. We planned ahead of time and some videos, like this one might be a little bit more abridged than usual.

So this is a lightning round video, these questions come from Patreon supporters who support the channel above a certain tier, this is a perk that comes along with supporting at that level.

And I want to take a second to sincerely acknowledge and thank everybody who supports this channel on Patreon or in the channel memberships – I know I always shout people out at the end of the videos but I wanted to do it here at the beginning where everyone can see it.

Truth is, the YouTube algorithm has been not nice to the channel lately. It’s not showing my videos to nearly as many people as it once did. And I’m trying really hard to not go full clickbait monster just to get YouTube to show my stuff to people. Having said that, I might be changing things up around here, we’ll see.

The point is Adsense revenue is all over the map, there is no way I could keep this going based only on that, so people who directly support this channel and the channel sponsors are why I’m still able to do this. And I know I don’t thank you enough.

If you don’t or can’t support directly, I still love ya – I just appreciate you watching. Hell, if you’re still watching me right now and have not skipped forward, you’re a hero in my book.

I’ve been doing this for 7 years and the only reason I’m still able to do it is because of the support you guys have given me. It truly means the world to me.

But anyway, that’s all I wanted to say, just wanted to get that out there. Let’s get on with this video. Roll that beautiful logo animation.

Cole Parker
I’m very curious how much money SpaceX has saved reusing the Falcon 9 compared to non-reusable companies like ULA or Ariane Space. Is it really moving the needle on the cost of space flights?

This is a good question actually. And it gets complicated.

Launch costs are actually very difficult to compare because just like the supply closet of a nursing home, there’s a lot of “depends” involved.

For example, are we talking low Earth orbit, geostationary orbit, is it a private or government customer, because different entities will have different regulatory requirements that change the cost, etc.

So I could point to various prices points but we’re really just looking for a general pattern here.

I’ll link down below to this article from the Visual Capitalist that charts the launch costs of various launch vehicles and as you can see, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are significantly less expensive per kilogram than the other rockets listed.

This is not a complete list of options, obviously, there’s no Arianne Space or Rocket Lab on here but clearly the cost of launching has gone down over time.

I think to me, the best sign that SpaceX is shifting things in the space industry is the fact that renewability is now something many other companies are pursuing.

Blue Origin’s New Glenn will reuse the booster, Rocket Lab’s Neutron will reuse the first stage, and ULA’s Vulcan rocket will recover the engines, making it partially reusable.

And of course if they pull off Starship, that would push launch costs down to insane levels, I’ve seen it as low as $600 per kilogram. Even the lowest Falcon 9 numbers I saw were around $3500.

Which is why an anonymous space lobbyist told Politico back in February that his space industry clients are, “shitting the bed” over Starship.

So as closely as all us space nerds are watching for the first orbital Starship launch, I guarantee you, the other space launch companies are watching even closer.

John Regel
In futurism, is poo the answer to life extension?

And in history, MegaRaptors… thank goodness for extinction events?

Mark Hoffman

Do you think an adequate amount of resources are being allocated to oceanic floor/deep sea exploration and documentation? Clearly there is so much more “out there” worth exploring and many oceanographers advocate for more intensive research, and for valid reasons. Would you agree?

You know, they say we know more about the surface of Mars than we do about the ocean floor on our own planet. Probably true.

Do I think there’s adequate resources being directed at ocean floor exploration? I mean, what are you trying to do?

If it’s just about learning everything there is to learn about the ocean floor, I’m in favor of that. Not sure if it’s as important as, say, spending on clean energy and plastic cleanup.

One compelling reason to study the ocean floor is to look at how life evolves in extreme environments like we might find on other planets; might give us a better idea of what kind of life there could be outside of Earth.

There’s probably a lot we could learn about geologic processes that we can’t observe from the land.

We could probably learn a lot about how we’ve polluted the oceans and how it’s affected life way down there.

Also, I mean let’s face it, there’s a ton more ocean floor than there is dry land on this planet.

But don’t worry. Some day they’ll find oil below the Marianas Trench and we’ll suddenly be spending a lot of time down there.

Mark Hoffman

What likelihood do you think the war in Ukraine will have on instigating needed advancements in renewable energy implementation? Personally I feel that it will result in a greatly missed opportunity that enacts only token changes 😥.

Oh, Mark, Mark, cynical Mark… Yeah, you’re probably right.

As I record this, I finally got solar on my roof, and there’s 2 takeaways I have already, one is that the app that connects to the system is awesome.

It shows how much energy you’re generating, how much is coming in from the grid, and how much you’re consuming. And brother, this is a game-changer.

I’ve known other people who got solar and talked about how they immediately became kilowatt nazis and were just obsessed with how much they were pulling out of the grid – and I’ve started doing that already.

I feel like every home electrical system should have this, even if you don’t have solar, just being able to visualize how much energy you’re using is just so helpful.

Like without this all you can do is look at your energy bill, but it doesn’t tell you exactly what you’re doing and how it affects your bill.

This real-time feedback is awesome, the A/C comes on and I can pull it up and see it happen and how much it’s pulling – it’s kinda fascinating. Anyway…

The other thing is the feeling of relief that comes with being energy independent.

My energy bills aren’t going to go up or down according to the whims of a global energy market – at least not to a level that affects me that much.

I talked recently in an OLF podcast about how I’ve felt that way about my EV with the gas prices going through the roof. Knowing that global conflicts and industry shenanigans don’t affect me…  Guilt. A lot of guilt. That’s what I do with happy emotions.

All that was a very self-congratulatory way of saying… Maybe?

Maybe this is the thing that shakes people up, that gets across the fact that… maybe we should have a different energy system than the one where authoritarian strongmen can spin every industry in the world into chaos on a whim.

The energy independence that comes with renewables is something that I don’t think gets talked about enough, both on a household and societal level.

But I hear ya, dude, we’ve seen a lot of crises like this over the years and… well we’re still in the same spot. So enthusiasm is dampened a bit.

Starlink Is Getting Some Company | Answers With Joe

Starlink is SpaceX’s satellite internet service that everybody is excited about. But… Satellite internet has been around for a long time. And now, there are several competitors working on similar projects. So let’s look at what’s so attractive about LEO satellite internet and how Starlink’s competitors stack up.

TRANSCRIPT:

You know, sometimes I think we’re a little too hard on ourselves.You know, sometimes I think we’re a little too hard on ourselves.
Yes, the world is garbage right now, fascism is on the rise, nobody can agree on anything, we clearly are not very good at being an internet species.
But really… Why would we be?

This level of connectivity has never been experienced before in the 200,000 year history of our species.
I mean up until just a couple hundred years ago most people rarely even traveled one town over because the only way to get around was on a horse, and most people didn’t even have those.
Things had always been this way. They had never not been this way. Most people didn’t even know how to read because everything they needed to learn came from the hundred or so people they knew in the village around them.

And every technological leap in access to information has been followed by a period of social and political upheaval.
I mean, the printing press was invented in 1440 and 7 decades later the Christian church split in to protestants and catholics. And they’re still fighting about it.(on screen:Guttenberg’s printing press – 1440Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses – 1517)

Today, we have these things in our pockets with the compendium of all human knowledge and the ability to connect with literally anybody in the world at the tap of a finger. And this is literally like 15 years old. And the internet that powers it is barely 30 years old.
I mean, of course we’re going to be really bad at this.

True story, I have been skiing once in my entire life. And it was a nightmare.
I was falling over left and right, literally couldn’t go more than 10 feet without beefing it, it was super embarrassing but the worst part about is was that for some reason… I thought I would be good at this.

I’d seen skiing on TV and in the movies, it looked like a lot of fun, and I’d played sports, I had good reaction speed, I rode a skateboard back in the day, I got this.
Turns out sliding down a mountain covered in snow, when you have spent your entire life in the flattest place on Earth, which almost never gets any snow… is terrifying.
It was like I was driving through San Francisco on black ice and bald tires.
And I kinda melted down at the whole thing. Because I had this expectation – a ridiculous one in hindsight – that I should be good at this.

I feel like that’s the whole world with the internet right now.

We’re really beating ourselves up for how badly we’re bungling this, I’ve done plenty of it myself. But… We are literally learning how to share the world with a digital superorganism.  One that we created.
So maybe the expectation that we would be good at this is as ridiculous as me thinking I could ski.
And yet, we continue to lean into it. Because that’s what we’ve always done, and despite the initial disruptions to the fabric of society, over the long run our quality of life has gone up because of it.
And soon, if SpaceX has their way, the entire planet will be covered with fast, cheap satellite internet. That’s the Starlink project that we all know about but SpaceX isn’t the only company working on a satellite internet swarm.

There are several in the works actually. So let’s take a look at why this is such an attractive idea to these companies, which ones are likely to succeed, and what this means for the world as we know it.

History of Satellites

So, everybody’s pumped for satellite internet with Starlink.  But here’s the thing — satellite internet has been around for a while.
In fact, Telstar 1, the first US communication satellite was launched in 1962, just 4 years after Explorer 1, which I talked about in my video about the Van Allen Belts last month.

It was designed at Bell Labs for AT&T, and it was the first satellite that beamed live TV to the US and Europe. It also carried the first satellite phone call.

And… it made the first satellite data transmission between two computers. In 1962.
So technically there was satellite internet… before there was an internet.

Unfortunately, Telstar 1 was functional for less than a year. And the reason for that can also be found in my Van Allen Belts video. I was talking about a nuclear test called Starfish Prime that was aimed at the Van Allen Belts: Yeah, this was one of those satellites.

Eighteen months later, a satellite named Syncom 3 became the first to launch into geostationary orbit.It provided live coverage of the Tokyo Olympic Games
And this was a big deal because geostationary orbit means that the satellite is in the same relative position over Earth at all times. It does this because it’s far enough away that the orbital speed matches the speed of the Earth’s rotation.
It’s really far away, like 35,786 kilometers (22,236 miles) far away, but it allows you to send and receive signals 24/7.

Whereas a satellite in low Earth orbit would be whizzing by overhead and could only send and receive signals in short windows.

Geostationary Earth Orbit

Plus you can cover a massive area from Geostationary orbit, in fact, it only takes 3 satellites to cover the entire planet.

So yeah, the communications industry has used Geostationary orbit ever since, increasing the power of their satellites over the years to accommodate the increased traffic.

Just a quick side story here, my grandparents when I was growing up lived on a ranch out in the middle of nowhere and they didn’t have access to cable so their only option was satellite TV.
But this was way before the direcTV dishes you see on the side of people’s houses, no their dish was like out in a field and it was like 8 feet wide.
I could have recreated the Contact poster with that thing, I’m not kidding.

And every time you changed the channel, you could look out the window and see it… turning…
It was a lot of work just to watch Tales From The Crypt, I gotta say.
So yeah, these satellites provided live events, and phone calls and movies young boys shouldn’t be watching, but as soon as the internet became a thing, that was on there too.

DirecPC to HughesNet

In 1996 Hughes Network Systems launched the first satellite internet service called DirecPC. I mentioned DirecTV a second ago, well that was Hughes Network systems, they created DirecTV in 1994, that streamed TV, DirecPC carried internet. You get it.

Hughes Network Systems by the way, they were a real pioneer in early satellite communication – that SynCom 3 satellite I just talked about, the first one in geostationary orbit, that was them. Or… it was their parent company, Hughes Aircraft Company. And if that name sounds familiar, that’s because it was founded by Howard Hughes. Yes. THE Howard Hughes. Who Leonardo DiCaprio played in The Aviator, the guy from the Rocketeer, the Spruce Goose guy.

You did not think this was gonna go all the way back to Howard Hughes, did you?
Anyway, DirecPC launched to mixed reviews, but it was faster than dial-up internet in those days.

But as terrestrial services like cable and DSL caught on, satellite fell behind. For two main reasons.

The first is that satellite systems are super expensive to upgrade.

Case in point, HughesNet — which is what Hughes Network Systems goes by now — they have satellites capable of over 100 Megabits per second download speed. But, they only advertise up to 25 Mbps.
That’s because they don’t have enough satellites to give every customer full-speed, so they have to restrict the amount each customer can get.– has a breakdown on bandwidth vs speed
They hope to fix this with a launch this year, but this single satellite cost the company $400 million. And that doesn’t include launch costs.

Launch Costs to GEO

Another company, Viasat, is planning two new satellite launches for the same reason, they’re expecting to pay between 1.2 and 1.4 billion dollars for the two of them.  
That’s a lot of money for these companies to invest, and keep in mind that will only get their download speeds up to 100Mbps. Which is way better, yes, but doesn’t really blow your hair back compared to cable and fiber internet services.

The Latency Problem

So the expense of it all is the first problem, the second big problem is latency.
And this is simply not something that can be fixed from geostationary orbit. Not without breaking the laws of physics.
Latency refers how long it takes for a user to make a request from an internet provider’s network and get a response
You can think of it as the time between clicking a link and loading a web page

When the nearest node in a provider’s network is 35,786 kilometers above your head, getting a response will take some time
One way of looking at this is if you want to send a message to someone just a mile away via GEO satellite, the distance that signal has to travel to get there and back is basically the same as sending the message all the way around the planet. Just to go one mile.

The absolute minimum latency for a GEO round trip is about 240 milliseconds. HughesNet and Viasat average over 600 milliseconds. In more real-life terms that means a little more than half a second.
For comparison, terrestrial internet can go as low as 10 milliseconds. In practice, anything under 100 is considered fine for everything except gaming.
LEO in the 1990s

Half a second may not sound like a big deal, but satellite internet customers have been complaining about latency since the early days of HughesNet.
It’s just clunkier, and especially as more work has gone online, more communication has gone online, this starts to matter even more, and by the way, in some financial applications it can actually be a detriment.

And yeah, the only way to fix this problem is to bring the satellites closer to Earth. But to do the same thing in LEO, you need a lot of satellites.

Where GEO satellites can hit 1/3 of the planet from 36,000 kilometers up (22,000 miles), something from lower than 2000 km in LEO can only hit a small area, plus there’s the fact that in order to stay in orbit in LEO, that small area is moving across the surface of the Earth at 25,000 kilometers per hour. So the only way to cover the entire circumference of the Earth is to have a bunch of satellites that can relay back and forth with each other.

Passing the signal from one spot on the ground to the other like a game of hot potato. This drastically reduces the distance the signal has to travel, but again, it takes a LOT of satellites to do this, especially considering the Earth is a sphere.

In the interest of overcommunication, there are some orbits in between GEO and LEO like the Molinya (mole-nya) and Tundra orbits that can provide full coverage with just a handful of satellites, these are mostly used for things like GPS though.
But the idea of an LEO constellation of satellites to provide internet service goes all the way back to the 90s.

Teledesic was formed in 1994, backed by Bill Gates and they planned to build a constellation of 840 satellites. This later got scaled back to 288, and then to none. The company folded in 2002.
Several other companies have tried this as well and they all failed. The cost of launching that many satellites is just too high. The idea is solid, most people agree that it would work and probably be better than geostationary satellites. If anybody can afford to get them up there.

Enter Starlink

Which brings us to Starlink.
SpaceX, with their reusable rockets have brought the cost of launches down low enough that this crazy idea is actually kinda possible.
Especially combined with the fact that satellite technology is smaller than ever before with cubesats becoming popular, you can launch hundreds of these things at a time.

So yeah, if you’re SpaceX, it’s kind-of a no-brainer.

Assuming it’s that much better than traditional satellite internet.
Right now, Starlink has around 2000 Starlink satellites at 550-570 kilometers up and over 145,000 customers so far. And according to Ookla, they’re averaging at around  97.23 megabits per second download speeds. For context, HughesNet’s Geostationary satellites are averaging 19.3 Mbps.(Disclaimer: 1468 of the satellites are currently active, others were prototypes, have gone offline, or been deorbited)

As for latency, a camper on Pikes Peak recently recorded between 34 and 36 milliseconds. But… he was on a mountain.
SpaceX is promising speeds will eventually reach 300Mbps, but as more customers use it, it’s actually starting to slow down. But considering they still have like 40,000 satellites to go, it looks promising.

No wonder Viasat has tried to get their FCC license revoked.
Last year they were part of a group that filed papers saying the Starlink launches would be bad for the environment. No conflict of interest there. Actually, it gets funnier because those two super expensive satellites they’re scheduled to launch? They’re going up on a Falcon Heavy.

Kiss the Sky Goodbye

Conflict of interest, maybe… But are they wrong?

42,000 satellites is a LOT of satellites. It’s actually eight times more than all the satellites in orbit when they started launching Starlink satellites in May 2019.
The reason for so many is because they want to create multiple shells of coverage, with constellations at different altitudes.
Current plans call for 5 shells, all with 20 vertical miles between them.

All right, now might be time to talk about the elephant in the room.

From almost the very first Starlink launch, concerns have been floated around about the effect Starlink would have on ground-based astronomy.
Especially in some of the earliest prototypes, they reflected a lot of sunlight and had a lot of people worried about what that would look like with a sky full of them.
They have made some progress since then to add less reflective coatings and “visors” that help reduce the glare, but it’s not perfect.

Honestly I never knew how to feel about that argument because anything Elon Musk related is going to face a ton of criticism because he’s so polarizing, sometimes it’s hard to separate the signal from the noise.

Like I know these telescopes have powerful algorithms to account for atmospheric disturbances, I just assumed they would be able to account for satellites as well, I mean those are nothing new, they’ve been up there for a long time.

So how much of a problem is this really? I decided to ask someone who knows far more about this than myself, so recently, I had Dr. Becky Smethurst on my podcast where we spent most of the time talking about the James Webb Space Telescope, but while she was there, I asked her about the Starlink problem. Here’s what she had to say:
So it’s not an insurmountable problem. But it is a problem.
And while it might feel satisfying to point fingers at SpaceX and Elon, the fact of the matter is, it might be an inevitable problem.
Because people have been wanting to do this for a long time, since before SpaceX even existed. And there are multiple companies working on similar constellations right now. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Project Kuiper was first announced in April 2019, with the goal of launching 3,236 satellites to an orbit of between 590 to 630 kilometers (370 to 390 miles), slightly higher than Starlink.
But they’ll be using more robust satellites that can support up to 400 Mbps download speed, which would be faster than Starlink.
So far, Amazon has invested more than $10 billion in Project Kuiper, and there have been some speed bumps along the way, but they plan on launching two prototype satellites in the 4th quarter of this year.

As for who will launch these satellites, for now they’re using ULA’s Atlas V and the ABL Space Systems new RS1 rocket but you know once Blue Origin gets the New Glenn off the ground – at this rate sometime in 2040 – they’ll be using that to get them up there. 

Regardless of what they launch on, their license with the FCC requires them to launch half the constellation by 2026, so expect to hear a lot about this in the next few years. 

OneWeb

Another company working on a satellite constellation is OneWeb.
OneWeb is based out of the UK and at one point, they were planning on a constellation of nearly 50,000 satellites.

Then they went through funding issues, reportedly due to the pandemic, this led to a bankruptcy, and once they came out of bankruptcy, their plans slimmed down to 6372 satellites.
Of which so far, they’ve launched 394.
These are in a much higher orbit than Starlink and Kuiper, at 1200 kilometers (745 miles), but so far they seem to be doing really well. A test in 2019 showed download speeds of 400 Mbps with a 32 millisecond latency.

A more recent test in 2021 got 165 Mbps and 45 ms latency, so it’s clearly fluctuating but it’s competitive.
Now one thing that differentiates OneWeb from Starlink and Kuiper is they’re targeting commercial uses instead of residential consumers.
Hughes Network Systems, which I mentioned before, is an investor in OneWeb and according to their press release, they’re targeting “enterprise, government, commercial aviation and maritime, cellular backhaul, and community Wi-Fi hotspots” to quote the press release.

Man, Hughes really wants to do this constellation internet thing.
One more quick thing, because they’re targeting commercial customers, they can charge more for their terminals, so their terminals are going to be between 1000 and 1500 dollars, as opposed to Starlink’s terminals which go for $500.
It should be noted however that SpaceX is selling Starlink terminals at a loss for now, they apparently cost $1300 to make. But that’s their gamble to get early adopters on board.

Telesat

Last, but not least, we come to the Canadian company Telesat.
Telesat has been in satellite communications since 1969, and they were founded as a crown-owned company, meaning the government of Canada holds a significant interest.
A deal in 2021 injected 1.44 billion Canadian dollars into the company. Canadian dollars are just like American dollars, except they’re all stuck together from the maple syrup.

Most of that investment was to fund Telesat’s “Lightspeed” satellite constellation
Much like some others on this list, they’ve changed the proposed size of their constellation multiple times.
In 2016 they announced plans for 117 satellites in LEO, this was later raised to 209, then 298, which is the current plan, BUT… They applied to launch a total of 1671 satellites, just to ensure they can meet future demand.

78 were slated to go up this year in 2022, but dates have slipped to 2023. The reason for that… Is because they’re supposed to go up on the New Glenn. (shrug)
But that’s okay, they may need the extra time, they’ve apparently had trouble getting satellites built because of global supply chain issues.

Like OneWeb, Lightspeed satellites will orbit at a higher altitude, around 1000 kilometers, and they’re expected to have latencies in the 30-50 millisecond range
Also like OneWeb, Telesat plans to target businesses and governments, as well as existing satellite customers like airlines and cruise ships.

But here’s the twist: One of the conditions of the government funding is that they also provide services to indigenous communities. Which they will do a better job of because they’ll be flying in a hybrid orbit that sweeps over the poles, so they’ll cover areas that Starlink won’t.

A Thousand Points of Light

So that’s what we can expect in the coming years but before we wrap this up, there is one more concern regarding these satellite swarms that’s worth talking about.
We already talked about the astronomy problem. But there’s also the problem of… what happens when there’s that much stuff in space?

I’ve talked on here before about the possibility of Kessler syndrome, which is when collisions in space create space debris which cause more collisions and on and on until the planet is trapped inside a shell of metal debris circling the Earth 15 times faster than a speeding bullet that will shred anything that tries to go through it.
That’s fun.

Not only would it trap us here on Earth, it would remove our ability to use satellites at all, which would be a massive setback for our species.
There’s a lot we totally take for granted that are only made possible by the satellites circling overhead.
And obviously doubling or quadrupling or octupling the number of satellites in orbit only increases the potential of something like that happening. So is this a bad idea?

It’s something to be concerned about for sure but one could make the argument that these Low Earth Orbit swarms might be safer in the long run than launching stuff up to geostationary orbits.
Because satellites in low Earth orbits decay really quickly. There’s actually tiny amounts of atmosphere going up hundreds of miles that creates minute drag forces on LEO satellites that over time slow them down enough that they do eventually burn up in the atmosphere.

Satellites in the general orbit of Starlink would come down in a few years, maybe even less than a year.
Whereas satellites in geostationary orbit are essentially there forever, like thousands of years.

And for that, there is a company worth mentioning and that’s Privateer Space.
Just launched last year and back by Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak, Privateer Space aims to be focused on “space environmentalism”
Their plan is to monetize the removal and recycling of space junk – how exactly they plan to do this has not been fully announced but if you want to know more about it, their chief scientific adviser Moriba Jah talked about it on Startalk, I’ll put a link to that down below. 

It’s probably way too soon to tell if their plan is the ultimate fix for space junk, but it’ll be interesting to see how that comes along.
So, what’s the verdict on these satellite internet swarms? I’ll be the first to admit I haven’t been that bullish on Starlink personally, I don’t think it’s a replacement for terrestrial internet, and like I said before, satellite internet has been around for a long time, is it really worth clouding our skies for a split-second less latency?

It just always seemed like more of a niche application to me but that’s really easy for me to say sitting where I am in the middle of a city with gigabit internet service, if I lived out in the middle of nowhere or was in an underserved indigenous community, something like this might be a godsend.
Having access to cheap, fast internet anywhere in the world is probably a good thing. And with the workforce becoming more mobile these days, which has been completely accelerated by Covid, yeah, something like this might be a game changer.

I’ve become kinda fascinated by the whole van life movement lately and the fact that you can live and work effortlessly anywhere you want. I have friends that are living like that and they send pictures of their “office” that day and it’s like working in a freaking postcard, it’s crazy.
But I’m interested to hear what you think, is this a service you could get some use out of? Are you a Starlink beta tester, and if so what has been your experience with that? Or, do you think it’s a dangerously ill-conceived idea that’s going to ruin astronomy and clutter up the skies? Discuss.

The Evolution Of The SpaceX Starship

The SpaceX Starship is in its 4th iteration and is officially entering the testing phase with the production of the Mark 1 prototype that was unveiled on Sept. 28th 2019. Today we look at the history of the Starship and look at the design changes that have occurred along the way.

2016 –
SpaceX CEO Musk unveiled details of the space mission architecture, launch vehicle, spacecraft, and Raptor engines that power the vehicles at the 67th International Astronautical Congress on September 27, 2016.

Science Stories You’ll Be Hearing About In 2019

2018 was a big year for science and technology, and 2019 is shaping up to be more of the same. Here’s some of the big science stories we’ll be following in the coming year.

On May 20th of this year, the scientific community will be redefining four metric units of measurement, the kilogram, the Kelvin, the mole, and the ampere.

The Event Horizon telescope is an attempt to image the black hole at the center of the Milky Way, known as Sagittarius A. The telescopes actually did the imaging last year, and the team is in the process of collecting the data and analyzing it, but the expectation is that this year we should get, for the first time, an actual image of a black hole

in the first half of the year, Tesla will finally unveil their long-awaited $35,000 baseline Model 3, but it’s also expected sometime this year that Tesla will unveil the Model Y, their crossover model based on the Model 3 platform. and a lot of people are also speculating that at the Model Y reveal, Elon may do a “one more thing” thing and introduce the Tesla pickup.

Other EVs that will be released in 2019 include the Audi e-Tron, the Mercedes EQC, an update for BMW’s i3 with a larger battery, the Jaguar iPace, the Volvo XC40, the Porche Taycan, the Kia e-Niro, The Kia Soul EV, the Hyundai Ioniq, and the Mini Electric.

New Horizons, the probe that sent us those amazing pictures of Pluto back in 2015, is now flying through the Kuiper belt, and just passed the asteroid Ultima Thule, which we’ll be getting detailed images from this year

Hayabusa2 from JAXA will collect soil samples from the asteroid Ryugu this year.

Similarly the Osiris Rex mission from NASA arrived at the asteroid Bennu just about a month ago on December 3rd and will spend 2019 scanning and imaging Bennu.

The Parker Solar Probe will make 2 flybys of the sun this year, one in April and one in September.

There’s also a slew of moon landings coming this year that are worth following.

ISRO, the Indian Space Research Organization plans to land on the moon with Chandrayaan-2 which they expected to launch last year but it’s been pushed back to January 31st.

But before that, the Chinese National Space Administration landed Change’4, which actually launched in December, on the far side of the moon.

SpaceX plans to start performing hopper tests this year for their Starship, previously known as BFR,

But perhaps no piece of news or space related event this year can come close to the first tests of the SpaceX Dragon 2 capsule that will finally return the US to manned missions to space.

At the same time, the Boeing Starliner capsule will see space for the first time in March with an uncrewed demo mission, followed by a scheduled manned mission in August of 2019.

The Evolution of the SpaceX Falcon 9

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SpaceX is on a roll lately with the launch of their Falcon Heavy rocket, but the real workhorse of the SpaceX lineup is the Falcon 9. So let’s look at the development of the Falcon 9 and how it got this way.

SpaceX is the most successful private rocket launch company in the world, and it’s due in large part to the Falcon 9 rocket.

And the journey to the Falcon 9 began with the Falcon 1 in 2006. The first three launches of the Falcon 1 failed, and with only one more shot before the company went bankrupt, they finally got into orbit on the 4th launch.

Plans for a larger Falcon 1e were scrapped, as well as a Falcon 5, so that they could move forward with the Falcon 9 v1.0.

With this first version of the Falcon 9, SpaceX was able to win a contract to service the ISS through NASA’s COTS program by proving that the Dragon capsule was capable of carrying out resupply missions.

SpaceX then focused on reusability and developed the Falcon 9 v1.1, which they used to test landings over open water, at the same time testing vertical take off and landing with their grasshopper vehicle.

But it was the next version, the Falcon 9 Full Thrust, that was the first to land, first on a landing pad at Cape Canaveral, and then on a drone ship.

Incremental improvements lead to the Falcon 9 Block 4 and Block 5 that will launch for the first time this April.

Earlier this year, SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy, which is 90% reusable, making spaceflight even more sustainable, but the ultimate reusable rocket is the upcoming BFR, which is completely reusable.

This is the ultimate implementation of the SpaceX vision.

The SpaceX Falcon Heavy Is Ready To Launch (Ft. The Everyday Astronaut)

Elon Musk’s dream of landing on Mars is a little closer to reality as SpaceX prepares to launch its Falcon Heavy rocket this month, and it couldn’t be more exciting.

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TRANSCRIPT:

The Falcon Heavy was first announced in 2011 at a news conference in Washington DC, but the idea had been floating around since 2004. And the idea was pretty simple.

SpaceX had the Falcon 9 rocket, which at the time had done a couple of test runs into Low Earth Orbit so they were getting a feel for what it was capable of.

And what they saw was it was a great workhorse to take cargo to the ISS, and satellites to low Earth orbit and smaller payloads to geosynchronous orbit… but there were some payloads that needed more power.

So… Why not strap a few Falcon 9’s together? Boom. Done.

And that’s basically what the Falcon Heavy is, it’s three Falcon 9 cores connected together with a second stage and payload on the top of the middle core, giving it 27 engines total with 5 million pounds of thrust.

Falcon 9 rockets care called Falcon 9 because they have 9 Merlin engines on them.

Liftoff of this thing is going to be awesome. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a rocket this powerful take off but with SpaceX, the launch is just the precursor to watching them land.

So once it gets into space, the two side cores will disengage, turn around, and head back to the pad.

Then, we are going to watch two Falcon 9s land almost simultaneously. It’ll be like some kind of rocket version of synchronized diving.

The third, middle core will continue to push the dummy cargo into orbit before it disengages, turns and lands on a barge further out to sea.

So once all the first stage cores land, the fairing opens and reveals the dummy cargo, which in the case of this first test flight will be… you guessed it… Elon Musk’s personal original Tesla Roadster.

Never to be outdone in the PR department, Elon Musk announced in December that he was going to use this event to launch his personal Tesla Roadster into Mars orbit. Something he seemed to insinuate was just a joke, but… (show picture)

It’s not a joke. He’s actually launching a car into space.

Just to make it more fun, he says that the stereo on the car will be playing Space Oddity by David Bowie, though I don’t think you’d be able to hear it in the vacuum of space, but still.

And just to be clear, the car isn’t going to Mars, it’s going out to the distance of Mars, so it will circle the sun relatively along Mars’ orbit. For the next billion or so years, according to Elon.

Anyway, when the heavy goes into operation, it will be the most powerful rocket currently in use today, by a factor of 2.

And it will be 4th most powerful rocket of all time behind the Saturn V, the Space Shuttle, and the Soviet N-1, which had a tendency to explode. Every time. It never made it.

Because it had 30 engines. Mo engines mo problems.

This title will be taken back by NASA once the Space Launch System gets up and running, it’ll actually be more powerful than the Saturn V, but we’re still a year or so out on that.

The Heavy already has a couple of satellite launches scheduled, the Arabsat 6A communications satellite and Space Test Program 2 mission for the US Air Force…

There’s also a plan to carry a Dragon Crew spacecraft with two passengers on a circumlunar mission in late 2018. But that’s very speculative.

So they’re making a Big Falcon Rocket. The BFR.

The BFR combines all the power of the three Falcon cores in the Heavy with 31 next-generation Raptor engines, and a large second stage capable of hauling more cargo than the Saturn V and can land vertically, making it fully reusable.

The Raptor engines in the BFR use a liquid methane and liquid oxygen mix called Methalox as fuel because those are capable of being created on Mars, which is the ultimate destination of the BFR.

But the Raptors are also a huge step up from the Merlin engines because they work at extremely high pressure to burn more efficiently and provide more thrust.

The plan is to begin construction on the BFR sometime in 2018 and the first launch isn’t expected until 2022, but even Elon said that was optimistic.

So we may get a few good years out of the Falcon Heavy yet. But it all starts with the first test launch, which is what makes this so compelling.

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