Watch Elon Musk Unveil His Latest Plan For Conquering Mars


Watch Elon Musk Unveil His Latest Plan For Conquering Mars
- Pitch Deck
01 Oct, 2019 Uploaded by: ashi digital
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Presentation Script

Do something at least three times, they say, and it becomes a tradition. SpaceX is securely in that territory with its annual presentations in September by company CEO Elon Musk on the company’s next-generation launch vehicle, even as the vehicle, and its name, have changed. In 2016, Musk gave a presentation on what had recently been renamed from “Mars Colonial Transporter” to “Interplanetary Transport System”: a giant spacecraft launched atop a massive booster—both reusable—intended to carry 100 people to Mars or other destinations in the solar system (see “Elon Musk’s road to Mars”, The Space Review, October 3, 2016). The vehicle was still in its early design stages, and the talk at the International Astronautical Congress in Mexico remains famous, or perhaps infamous, for the legions of SpaceX fans who lined up hours in advance and then peppered him with odd questions and requests. “The best design decision on this whole thing is 301 stainless steel,” Musk said. A year later, Musk returned to the IAC, this time in Australia, to discuss the vehicle, now known as BFR (formally Big Falcon Rocket, although the “F” had another meaning, of course.) The event lacked the chaos, or the questions, of the 2016 event, as Musk described how they had made the vehicle somewhat smaller, yet still able to place 150 metric tons into orbit or even be used for point-to-point passenger transportation (see “Mars mission sequels”, The Space Review, October 2, 2017.) Last year, Musk eschewed the IAC for SpaceX’s own factory in California. The vehicle was still called the BFR, but with tweaks to its design. It now had a customer: Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, who said he planned to charter a BFR flight around the Moon in 2023, carrying a group of artists for a project called “#dearMoon” (see “SpaceX’s BFR gets closer to Mars, by way of the Moon”, The Space Review, September 24, 2018.) This year, Musk came to the company’s test site in South Texas, near Boca Chica Beach east of Brownsville, to provide an update September 28. Five years ago, Musk was here to break ground on what was then planned to be a spaceport for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets (see “A highway’s ending is a spaceport’s beginning”, The Space Review, September 29, 2014). Now, the location is both a development and launch site for that next-generation system, which has changed names again: the upper stage is called Starship, and the booster Super Heavy. In past events, Musk had animations of Interplanetary Transport System/BFR, along with videos of Raptor engine tests and images of hardware being built and tested. This time, he had a vehicle itself: the Starship Mark 1 prototype, assembled in recent months at Boca Chica and its two halves brought together just the day before. Towering 50 meters over the crowd of media, employees, and other guests, the Starship’s stainless steel exterior reflected the soft light of sunset. By the time Musk arrived to speak, night had fallen, and the Starship took on a ghostlier appearance, its sci-fi rocketship shape outlined by backlit floodlights. While Musk had used past events to announce updates in the design of the vehicle, the biggest design changes in the last year had come out months earlier, including the decision last fall to switch to a version of stainless steel called type 301 rather than use carbon composite materials, as previously planned. Musk argued, both months earlier and at this weekend’s presentation in Boca Chica, that steel, counterintuitively, was lighter than carbon composites given the conditions the vehicle would experience. “The best design decision on this whole thing is 301 stainless steel,” he said. “At cryogenic temperatures, 301 stainless actually has about the same effective strength as an advanced composite or aluminum-lithium.” At high temperatures, that stainless steel performs much better than composites. “For a reusable ship, you’re coming in like a meteor. You do not want something that melts at a low temperature,” he said. “This is where steel is extremely good as well.” “I think we should really do our very best to become a multiplanet species and to extend consciousness beyond Earth,” Musk said, “and we should do it now.” That high temperature, he said, eliminates the need for thermal protection shielding on the “leeward” side of the vehicle, which faces up during reentry, and is “massively reduced” on the windward side that bears the brunt of heating during reentry. That shielding is in the form of hexagonal tiles made of “basically tiny glass vermicelli,” as he put it, that are light but crack-resistant. “The net effect is that a 301 stainless steel rocket is actually the lightest possible reusable architecture.” Switching to steel offers another benefit: reduced cost. Carbon fiber costs $130,000 per ton, he said, versus $2,500 per ton for type 301 stainless steel. “It’s a good thing we changed from carbon fiber to steel, by far.” But that switch from carbon composites to steel took place months ago, and Musk had explained much of that in tweet-sized blurbs since then, often responding to questions from others on Twitter. There was little new about other technical aspects of the vehicle, like the Raptor engine: Musk showed a video of a lengthy Raptor test, but said little else about the development and production of the engine. Indeed, much of the 40-minute talk seemed like a bit of a rehash of past presentations: emphasizing the importance of reusability to lower launch costs and SpaceX’s own history with reusability. That included the Falcon 1, which made its first successful orbital launch exactly 11 years earlier; the company had a Falcon 1 first stage on display as Musk discussed unsuccessful efforts to recover the stage by parachute. There was also the obligatory reminder of the importance of making humanity a multiplanetary species, including settling Mars. “I think we should really do our very best to become a multiplanet species and to extend consciousness beyond Earth,” he said at the end of his presentation, “and we should do it now.”


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