Author Topic: SpaceX in the 2030s  (Read 29213 times)

Offline RyanC

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SpaceX in the 2030s
« on: 06/16/2021 11:10 pm »
On a space related Discord, everyone started talking about the Dragonfly mission to Titan, which would arrive around 2036.

At that point:

I will be 55.
Elon Musk will be 65.
Jeff Bezos will be 72.

To put things in perspective, Wernher von Braun was 56 to 60 years old between 1968 and 1972.

You can see why Elon is driving SpaceX so hard; he wants to have put SpaceX into a position where it HAS to keep doing big things or else it dies; because he knows that once he's too old to actually be part of the day-to-day operations of SpaceX (or Tesla), the corporate culture of both companies will start MBAizing and become more and more risk adverse.

Based on Elon's age (49) and the lifecycle of the current Falcon rocket family (16~ years from 2002 and Falcon 1 to 2018 and Falcon 9 Block 5); Starship is likely to be Elon's Last Big Thing (TM); if we assume that it follows the same active life.

If we assume that serious work on Starship began in 2016; a sixteen year lifecycle carries us out to 2032; where Elon will be 61/62 years old.

At that age; Elon only has about five to eight years left for the next iterative cycle in SpaceX history before he's 70 and starts to slow down and lose mental flexibility.

By 2030, Starship will have achieved the initial design goals for a fully reusable launch system, with eight years of ever increasing launch cadence and increasingly complex operations following an initial launch in late 2021 or early 2022.

It's plausible to assume that SpaceX will be launching 100 tonne payloads twice a day from Boca Chica/KSC for 230 days each year; placing 46,000 tonnes in LEO each year with Starship at that point.

Someone on Stack Exchange did the math/scraping/web programming and came up with a total global upmass from the beginning of human spaceflight to December 2019 of 14,466,896 kg (14,466 metric tons)

[https://space.stackexchange.com/questions/88/what-is-the-total-mass-sent-into-orbit-over-all-history]

What does SpaceX do next for the 2030s while Elon can still control the company?

While it's possible for SpaceX to design a UltraHeavy (basically think of UH as a notational DC-4 to Starship/SH's DC-3); I think SpaceX will be focused on fully-space only cycler designs at this point, along with various internal projects supporting commercial outposts in LEO, lunar outposts...and of course, the SpaceX Mars Outpost/Colony.

From looking at SpaceX and Tesla; while Elon moved dominate the market in each (space launch and electric cars) after about a decade's worth of buildup; he also moved to value-added subsidiaries, because he knew that SpaceX/Tesla's early lead would degrade as their core products became commoditized.

For Tesla:

We've got a billion EV startups now, and all of the big car companies now have EV departments.

While Tesla continues to work on newer, hotter vehicles, the long term plan is centered around:

A.) Actually having a charger network that's high reliability

B.) Autonomous vehicle development -- If Tesla cracks this first, they can quickly pivot and create entire new markets owned by them, such as autonomous semi-trucks that drive only from midnight to 5 AM (for safety), or entire taxicab fleets.

For SpaceX:

While they're about to dominate the space launch business with F9 Block 5 and soon Starship, there's nothing "secret sauce" about them. Anyone who's smart and nimble enough can move up through the market chain and develop into a competitor to SpaceX for the launch market -- such as Rocket Lab (and Blue Origin if they can ever get their internal problems sorted).

SpaceX's moves over the last half-decade have positioned them nicely for the era in which space launch becomes commoditized:

A.) The entire HLS contract with NASA over Lunar Starship -- basically, Elon gets the US Government to fund an entire market for SpaceX of vacuum-rated landers/hoppers that can be used all over the solar system.

B.) Starlink -- when it's completed, it'll give SpaceX an independent revenue stream that's not dependent on government or commercial launch contracts; or NASA contract awards. Plus, it has "kickstarted" SpaceX's internal teams into ones capable of delivering large numbers of complex spacecraft on a reliable schedule.

C.) Raptor -- once it's development is completed; SpX has an engine they can scale up or down as needed to support a whole family of spacecraft, from large cyclers to vacuum hoppers all on a common Methalox infrastructure, which can be spread across the solar system -- imagine a lone robot starship being sent to say, Titan to set up a small ISRU facility there, enabling future methalox powered spacecraft to explore that region of the solar system without having to have all their fuel shipped six years in advance, or carried with them.

D.) The development of SpaceX suits for Commercial Crew. They could have contracted out to David Clark or Oceaneering to have suits made; but they did that all in house. Now they have teams capable of designing space suits for whatever needs SpaceX will have in the future; or for others.

Offline Jim

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #1 on: 06/16/2021 11:40 pm »
or SpaceX falters and fades away.

Offline RyanC

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #2 on: 06/17/2021 12:08 am »
or SpaceX falters and fades away.

That's more likely to happen to Blue than SpaceX, Jim.

Offline MATTBLAK

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #3 on: 06/17/2021 12:40 am »
I think SpaceX has done very, very well. But I know from 'the horses mouth' anecdotes that they have 'burned out' a lot of personnel as much as they have cash to get there. I like the ambitiousness of the 'Starship' project but often feel that SpaceX should have tried an intermediate technological and engineering step halfway between Falcon Heavy and BFR before going the Starship route. Before the big, 2016 reveal of the BFR/Starship program, I was nearly convinced that Elon was going to 'supersize' the Dragon spacecraft and upgrade the Falcon Heavy with a better upper stage - all with the intention to do a somewhat 'Mars Direct' reconnaissance mission(s) to Mars first with 4-to-6 person crews.

They could have demonstrated in space Cryo propellant transfer and propellant ISRU on the Martian surface before moving onto the really big vehicles we are seeing prototyped today. They are, in a sense, biting off almost more than they can chew with the current paradigm they are pursuing. It could all fail and falter; but I sure hope it doesn't.
« Last Edit: 06/17/2021 01:36 am by MATTBLAK »
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Offline Vahe231991

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #4 on: 06/17/2021 12:43 am »
I think SpaceX has done very, very well. But I know from 'the horses mouth' anecdotes that they have 'burned out' a lot of personnel as much as they have cash to get there. I like the ambitiousness of the 'Starship' project but often feel that SpaceX should have tried and intermediate technological and engineering step halfway between Falcon Heavy and BFR before going the Starship route. Before the big, 2016 reveal of the BFR/Starship program, I was nearly convinced that Elon was going to 'supersize' the Dragon spacecraft and upgrade the Falcon Heavy with a better upper stage - all with the intention to do a somewhat 'Mars Direct' reconnaissance mission(s) to Mars first with 4-to-6 person crews.

They could have demonstrated in space Cryo propellant transfer and propellant ISRU on the Martian surface before moving onto the really big vehicles we are seeing prototyped today. They are, in a sense, biting off almost more than they can chew with the current paradigm they are pursuing. It could all fail and falter; but I sure hope it doesn't.
If given the chance, SpaceX could develop a version of the Starship measuring 450 feet tall to carry nuclear-powered probes to Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and the Kuiper Belt. All nuclear fuel for the upper stage of this Starship variant (which would only ignite in space) would be mined from the Morrison Formation in the western United States.

Offline joek

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #5 on: 06/17/2021 01:00 am »
It is easy to posit potential negative outcomes for SpaceX (as anyone). So far such predictions have come to naught, but as the old caveat goes, "Past performance is no guarantee of future results".

That said, what are the existential threats to SpaceX? Not seeing them, even if their Mars ambitions end up in a black hole. Too often think SpaceX is viewed solely through the lens of a launch provider. They obviously have credible plans which go well beyond that (e.g., Starlink).
« Last Edit: 06/17/2021 01:01 am by joek »

Offline SweetWater

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #6 on: 06/17/2021 01:13 am »
My bet would be that by 2035 Elon has sold most of his interests in SpaceX, Starlink, and Tesla, assuming they still exist at that point (by no means certain but I think more likely than not) and rolled that capital into a company dedicated to developing and manufacturing the infrastructure necessary to support habitation on Mars. SpaceX will only be the transportation element for human habitation on Mars - a great deal of infrastructure needs to be developed and put in place to support even a small permanent population.

I would also allow a 3% chance that Elon dies in a tragic flying Tesla accident circa 2030 only for his estate to reveal that he uploaded himself to a computer using Neuralink and that he continues running his business interests long after I am gone....

Offline joek

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #7 on: 06/17/2021 01:14 am »
If given the chance, SpaceX could develop a version of the Starship measuring 450 feet tall to carry nuclear-powered probes to Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and the Kuiper Belt. All nuclear fuel for the upper stage of this Starship variant (which would only ignite in space) would be mined from the Morrison Formation in the western United States.

And...? Sure they could (as others), but someone has to pay for it; to be relevant to SpaceX's future, would need to be reasonably sustainable with associated $$$. This is not the thread to discuss such missions; suggest taking it to one of the science or future missions threads.

Offline joek

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #8 on: 06/17/2021 01:21 am »
...
I would also allow a 3% chance that Elon dies in a tragic flying Tesla accident circa 2030 only for his estate to reveal that he uploaded himself to a computer using Neuralink and that he continues running his business interests long after I am gone....
Nah, 1.753% chance max. :P
« Last Edit: 06/17/2021 01:29 am by joek »

Offline tea monster

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #9 on: 06/17/2021 01:27 am »
I'm thinking that by 2030, Space-X will be testing something else to replace starship, possibly some form of SSTO. Several other companies will be flying reusable spacecraft and hopefully, Space-age 2.0 will be in full swing.

Offline RyanC

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #10 on: 06/17/2021 01:44 am »
Some random thoughts on where the tonnage to support a launch cadence of twice a day for Starship could come from in the mid to late 2020s leading into the 2030s:

The If you can lift it, they will come effect

Right now, it costs a lot for space station modules -- the ISS Cupola and Tranquility module together cost $400M, and they massed 20,800~ kg; for a cost of $19,230/kg.

By comparison, a 747-8I cost $418M in 2019, and weighs 220,128 kg, for $1,898/kg.

If we assume that a future "rugged" space station module is only about three times more costly than a 747-8I at $5,694/kg (never underestimate the cost of paperwork for spaceflight); then a "standard" 25 tonne module would cost $142.3M.

Starship has 1,100 m3 of payload volume to work with; and if we assume our 25-tonne module had the same volume (75 m3) as Tranquility;  you could easily fit four modules, with a total volume of 300 m3 in a single launch. It would only take Starship four flights to place into orbit sixteen modules with 1,200 m3 of habitable volume (present day ISS total volume is 1,000 m3).

Total cost of such a system would be $2.27B for the modules themselves, and likely $100M for all launch services (base cost of a launch may be only $15M, but payload processing would add $$$.)

Crudely put, you could get something the size of the ISS for only $2.5B (versus the $150B for the ISS).

That huge cost reduction would commercialize LEO; given that the cost of said station wouldn't be that much more expensive than other industrial megaprojects:

$9.3B for Fab15 by TSMC in Taiwan
$5B Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada
$4.8B Tesla Gigafactory in Berlin

On the governmental level; the UK Space Agency (UKSA) has an annual budget of about $650M. If we assume 25% of that goes to long lead funding for big projects; a 10 year project would give you $1.6B to play with. The UKSA then would be able to afford a smaller than ISS (but still pretty big) station.

The Once Man Goes Somewhere To Stay, He Becomes A Self-Licking Ice Cream Cone Effect

McMurdo Station in Antartica has about 1,300 residents year round and requires 6,400 tonnes of cargo and 26,500 tonnes of fuel each year for that year's operations (which consumed 15,823 Megawatt-hours in 2002).

I think that if we moved McMurdo to the Moon as Armstrong Station, the tonnage needed to support it would still be the same order of magnitude -- because even if you could use solar fields and small nuclear plants to produce power, you'd still have to ship about 500 metric tonnes a year of LOX to Armstrong Station (assuming 1 kg/day/person and 1,300 personnel and continuous yearly operation) just to support people breathing. If you wanted to have a fleet of reusable landers to ferry personnel from Armstrong to smaller subsidiary outposts near Tycho, etc; you'd need fuel for them.

Offline joek

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #11 on: 06/17/2021 02:05 am »
or SpaceX falters and fades away.
That's more likely to happen to Blue than SpaceX, Jim.

Maybe, although expect both will survive.  If given a choice between the two, my bet would be SpaceX over Blue. Although Blue may reorganize itself into something quite different over the next few years. If this was like most industries, we would see a consolidation. That is bigger players buy up the smaller players, or the smaller players can't compete or don't have sufficient funding to fight their way up and fade to black.

So again, who-what is an existential threat to SpaceX? Not seeing it. Sure, SpaceX could shoot themselves in the head, but not seeing it. While 10 years is a long time in this business (at least based on the last decade), don't see where the existential threat to SpaceX is coming from?

p.s. @Jim -- As a counterweight to the SpaceX fan parade you have demonstrated over the years, the comment that "or SpaceX falters and fades away" adds nothing to the conversation. Same could be said of ULA, Blue, or any other contender.

Offline meekGee

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #12 on: 06/17/2021 03:57 am »
The OP made a number of extrapolations using analogies, but I'll posit that none of those apply.

In the 2030s, SpaceX will be busy building a colony on Mars.  This is without precedent.

When history looks back on this, Starship will not be "Musk's last big thing" - it will be just a footnote next to the development of Mars.

Starship is a technical achievement. Mars will be a socio-economic one.

I may be just too old to participate, but not too old to see it happen.
« Last Edit: 06/17/2021 03:57 am by meekGee »
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Offline Surfdaddy

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #13 on: 06/17/2021 05:06 am »
I think the biggest risk to SpaceX is the leadership continuum. The vision and drive of Musk together with the maturity and competence of Shotwell have proven to be an outstanding combination. Musk will get old, and something could happen to Shotwell. These are big business risks, perhaps the biggest ones. SpaceX could milk the F9/FH for a decade or two, but to continue expanding, they need both of their leaders. I certainly hope they are working to identify and groom potential replacements for these two.

Apple is perhaps the only company that has been super successful recently in having the main driver pass away yet have put a highly competent leader in his place. Yet even then, Tim Cook is not the visionary that Steve Jobs was. How SpaceX manages it's leadership for the next 20 years, to me, is a bigger risk than the technical risks of SS/SH.
« Last Edit: 06/17/2021 05:07 am by Surfdaddy »

Offline Zed_Noir

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #14 on: 06/17/2021 05:25 am »
SpaceX with most of the shipping for P2P, LEO, cislunarspace and interplanetary along with ground infrastructure to support the SpaceX fleets. Could become something like the East Indian Company before transiting to beyond a mega multi-national business entity.


Just for laughs. The principle export of a Musk Martian colony could be Pax Barsoom with the Barsoomian navy SpaceX fleet enforcing peace & order across the Solar System.

Offline rakaydos

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #15 on: 06/17/2021 03:28 pm »
Supposedly there's a quote out there, from either elon or qwynn, I forget which, that a breakthrough in free-space antiproton capture is the next revolution (though I've probably mangled what's actually said)

If I've captured the gist of the original statement, that's an antimatter-supplemented drive, with two really efficent endpoints- earth orbit, and saturn orbit.

I would also expect SpaceX to spin up some fusion-related tech expertise, once one of the teams working on fusion succeeds commercially.

Under the mandate of "multiplanetary humanity" I expect continuation of the Mars project, but I dont expect them to stop there. Venus floaters would "only" have a 48 hour day/night cycle, with sub-bahama level temperatures at denser-than-everest atmospheric pressures, making evas only require scuba gear. Titan is a likely 3rd location, if the thermodynamics works out. these locations would be a lower priority than mars, but would certiantly be a back burner project.

Offline meekGee

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #16 on: 06/17/2021 03:55 pm »
Supposedly there's a quote out there, from either elon or qwynn, I forget which, that a breakthrough in free-space antiproton capture is the next revolution (though I've probably mangled what's actually said)

If I've captured the gist of the original statement, that's an antimatter-supplemented drive, with two really efficent endpoints- earth orbit, and saturn orbit.

I would also expect SpaceX to spin up some fusion-related tech expertise, once one of the teams working on fusion succeeds commercially.

Under the mandate of "multiplanetary humanity" I expect continuation of the Mars project, but I dont expect them to stop there. Venus floaters would "only" have a 48 hour day/night cycle, with sub-bahama level temperatures at denser-than-everest atmospheric pressures, making evas only require scuba gear. Titan is a likely 3rd location, if the thermodynamics works out. these locations would be a lower priority than mars, but would certiantly be a back burner project.

I think a good bet is that after Mars gets started, they'll be looking at Ceres next.
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Offline skater

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #17 on: 06/18/2021 12:19 pm »
All nuclear fuel for the upper stage of this Starship variant (which would only ignite in space) would be mined from the Morrison Formation in the western United States.

Why does the source of the uranium matter?

Offline catiare

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #18 on: 06/19/2021 02:24 am »
Supposedly there's a quote out there, from either elon or qwynn, I forget which, that a breakthrough in free-space antiproton capture is the next revolution (though I've probably mangled what's actually said)

If I've captured the gist of the original statement, that's an antimatter-supplemented drive, with two really efficent endpoints- earth orbit, and saturn orbit.

I would also expect SpaceX to spin up some fusion-related tech expertise, once one of the teams working on fusion succeeds commercially.

Under the mandate of "multiplanetary humanity" I expect continuation of the Mars project, but I dont expect them to stop there. Venus floaters would "only" have a 48 hour day/night cycle, with sub-bahama level temperatures at denser-than-everest atmospheric pressures, making evas only require scuba gear. Titan is a likely 3rd location, if the thermodynamics works out. these locations would be a lower priority than mars, but would certiantly be a back burner project.

I think a good bet is that after Mars gets started, they'll be looking at Ceres next.
My bet after Mars goes to Callisto
« Last Edit: 06/21/2021 02:06 pm by catiare »

Offline Elmar Moelzer

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Re: SpaceX in the 2030s
« Reply #19 on: 06/20/2021 03:05 am »
This is actually a thing that worries me. Musk is working himself hard. If something happens to him, then SpaceX will be without the leadership of a visionary that Musk is. Gwynne Shotwell is great. Don't get me wrong, but she does not own SpaceX. Do you think that someone who does not have majority ownership would have the ability to push the "outrageous" ideas of Elon Musk past the owners (I suppose that would be his heirs and the current part owners)?
The danger is that the company will go the way of so many and stop innovating and rather ride on past successes, maximizing profits for shareholders.
That is unless Musk has some sort of plan for succession that gives his share of the ownership to someone who is equally radical, talented and driven. Next problem. I can't think of anyone, other than Gary C. Hudson but he is even older than Musk (and he likely has different ideas)... Not sure what Musk's kids are like, but from what he hinted at, they are not all that interested.
If things goes well and Elon remains in good health, then things will keep going for a very long time. Age is not that big of a deal. My grandfather was in his 80ies when he got a patent for a new wind turbine design. He calculated it all without computers and built a mockup from wood all by himself. Musk might slow down a little, but he will keep pushing past the state of the art. That is my prediction anyway.

 

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