Author Topic: Power options for a Mars settlement  (Read 149540 times)

Offline AC in NC

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #480 on: 04/18/2018 09:15 pm »
^^ and ^

Booo!!!  I was quipping re: sd's really cool thread elsewhere.  Apologies!!!    :o ??? 8)

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #481 on: 04/18/2018 09:51 pm »
can they get carbon in a form that can be used to make carbon steel from the iron?
What happened to reports of large Methane deposits being found?

That would change everything in terms of settlement viability.
You will also need O2 deposits, I think.

Or perchlorates.  There is no reason the oxidizer has to be O2.
This is a very good point. If methane deposits ARE found, they could be reacted with the perchlorate deposits.
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Offline john smith 19

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #482 on: 04/18/2018 10:48 pm »
Anyone putting undeveloped technically hardware - especially nuclear related, which at best going to be expensive to develop with a history of delays - in the critical path of anything they actually want to happen needs reeducation.

Perhaps some hard labour in the lithium mines.

Fusion would be great - but solar is quite adequate near-term.
Agreed.  Nuclear development is nowhere in SX's known skillset.

OTOH the Kilopower programme seems to be (quietly) proceeding.  I know, it's only a 10Kw unit, but
a) Once you can build one, you can build more. It's granular in power usage (it's even crew portable, if you have a crew of about 4-6).
b) The design has "stretch." At least to 100Kw, maybe to 1MW.  But 10Kw gives you a decent sized power supply for an ion thruster, then on site power out to Pluto or beyond. 
c) NASA seems pretty keen on it going forward. The only question is will it be ready for the first launch. By Jan 1st 2023 we'll have the answer to that.

Obviously 100Kw, or 1MW radically changes the game, but I don't think they can make a case to go that large this early.
« Last Edit: 04/18/2018 10:56 pm by john smith 19 »
BFS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP stainless steel structure A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of flying in Earth and Mars atmospheres. BFR. The worlds biggest Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP stainless steel structure booster for BFS. First flight to Mars by end of 2022. Forward looking statements. T&C apply. Believe no one. Run your own numbers. So, you are going to Mars to start a better life? Picture it in your mind. Now say what it is out loud.

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #483 on: 04/18/2018 11:28 pm »
Nuclear is a hard sell for powering SpaceX's plans. Not really feasible at kilopower scale as it's too costly.

But SpaceX will DOUBTLESSLY be partnering with NASA and others. NASA may want to fly kilopower for the technology maturation alone (i.e. as a tech demo), and SpaceX may be able to use it for free (in exchange for flying it there and providing plenty of data).

Additionally, if nuclear can scale up, cost per watt should drop.

And if SpaceX's ISRU starts requiring a lot of thermal input, then nuclear starts looking a lot better than it otherwise would compared to PV, as you get 3 to 4 times the heat output of a thermally-optimized unit as you would an electrically optimized one, and you also save the expense and weight of the heat engine and dynamo and (potentially) radiator. It might weight just a fifth the mass of an electrical one with the same thermal output.

Solar+battery is a MUCH better solution than a lot of space fans and experts think (even on Mars), but nuclear is definitely very nice to have, and SpaceX would doubtless love to have it if given it for free.
« Last Edit: 04/18/2018 11:31 pm by Robotbeat »
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Offline DistantTemple

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #484 on: 04/19/2018 12:37 am »
can they get carbon in a form that can be used to make carbon steel from the iron?
What happened to reports of large Methane deposits being found?

That would change everything in terms of settlement viability.
You will also need O2 deposits, I think.

Or perchlorates.  There is no reason the oxidizer has to be O2.

All you need is accessible materials that contain the right elements mostly Hydrogen, Oxygen, Carbon and Nitrogen. These are present in the atmosphere or in water ice under the surface. The rest is just chemistry and finding enough energy for the reactions. In the case of methane, electrolysis of water to get at the hydrogen and oxygen will be the energy intensive part as the Sabatier reaction is exothermic.
The potential methane deposits where presented as an energy source for the Mars settlement. If you need another energy source to extract an oxidizer, then it's easier to just use the other energy source directly.
This is the thread where Mars Methane Clathrates are discussed: https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=44508.0
Including some chemistry, and oxidation and perchlorates etc...
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Online DAZ

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #485 on: 04/19/2018 03:32 am »
Iím probably going to regret posting this as itís a little long.  Additionally, the longer a post more likely it is that I will have made a mistake.  But in the interest of furthering the conversation, I will foolishly wade in, or maybe more accurately jump.

I have become disappointed with this thread.  Power will be THE most important item for a Mars settlement.  Power will be the limiting factor for growth and sustainability.  Power will set the standard of living and essentially limit what can and cannot be built.  The limiting scale on how fast you can grow on Mars is power.  About everything else can be scaled quickly if you have the power. If one megawatt of power were available initially, it would be quickly exceeded. In short, you cannot have too much power nor can you get it to Mars too fast. 

Initially, the power will probably come from solar photovoltaic and batteries.  These have advantages of flexibility of packaging, and almost no startup power is required.  This low startup power requirement is underappreciated.  The problem with solar with batteries is that it doesnít scale to the same extent as quickly as other options.  You very quickly end up covering 25 square miles.  The battery power system starts to become massive to account for the day-night cycle alone.  You then start to need a massive power distribution system a.k.a. a power grid.  These type of systems start to require a very large amount of upkeep and support.  It becomes difficult to move the power where you need to, for example, your ice mining is 100 miles away from your settlement, and your fuel manufacturer is 10 miles away from the settlement.  It also limits how far away you can look for resources because you need the power.  Even with beamed power from space youíre still not going to be as flexible as having your power generation at the site you need the power.

This naturally leads to other power generation systems like nuclear fusion or fission systems.  You could obviously put one of these at each site and build additional ones as quickly as you can bring the parts.

The option for nuclear fusion until recently wasnít really realistic.  As others have mentioned, these fusion power plants were almost too big to build on earth let alone on Mars.  Minimum working size of these power plants was like 1 GW.  With the advent of high-temperature superconductors, it now seems possible to scale down into the 500 kW to 1 MW range.  The reactor alone may take one or 2 ships to get there, but the actual power generation and cooling might take several more.  One of the safety advantages of the fusion power plant is that it takes power to run the plant.  If you have a problem, you just shut down the power plant, so it is inherently safe.  But this is also one of the big drawbacks for using one of these systems on Mars.  You will need to heat up the breeder material which is also the coolant.  Then youíll need to preheat your power generation side of the system.  This will take hundreds of kilowatts over something like a half an hour to an hour.  You will then have to start up the fusion reactor to its breakeven point.  This will require someplace in the vicinity of 500 kW to 1 MW.  On earth, this would not be a problem you pull the power off the power grid.  But until you have megawatts of power being generated on Mars, you canít even start the fusion reactor.

This leads on to fission systems.  Some of the systems discussed like the kilowatt power system require almost no startup power.  The problem with these systems is they donít scale very well or donít become very efficient until they are very large.  This also makes them much more expensive to put in.  The path of using uranium 235 and uranium 238 and on to plutonium was that this was the path that allowed you to breed plutonium for bombs.  This drove the design for the reactors that are mostly used at this time.  These light water reactors are not the most efficient designs.  This also makes the fuel very expensive.  This would appear to point against the use of reactors on Mars, but there is another option for this.

The law of the instrument: ďWhen the only tool you have is a hammer you tend to treat everything as if it were a nail.Ē  The need for all of these reactors and their designs was fundamentally due to the requirement to make nuclear weapons as cheaply and quickly as possible.  So most of the people looking at these problems had only one hammer and treated the entire problem as a nail.  This is the same problem that Elon Musk had to overcome.  All the rocket designs were based on ICBMs which are inherently munitions.  You use a munition exactly one time, so this drives the entire mindset and how you would make rockets work.

About the only way to avoid the law of the instrument is to go back to 1st principles.  This is what Elon Musk has done and had such success with.  He went back and looked at every part, not as if a munition but as something that was going to be repeatedly used.  An example of this is the avoidance of using explosive separators (which is by definition a munition) and went with pneumatic separators.  Everything about the systems was looked at from the ground up with a new eye toward costs.

Many others are now starting to do this with various nuclear power options.  They are talking about using the thorium cycle in the thermal neutron range.  They would use molten salts which greatly increases the efficiencies while decreasing the size and the cost.  These designs are inherently walk away safe.  Additionally, for someplace like Mars, they are totally sustainable as the fuel can be mined and refined on Mars.  To do the same thing with the uranium cycle, you would need to build massive isotope separators.  You cannot scale these small, you have to be massive and power-hungry.  It is one of the more expensive and difficult industrial processes we do on earth and one of the primary constraining factors on somebody building a nuclear bomb.  Using the thorium cycle in the thermal neutron range, you can build sustainable reactors much sooner.  It should be theoretically possible to build the smallest reactors in the 100-kilowatt size in either scale up or build them modular.  Building them in small modular systems allows you to more easily transport and package them while giving you inherently better redundancy with lower spare parts costs.

There are also advantages that can be used with the waste heat as these reactors run at much higher temperatures than light water reactors.  Thereís talk about using it to improve the efficiencies of separating hydrogen from the oxygen from water.  So this would improve your efficiencies in the fuel manufacturing process.  Additionally, the waste heat could be used directly in your ice mining.  This would not only improve the speed of the mining but the efficiency of the reactor itself.

The real beauty of these thorium reactors is that SpaceX doesnít have to be paying the startup design money for them.  There are dozens of groups and companies already looking into actually building these things.  They want to build larger ones in the United States in the hundreds of megawatt-class, but others want to build them in the hundreds of kilowatt classes to be used in Third World countries.  Many of the environmental groups are starting to see the need for reactors like these and are already starting to try to change the minds of the other environmentalists.  The other advantage of the smaller sizes is they can be built in factories easing transport and greatly reducing the costs.

Even if the United States and Europe donít get onto this new nuclear technology other countries are pursuing it to a massive amount.  India is now looking at building these reactors today.  Theyíve already started building some test reactors.  China is spending billions of dollars on this technology alone.  If nobody else does it, China absolutely will accomplish it.

Some may say that the US will never allow SpaceX to launch such a system.  And in reality other than stopping them from going to Mars they might not be able to stop them.  If they donít build such a reactor in the United States, theyíll go to China and have them build the reactor.  If the US government wonít let them launch the nuclear fuel which by the way is so unbelievably intrinsically safe as to why would you bother regulating it?  SpaceX could have the Chinese launched just the fuel on their rocket and meet up with it in orbit.

The bottom line to all this is that the sooner they start planning on using the small reactors, the faster the entire Mars colony will grow.  Spending too much time fooling around with other power systems will just be slowing the process.

Offline speedevil

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #486 on: 04/19/2018 04:34 am »
Initially, the power will probably come from solar photovoltaic and batteries.  These have advantages of flexibility of packaging, and almost no startup power is required.  This low startup power requirement is underappreciated.  The problem with solar with batteries is that it doesnít scale to the same extent as quickly as other options.  You very quickly end up covering 25 square miles.  The battery power system starts to become massive to account for the day-night cycle alone.  You then start to need a massive power distribution system a.k.a. a power grid.  These type of systems start to require a very large amount of upkeep and support.  It becomes difficult to move the power where you need to, for example, your ice mining is 100 miles away from your settlement, and your fuel manufacturer is 10 miles away from the settlement.  It also limits how far away you can look for resources because you need the power.  Even with beamed power from space youíre still not going to be as flexible as having your power generation at the site you need the power.

This is very close to an argument that industry on earth is impossible.

The problem with this is once you start to put numbers on it, at the most pessimistic case - literally buying the parts from online vendors in one-off-quantity pricing, and assuming the IAC2017/16 like lift costs, you end up with a price per kWh for a system that lasts for 20 years of $0.3/kWh or so. (explored here.

With even slight martian capability, such as the ability to extract iron in very small quantities for stands and frames, and slightly upgraded solar panel design, this goes to $0.15/kWh.
I note that US steelworks exist at a price of $0.04/kWh or so, at the half gigawatt level.

Your 40 ton (say) 1MW reactor needs to cost under $15M or so, or solar is cheaper.

Methane/oxygen as an energy transport medium is also a possibility.


Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #487 on: 04/19/2018 04:39 am »
74,000,000 square miles are used for agriculture on Earth. I really don't think a few square miles for solar (which is just a kind of agriculture, just using photovoltaics instead of photosynthesis) is going to be that much of a problem for Mars (which has about the same land area as Earth). The area argument against solar is tired and not actually true when judged in proportion to other uses of land (particularly agriculture). And this applies much more strongly on Mars.

From a mass perspective, solar is superior to nuclear on Mars. And solar+batteries are a very good solution.
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Offline Elmar Moelzer

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #488 on: 04/19/2018 04:43 am »
The option for nuclear fusion until recently wasnít really realistic.  As others have mentioned, these fusion power plants were almost too big to build on earth let alone on Mars.  Minimum working size of these power plants was like 1 GW.  With the advent of high-temperature superconductors, it now seems possible to scale down into the 500 kW to 1 MW range.  The reactor alone may take one or 2 ships to get there, but the actual power generation and cooling might take several more.  One of the safety advantages of the fusion power plant is that it takes power to run the plant.  If you have a problem, you just shut down the power plant, so it is inherently safe.  But this is also one of the big drawbacks for using one of these systems on Mars.  You will need to heat up the breeder material which is also the coolant.  Then youíll need to preheat your power generation side of the system.  This will take hundreds of kilowatts over something like a half an hour to an hour.  You will then have to start up the fusion reactor to its breakeven point.  This will require someplace in the vicinity of 500 kW to 1 MW.  On earth, this would not be a problem you pull the power off the power grid.  But until you have megawatts of power being generated on Mars, you canít even start the fusion reactor.
This is not the case for the Helion Energy fusion reactor, I posted earlier. Their reactor directly converts the fusion energy into electricity. This works because the result of the D + He3 fusion reaction are charged particles. The energy from the fusion reaction presses them back out through the magnetic field that accelerated and compresses them. You move a charged particle through a magnetic field, you induce a current. So they don't need a steam cycle like D+T power plants do. Don't worry about the He3 either. The plant fuses D+D initially, which creates a helion in one branch. That helion is then fed back into the reactor for the next cycle. The other branch creates a triton, which has a half life of 12 years and then decays into another helion.
They are also quite close to a working full scale reactor prototype (end of the year) and their reactors will be relatively small and compact and produce about 50MWe.
Here is the link again (I think it went under in the quote earlier):
http://seattlebusinessmag.com/technology/redmond%E2%80%99s-helion-energy-looks-nuclear-fusion-next-big-thing-power-generation
« Last Edit: 04/19/2018 04:46 am by Elmar Moelzer »

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #489 on: 04/19/2018 04:45 am »
Let's see break even, then we can talk about fancy power conversion schemes and low-neutron fuels. Until breakeven, nothing matters.
Chris  Whoever loves correction loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid.

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Offline Elmar Moelzer

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #490 on: 04/19/2018 04:48 am »
Let's see break even, then we can talk about fancy power conversion schemes and low-neutron fuels. Until breakeven, nothing matters.
If you read the article, you would see that they want to have a full scale break even (or better) reactor prototype built by the end of the year (then it will take them a few months to get to full power, I presume).

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #491 on: 04/19/2018 04:55 am »
Good, then I will start being interested in it. We've been hearing this sort of thing from alt-fusion people for decades, and from the regular fusion community for even longer.

But I'm serious: everything but breakeven is basically a distraction. You know why? Because once you demonstrate break-even, you'll have plenty of interest and cash for follow on capabilities. You'll be fighting off investors with a stick (although I wouldn't be one of them). So don't worry about anything but a convincing breakeven.
« Last Edit: 04/19/2018 04:57 am by Robotbeat »
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Offline Elmar Moelzer

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #492 on: 04/19/2018 05:02 am »
Good, then I will start being interested in it. We've been hearing this sort of thing from alt-fusion people for decades, and from the regular fusion community for even longer.

But I'm serious: everything but breakeven is basically a distraction. You know why? Because once you demonstrate break-even, you'll have plenty of interest and cash for follow on capabilities. You'll be fighting off investors with a stick (although I wouldn't be one of them). So don't worry about anything but a convincing breakeven.
They have full (30 million) funding for the full scale prototype now, because the experiments that they have done until now have convinced investors that they can do it. I have known them for a while (so has Jon Goff) and I am very sure that they can do what they say they can do.
Also worth noting is that they have not made any promises over the past 4 years or so, because they wanted to avoid too much hype. So the fact that they are letting this out know, is quite significant.

And if they fail, then Tokamak Energy is the next in line with break even experiments planned for 2020. Though that is a traditional D+T tokamak with all the issues that come with it.
There is one more player that has me exicted is Prof Uri Shumlak's Sheared Flow Stabilized Z- Pinch. They are about to spin off from the UW (like Helion did) and their device is extremely small. Their latest test device FuZE seems to match predictions for scaling laws. They are currently at 200 kA input current. They only need 650 kA for break even. FuZE went from 50 to 200 kA so far and will go all the way to 300 by the time funding from ARPA- E runs out.
« Last Edit: 04/19/2018 05:06 am by Elmar Moelzer »

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #493 on: 04/19/2018 05:03 am »
The flip side of not making any promises is you can't be proven wrong.

I'll make a bet against them achieving break even within the year.
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Offline Elmar Moelzer

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #494 on: 04/19/2018 05:08 am »
The flip side of not making any promises is you can't be proven wrong.

I'll make a bet against them achieving break even within the year.
They will have the reactor ready by the end of the year. I would assume that it will be a few months until the thing has run its course to optimum settings. It is hard to say, but based on previous experiments, I would expect break even NET mid 2019, more likely closer to the end of 2019 or beginning of 2020, though.
Also worth noting that they expected to be there earlier, but funding realities required them to do smaller scale experiments first, to satisfy investors that their theories are sound.
« Last Edit: 04/19/2018 05:10 am by Elmar Moelzer »

Offline Robotbeat

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #495 on: 04/19/2018 05:23 am »
This sounds really familiar. Okay, beer bet, then. No breakeven by end of 2019.
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Offline Elmar Moelzer

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #496 on: 04/19/2018 05:33 am »
This sounds really familiar. Okay, beer bet, then. No breakeven by end of 2019.
I am not a betting man and this is a very hard task. So I would not make that bet myself, but for the fun of it, I will hold that bet, if only to maybe convince you to visit me in Michigan some day to claim that beer ;)

Offline RonM

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #497 on: 04/19/2018 04:33 pm »
This sounds really familiar. Okay, beer bet, then. No breakeven by end of 2019.

Safe bet.

I hate to be pessimistic, but we've been hearing about fusion break even for decades. It would be great if it happened next year, but I wouldn't be surprised if it doesn't happen in twenty years.

Since Musk wants to land the first BFS on Mars in less than a decade, we need to be discussing what can be ready to deploy very soon. Even if there's a big fusion success next year, production power reactors won't be ready for the initial settlement.

Online envy887

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #498 on: 04/19/2018 06:52 pm »
Nuclear is a hard sell for powering SpaceX's plans. Not really feasible at kilopower scale as it's too costly.

But SpaceX will DOUBTLESSLY be partnering with NASA and others. NASA may want to fly kilopower for the technology maturation alone (i.e. as a tech demo), and SpaceX may be able to use it for free (in exchange for flying it there and providing plenty of data).

Additionally, if nuclear can scale up, cost per watt should drop.

And if SpaceX's ISRU starts requiring a lot of thermal input, then nuclear starts looking a lot better than it otherwise would compared to PV, as you get 3 to 4 times the heat output of a thermally-optimized unit as you would an electrically optimized one, and you also save the expense and weight of the heat engine and dynamo and (potentially) radiator. It might weight just a fifth the mass of an electrical one with the same thermal output.

Solar+battery is a MUCH better solution than a lot of space fans and experts think (even on Mars), but nuclear is definitely very nice to have, and SpaceX would doubtless love to have it if given it for free.

Or even not for free, as long as they don't have to develop it all by themselves. All the national space agencies have better access to nuclear development, and might want to develop it and share it with SpaceX in return for launch services.

Offline john smith 19

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Re: Power options for a Mars settlement
« Reply #499 on: 04/19/2018 07:39 pm »
Or even not for free, as long as they don't have to develop it all by themselves. All the national space agencies have better access to nuclear development, and might want to develop it and share it with SpaceX in return for launch services.
However AFAIK only 1 (NASA) has anactive space power reactor development programme running. 
The Kilopower test programme ended last month and it looks like NASA is close to making announcement on it.

https://forum.nasaspaceflight.com/index.php?topic=45509.0

Something tells me that if it wasn't pretty positive they wouldn't be that keen on getting press attention for it.

 I think it's gone well and I hope it's flushed out any glitches in the design (it's the first reactor designed for space use in the US since the early 60's. It'd be frankly amazing if there were no issues at all. The old X-plane rule that "if you haven't broken one you're not testing them hard enough" comes to mind ).

Recall NASA has a number of internal programmes that would like to use something like, but it's been a chicken and egg situation. Programmes wanted it but it wasn't available and developers wanted to do it but project managers couldn't commit a payload to using something that didn't exist (yet). Everyone's unhappy but no one can figure out what to do about it.  :(

Kilopower has been an amazing project for NASA, given what it's close to delivering for the size of budget.

That said I think they'd expect SX to pay something per unit to offset some of those costs.
BFS. The worlds first Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP stainless steel structure A380 sized aerospaceplane tail sitter capable of flying in Earth and Mars atmospheres. BFR. The worlds biggest Methane fueled FFORSC engined CFRP stainless steel structure booster for BFS. First flight to Mars by end of 2022. Forward looking statements. T&C apply. Believe no one. Run your own numbers. So, you are going to Mars to start a better life? Picture it in your mind. Now say what it is out loud.