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Author Topic: Re-purposing SpaceX hardware for near term exploration of Mars  (Read 9500 times)

Offline Russel

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I was going to use the title "Re-purposing SpaceX hardware for a manned landing on Mars in the near term with limited crew and pure science and exploration objectives and without consideration of colonisation".

But, that wouldn't fit :-)

Some predictions:

- NASA will abandon further development of SLS in favour of commercial tender
- SpaceX will use this as as a means to develop a scaled version of BFR
- SpaceX will continue sub-scale testing of technology relevant to BFS but will eventually concede that there is no business case for BFS and the inherent problems in this architecture are too great (including mining of Mars).

We are still left with some very useful technology, including reusable boosters and a much better understanding of how to build high lift re-entry vehicles. We may also end up with a booster that is more capable than Falcon Heavy but still not actually BFR.

What can we do with it?

Let me make some concrete suggestions. The BFS concept is still very useful and adaptable. In fact you could still use a scaled down version (remember we are talking a small crew, exploration only) and still use it in a reusable fashion.

You can use BFS style technology to land people on Mars and as an ascent vehicle from Mars into low Mars orbit. We are only talking 4-6 people here so the pressurised volume is tiny. Full reusability is an option but I'm not sure that stacks up. It is after all only a small proportion of the mass you are sending to Mars.

Like the BFS it would glide and then land propulsively on its tail. It would refuel with locally sourced oxygen. Methane would be imported. One option is to import the methane with the vehicle itself.

The big advantage of doing this over a direct entry is that with enough surface area and low mass (crew only) you can arrange for a relatively low g force landing (I'm not sure, I'm guessing around 2.5). This compares to the 4-6 estimated for BFS.

Of course you need to send cargo to Mars surface. This can be done with a conventional (blunt body) vehicle with movable center of mass and a late-lifting (high g force) trajectory. This can be accomplished with either one or two Falcon Heavy flights or a larger vehicle which may be a scaled down version of BFR.

You may also need to send fuel (or a complete booster) into Mars orbit. This would be done similarly except you would use a modest amount of fuel for orbital capture and then slow multi-pass aerobraking.

What you then use to send humans to and from Earth orbit and Mars orbit is another topic. As explained in another topic, I'd be happy to build a symmetric vehicle that can spin. Again, assembly in orbit through docking and multiple launches, but there's nothing here we don't already know how to do.

The whole point is that SpaceX has done us a big favour by developing reusable boosters. They may build a bigger reusable booster for the sake of NASA and they may develop further technology in the pursuit of an ultimately unbuilt BFS.

One further point. A limited manned Mars exploration mission may well be the work of multiple nations. It may even be instigated by some other agency than NASA. But it may as well build on what SpaceX has done (and utilise NASA expertise in various technologies).

Does anyone else want to suggest how SpaceX technology either present or near term can be creatively reused for a practical near term Mars mission?

Online kevinof

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Good post but I see a couple of major issues

1) SLS will keep going. It will continue to be funded by the politicians for years to come because it's what they do.  For Nasa, SLS is the only game in town for BEO.

2) Nasa would never accept a "taxi ride" solution. They will want their sticky fingers over every aspect of the design,
specs, features and endless paperwork. It's in their DNA, it's all they know and it's hard to change that.  I know the Nasa administrator has gone on about everything re-usable but I don't see it happening for a long, long time. (if ever).

3) Because of #2, SpaceX will never work with Nasa on a manned BEO platform. It would kill their creativity and speed.


Offline su27k

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Does anyone else want to suggest how SpaceX technology either present or near term can be creatively reused for a practical near term Mars mission?

You need to clarify which SpaceX technology we can and cannot use, since you assumed BFR would fail, this means one or more of the near term SpaceX technology used by BFR wouldn't work.

Offline TripleSeven

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I was going to use the title "Re-purposing SpaceX hardware for a manned landing on Mars in the near term with limited crew and pure science and exploration objectives and without consideration of colonisation".

But, that wouldn't fit :-)

Some predictions:

- NASA will abandon further development of SLS in favour of commercial tender
- SpaceX will use this as as a means to develop a scaled version of BFR
- SpaceX will continue sub-scale testing of technology relevant to BFS but will eventually concede that there is no business case for BFS and the inherent problems in this architecture are too great (including mining of Mars).

We are still left with some very useful technology, including reusable boosters and a much better understanding of how to build high lift re-entry vehicles. We may also end up with a booster that is more capable than Falcon Heavy but still not actually BFR.

What can we do with it?

Let me make some concrete suggestions. The BFS concept is still very useful and adaptable. In fact you could still use a scaled down version (remember we are talking a small crew, exploration only) and still use it in a reusable fashion.

You can use BFS style technology to land people on Mars and as an ascent vehicle from Mars into low Mars orbit. We are only talking 4-6 people here so the pressurised volume is tiny. Full reusability is an option but I'm not sure that stacks up. It is after all only a small proportion of the mass you are sending to Mars.

Like the BFS it would glide and then land propulsively on its tail. It would refuel with locally sourced oxygen. Methane would be imported. One option is to import the methane with the vehicle itself.

The big advantage of doing this over a direct entry is that with enough surface area and low mass (crew only) you can arrange for a relatively low g force landing (I'm not sure, I'm guessing around 2.5). This compares to the 4-6 estimated for BFS.

Of course you need to send cargo to Mars surface. This can be done with a conventional (blunt body) vehicle with movable center of mass and a late-lifting (high g force) trajectory. This can be accomplished with either one or two Falcon Heavy flights or a larger vehicle which may be a scaled down version of BFR.

You may also need to send fuel (or a complete booster) into Mars orbit. This would be done similarly except you would use a modest amount of fuel for orbital capture and then slow multi-pass aerobraking.

What you then use to send humans to and from Earth orbit and Mars orbit is another topic. As explained in another topic, I'd be happy to build a symmetric vehicle that can spin. Again, assembly in orbit through docking and multiple launches, but there's nothing here we don't already know how to do.

The whole point is that SpaceX has done us a big favour by developing reusable boosters. They may build a bigger reusable booster for the sake of NASA and they may develop further technology in the pursuit of an ultimately unbuilt BFS.

One further point. A limited manned Mars exploration mission may well be the work of multiple nations. It may even be instigated by some other agency than NASA. But it may as well build on what SpaceX has done (and utilise NASA expertise in various technologies).

Does anyone else want to suggest how SpaceX technology either present or near term can be creatively reused for a practical near term Mars mission?

I agree with your three statements....I dont know the time frame that they all happen in, and they are all triggered by SLS collapsing...but SLS Will collapse in my view. 

I would add a fourth one.  AT some point NASA and American space policy are going to embrace "Boston Dynamics" type robotics...and the bulk of Mars (as well as initial lunar exploration) is going to be advanced robotics...AND will take advantage of increased automation and robotics to do initial stages of exploration on all the inner planets as a precursor to someday human involvement at a "closer point in the loop" level.

The main thing that "rocket companies" can contribute to this...is the ability to lift larger and larger "shake and bake" Payloads to places like Mars (although the atmosphere of Venus is another place) that are heavenly automated and very dynamic in terms of their capabilites.

I agree as well that reuse is not all that important for the payloads that are sent or the vehicles that send them

It is to bad Red Dragon did not work out.  It would have been a near leapfrog in Martian activity and could have been the first "shake and bake" payload that really changed the NASA dynamics.


Offline speedevil

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I note the posts BFS - how bad can it be and get to Mars with little delay.
Much of BFS does not have to work at all in order for it to be orders of magnitude cheaper than NASA offerings.
I note that launching five BFS/BFB totally expendably is likely to get you a hundred tons or so on Mars. You only need the heatshield to work once, and at a peak velocity similar to LEO.

Offline Lar

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I'm with Speedevil, I reject the entire premise of this post and think it's not that interesting to speculate about counterfactuals.

We have seen lots of evidence of 9 meter tooling. Scaling down would completely waste that tooling.
« Last Edit: 11/29/2018 09:28 am by Lar »
"I think it would be great to be born on Earth and to die on Mars. Just hopefully not at the point of impact." -Elon Musk
"We're a little bit like the dog who caught the bus" - Musk after CRS-8 S1 successfully landed on ASDS OCISLY

Offline Russel

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Good post but I see a couple of major issues

1) SLS will keep going. It will continue to be funded by the politicians for years to come because it's what they do.  For Nasa, SLS is the only game in town for BEO.

2) Nasa would never accept a "taxi ride" solution. They will want their sticky fingers over every aspect of the design,
specs, features and endless paperwork. It's in their DNA, it's all they know and it's hard to change that.  I know the Nasa administrator has gone on about everything re-usable but I don't see it happening for a long, long time. (if ever).

3) Because of #2, SpaceX will never work with Nasa on a manned BEO platform. It would kill their creativity and speed.

There have been a number of articles recently to the effect that NASA will retire SLS in favour of commercial launches. I'm speculating that SpaceX will take the opportunity and get a NASA contract to develop what is a scaled down version of BFR.

For example:

https://www.inverse.com/article/51026-nasa-might-retire-sls
https://www.businessinsider.com.au/nasa-sls-replacement-spacex-bfr-blue-origin-new-glenn-2018-11?r=US&IR=T
https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2018/11/nasa-may-try-to-kill-sls-around-2022-and-another-16-billion-is-spent.html

Online kevinof

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I know - I saw those quotes also.

But doing ANYTHING with Nasa brings a load of pain. I just don't see SpaceX having the appetite to engage on this when they can do so on their own and I certainly don't see them downsizing BFR/BFS.

SpaceX has a plan and they are charging ahead with that plan. If Nasa want's a ride then pay up and step back. If Nasa want's their own toy then they can engage with another supplier.

Good post but I see a couple of major issues

1) SLS will keep going. It will continue to be funded by the politicians for years to come because it's what they do.  For Nasa, SLS is the only game in town for BEO.

2) Nasa would never accept a "taxi ride" solution. They will want their sticky fingers over every aspect of the design,
specs, features and endless paperwork. It's in their DNA, it's all they know and it's hard to change that.  I know the Nasa administrator has gone on about everything re-usable but I don't see it happening for a long, long time. (if ever).

3) Because of #2, SpaceX will never work with Nasa on a manned BEO platform. It would kill their creativity and speed.

There have been a number of articles recently to the effect that NASA will retire SLS in favour of commercial launches. I'm speculating that SpaceX will take the opportunity and get a NASA contract to develop what is a scaled down version of BFR.

For example:

https://www.inverse.com/article/51026-nasa-might-retire-sls
https://www.businessinsider.com.au/nasa-sls-replacement-spacex-bfr-blue-origin-new-glenn-2018-11?r=US&IR=T
https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2018/11/nasa-may-try-to-kill-sls-around-2022-and-another-16-billion-is-spent.html

Offline Russel

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Does anyone else want to suggest how SpaceX technology either present or near term can be creatively reused for a practical near term Mars mission?

You need to clarify which SpaceX technology we can and cannot use, since you assumed BFR would fail, this means one or more of the near term SpaceX technology used by BFR wouldn't work.

I think I made it clear but let me reiterate this.

Its pretty clear that some of the technology relevant to BFS can and will be tested. That should be obvious from the fact that I said that this technology could find a use - for example as a Mars surface to Mars orbit shuttle but that's just one possibility.

I have said pretty clearly that BFS has no business case. It doesn't really matter if its "in development". I'm ruling out BFS ever being built in its currently proposed form.

I'm not ruling out the possibility of BFR (at full scale) being built and flown. Even at full scale one can easily imagine uses for it that don't involve BFS. What I've said though is that it is far more likely that we'll see a scaled down version of BFR.

My problem with BFS is not that the technology wouldn't work. Its simply that its economics are broken.

Offline Russel

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I'm with Speedevil, I reject the entire premise of this post and think it's not that interesting to speculate about counterfactuals.

We have seen lots of evidence of 9 meter tooling. Scaling down would completely waste that tooling.

The tooling you need for things this size aren't cheap. But they are only a small fraction of the overall cost of development. I'm not saying that BFR itself won't fly at full scale (it might). I'm saying a) it may eventually be realised as something smaller because that's what NASA may wish to contract for and b) even if it is built at full scale, it will be for a purpose other than flying BFS.

Offline Russel

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I know - I saw those quotes also.

But doing ANYTHING with Nasa brings a load of pain. I just don't see SpaceX having the appetite to engage on this when they can do so on their own and I certainly don't see them downsizing BFR/BFS.

SpaceX has a plan and they are charging ahead with that plan. If Nasa want's a ride then pay up and step back. If Nasa want's their own toy then they can engage with another supplier.

Good post but I see a couple of major issues

1) SLS will keep going. It will continue to be funded by the politicians for years to come because it's what they do.  For Nasa, SLS is the only game in town for BEO.

2) Nasa would never accept a "taxi ride" solution. They will want their sticky fingers over every aspect of the design,
specs, features and endless paperwork. It's in their DNA, it's all they know and it's hard to change that.  I know the Nasa administrator has gone on about everything re-usable but I don't see it happening for a long, long time. (if ever).

3) Because of #2, SpaceX will never work with Nasa on a manned BEO platform. It would kill their creativity and speed.

There have been a number of articles recently to the effect that NASA will retire SLS in favour of commercial launches. I'm speculating that SpaceX will take the opportunity and get a NASA contract to develop what is a scaled down version of BFR.

For example:

https://www.inverse.com/article/51026-nasa-might-retire-sls
https://www.businessinsider.com.au/nasa-sls-replacement-spacex-bfr-blue-origin-new-glenn-2018-11?r=US&IR=T
https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2018/11/nasa-may-try-to-kill-sls-around-2022-and-another-16-billion-is-spent.html

SpaceX has a history of piggybacking its development work off NASA contracts. It somehow manages to deal with NASA quite well. The problem with BFR is that its has very limited use commercially. Elon might be a billionaire but he cannot fund BFR out of his own pocket. Eventually the most expedient thing for him to do is to sell BFR (or a scaled down version of BFR) to NASA as a way to get out of building the later versions of SLS.

Offline TripleSeven

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Does anyone else want to suggest how SpaceX technology either present or near term can be creatively reused for a practical near term Mars mission?

You need to clarify which SpaceX technology we can and cannot use, since you assumed BFR would fail, this means one or more of the near term SpaceX technology used by BFR wouldn't work.

I think I made it clear but let me reiterate this.

Its pretty clear that some of the technology relevant to BFS can and will be tested. That should be obvious from the fact that I said that this technology could find a use - for example as a Mars surface to Mars orbit shuttle but that's just one possibility.

I have said pretty clearly that BFS has no business case. It doesn't really matter if its "in development". I'm ruling out BFS ever being built in its currently proposed form.

I'm not ruling out the possibility of BFR (at full scale) being built and flown. Even at full scale one can easily imagine uses for it that don't involve BFS. What I've said though is that it is far more likely that we'll see a scaled down version of BFR.

My problem with BFS is not that the technology wouldn't work. Its simply that its economics are broken.

A couple of great post...in my view the last sentence nails it. 

As I said in an earlier reply it is to bad red dragon did not fly.  Had it flown, at the cost level that seemed to be advertised it is one of the first things in the space manufactoring business that could have "broken" the NASA monopoly on payloads to the planets.  But what I dont know about it is if 1) it was technically possible and or 2) the economics were broken.

Anyway a nice discussion. 

Online kevinof

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Yes, when they were starting F9 and Dragon development. It made sense.

With BFS there is no business case. Musk/SpaceX want to get to mars whether it makes money for them or not. It's not a commercial undertaking.  If they can do P2P on Earth and make money then great. If they can launch a 1000 Starlink sats in one go then great.

They might lease a BFS to Nasa but I can't see them doing a custom build. And even if they did sell/lease one to Nasa, it wouldn't be acceptable to Nasa as it wouldn't meet their specifications. Then you are into a new development program. I don't see a chance in hell of them doing a smaller version just for Nasa. It doesn't make sense to re-allocate resources, new tooling, new pads and all the other stuff.

You can wish for it all you want but I don't see any of this happening.

...
SpaceX has a history of piggybacking its development work off NASA contracts. It somehow manages to deal with NASA quite well. The problem with BFR is that its has very limited use commercially. Elon might be a billionaire but he cannot fund BFR out of his own pocket. Eventually the most expedient thing for him to do is to sell BFR (or a scaled down version of BFR) to NASA as a way to get out of building the later versions of SLS.

Offline rpapo

As I said in an earlier reply it is too bad Red Dragon did not fly.  Had it flown, at the cost level that seemed to be advertised it is one of the first things in the space manufacturing business that could have "broken" the NASA monopoly on payloads to the planets.
Hasn't ISRU already done this with their Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan)?  It wasn't a lander, but still...
An Apollo fanboy . . . fifty years ago.

Offline TripleSeven

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As I said in an earlier reply it is too bad Red Dragon did not fly.  Had it flown, at the cost level that seemed to be advertised it is one of the first things in the space manufacturing business that could have "broken" the NASA monopoly on payloads to the planets.
Hasn't ISRU already done this with their Mars Orbiter Mission (Mangalyaan)?  It wasn't a lander, but still...

Yes and I haad not thought of that...but yes to a small level...but they did start it.  If other countries or groups of countries start routinely flying payloads to Mars orbit (and maybe with the Europeans or eventually the Chinese landing) at some point the folks who really do the payloads...the universities will try and find funding to "get on those".  But there has to be the space/payload mass/ and chance of success.

I know an Aussie who is working on getting some penetrators (and is having some surprising success) on the European rover payload...

The thing about REd Dragon is that it would have been massive payload...and power (assuming they could figure that out) which would have been a "buffet" for the science community probaby one to big for them not to go for federal funding in some way on

I dont know for sure what killed it...the technology would not have worked or the money...I am guessing both...

Offline zodiacchris

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What is the point of this thread? Why would we assume that BFS should fail and SpaceX develops a scaled down version with NASA money??? BFS can work because it is large, scaling down is actually taking away the business case and would not make it easier to develop. Where would the sudden onrush of common sense in Congress come from, for them to realise that SLS is a dead horse?

Congress is not enamoured with commercial space, see the recent political decission to do an entirely pointless workplace review at SpaceX and Boeing.

So why not a thread on hardware available from all commercial providers suitable to land humans on Mars, but only left handed Astronauts, and only on Wednesdays or Fridays?  :o

Offline TripleSeven

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What is the point of this thread? Why would we assume that BFS should fail and SpaceX develops a scaled down version with NASA money??? BFS can work because it is large, scaling down is actually taking away the business case and would not make it easier to develop. Where would the sudden onrush of common sense in Congress come from, for them to realise that SLS is a dead horse?

Congress is not enamoured with commercial space, see the recent political decission to do an entirely pointless workplace review at SpaceX and Boeing.

So why not a thread on hardware available from all commercial providers suitable to land humans on Mars, but only left handed Astronauts, and only on Wednesdays or Fridays?  :o
.

Congress is not who did the safety review.  The [edit: snark removed] administrator did that
« Last Edit: 12/02/2018 01:37 pm by gongora »

Offline MATTBLAK

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I'm currently writing an 'alternate future' (as opposed to alternate history) novella set in the late 2020s about a manned, 'Red Dragon' mission to Mars. The architecture uses a mixture of largely off-the-shelf hardware and technology plus some custom built hardware. Two person crew, flags and footprints mission plus some rock & regolith collection. Short stay on the Martian surface. Retired, ex-Astronauts are the crew. Reason for mission? SpaceX experiences some annoying delays to it's BFR/BFS program, due to technology and financial glitches - so a trio of eccentric billionaires cough up for the mission; using soon to be retired Falcon boosters and Dragons - some of which are modified and upgraded.

Spoiler Alert:








...Mission mostly goes okay, but several things break down and make the Astronaut's lives difficult. Why do the mission? Because they can, and it furnishes some promotion for the idea of 'Man On Mars' to alleviate some public skepticism as the big scale mission proves harder to do than expected. Much like Falcon Heavy was. Some 'hand waving' is required to buy into the story... But probably not as much as aspects of the film version of Andy Weir's 'The Martian'.
« Last Edit: 11/29/2018 10:56 am by MATTBLAK »
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Offline su27k

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Does anyone else want to suggest how SpaceX technology either present or near term can be creatively reused for a practical near term Mars mission?

You need to clarify which SpaceX technology we can and cannot use, since you assumed BFR would fail, this means one or more of the near term SpaceX technology used by BFR wouldn't work.

I think I made it clear but let me reiterate this.

Its pretty clear that some of the technology relevant to BFS can and will be tested. That should be obvious from the fact that I said that this technology could find a use - for example as a Mars surface to Mars orbit shuttle but that's just one possibility.

I have said pretty clearly that BFS has no business case. It doesn't really matter if its "in development". I'm ruling out BFS ever being built in its currently proposed form.

I'm not ruling out the possibility of BFR (at full scale) being built and flown. Even at full scale one can easily imagine uses for it that don't involve BFS. What I've said though is that it is far more likely that we'll see a scaled down version of BFR.

My problem with BFS is not that the technology wouldn't work. Its simply that its economics are broken.

If BFS technology works, SpaceX will have a launcher that can send 100t+ to LEO for $7M, plus a spaceship capable of landing 100t+ on the Moon and Mars, how can the economics of this possibly be broken? The launch cost is lower than some of the small satellite launchers. Just replace F9/FH with BFR would save them bunch of money, that's not even considering their constellation, and new markets such as space tourism, missions to Moon/Mars, etc.

I don't understand this obsession regarding BFR's size. BFR is only 3 times the size of Falcon Heavy, if you think that's too large, what is the size you can accept? 2 times the size of FH? Because it's obvious they don't need another FH sized rocket since they already have FH. Then the question becomes: What's the difference between 2x FH size and 3x FH size that is so critical such that one size can make it work, while the other size can sink it?

Finally, I don't see any reason NASA would abandon SLS unless SpaceX can build something bigger. If you shrink BFR, you automatically give up any hope of stealing SLS' underpants.

Offline Russel

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What is the point of this thread? Why would we assume that BFS should fail and SpaceX develops a scaled down version with NASA money??? BFS can work because it is large, scaling down is actually taking away the business case and would not make it easier to develop. Where would the sudden onrush of common sense in Congress come from, for them to realise that SLS is a dead horse?

Congress is not enamoured with commercial space, see the recent political decission to do an entirely pointless workplace review at SpaceX and Boeing.

So why not a thread on hardware available from all commercial providers suitable to land humans on Mars, but only left handed Astronauts, and only on Wednesdays or Fridays?  :o

You know, not so long ago, discussion about Mars missions involved fairly unexciting hardware. And lots of discussion about IMLEO. Then came Elon and suddenly the entire conversation is about BFS and nothing else matters.

The purpose of this thread is to put the BFS aside and instead ask the question, how would you build a Mars architecture for limited exploration, but in the light of technology developed by SpaceX. Its a perfectly legitimate focus.

There is no business case for BFS (it doesn't matter what scale it has) and I really don't care to go into that on this thread. If you want to start a new thread where the gloves are off and we can discuss the "underpants gnomes" issues behind BFS, please do.


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