Thursday, November 17, 2022

Congratulations Artemis! Now let the SLS dinosaur slip away into the past.

Well wasn't that a tremendous launch? The biggest rocket ever! (Though it's a record that might very soon be broken.) Hey, a lot of brilliant and hardworking folks dedicated whole careers to transforming old space shuttle tech into the behemoth Space Launch System (SLS) that just launched successfully toward the Moon, the first of three throwaway giants that - we're promised - will prioneer a bold, new era for humanity - led by the USA/NASA - in space! 

I do hope all three SLS missions that we've already paid for work well, lest many tens of billions of dollars go to waste. May the astronauts have fun! And - vicariously - us, as well.

Alas, I hope these three will be the last of their breed... a Frankenstein concoction - the "Shelby-stein monster" - whose principal purpose and success was at keeping space shuttle contractors well-fed. In fact, the current "Artemis" endeavor now depends on the competing SpaceX giga-rocket to succeed, in order to provide a lander system for US footsteps to happen. And if SpaceX does succeed, then the SLS is rendered obsolete anyway.

But again, as many of you know, I think the whole Artemis plan is wrongheaded, top to bottom. There are zero good reasons for the USA/NASA to be engaged in an expensive 'race' to repeat past glories, planting footprints on a dusty useless-sterile-plain. Not when there are vastly better things we can be doing out there, at way lower cost.

Especially when humanity is going back to that expanse of poison dust, anyway!

I've posted about this before. And indeed, I know it's useless to even try. Still, let me try to lay it out for you, yet again. Here's a paste-in from that earlier post, explaining why the whole 'lunar resources' thing is incredible malarkey. Then I'll come back to sum up.


== Yes, humanity should keep exploring the moon ==

We’ve learned so much from lunar bits, especially taken by the Apollo missions. This Apollo14 sample apparently formed deep under the crust of the Earth, then got blasted to Earth’s surface, then blasted to land on the Moon, got buried and modified, then got blasted onto the moon’s surface to be plucked by an Apollo14 astronaut! How do we figure all this? We’ve learned to track an amazing suite of physical and chemical and isotopic clues thanks to … well, science.  Federally funded R&D that propelled half of our economy, since WWII.

And yet...  Come see a screed of utter-drooling nonsense –  declaring that China is “winning the new space race‼!” Oh, no! They just put a tiny solar rover on the Moon!  "The stakes are high: Who will be able to obtain the vast resources in space, for example, water/ice, iron, titaniumplatinum and nickel; secure the routes of trade; and write the rules of space commerce such as trade in energy propellant and precious metals."

Sigh. I am forced to get repetitive. The moon has what? 

In fact it has absolutely none of those things, except possibly some buried water as a source of propellant, at the difficult to access poles. And even that is likely to be eclipsed by vast amounts of water available in asteroids... along with actual, rather than make-believe gold, platinum etc. 

Why should Americans pretend to justify joining the Apollo-wannabes (e.g. China, India the Saudis and billionaires) with faux claims of lunar 'resources' that don't exist? Even the normally smart and cogent Isaac Arthur breaks his arms waving away any need to justify that claim with actual numbers. 

Oh, and here’s another cock n’bull story about moon mining and Helium 3 mythology, without a hint of due diligence on actual numbers or plausibility.

The only way that China wins any "space race" would be either militarily (as in the first chapter of Ghost Fleet or Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars; and yes, be wary) or else if Republicans force us into a "united/international consortium to go back to the moon." In that case – a lose-lose for the U.S. -- we'd have to transfer all our technology, boosting the Chinese and others on the 'team' while gaining nothing in return. 

But let's talk about those so-called resources. Come on guys. Show us the "ores" you blithely armwave to be on the moon! Show us clear charts how it would be a 'way-station" to Mars. You can't. Oh, but with no one else apparently calling out this insanity, with a sigh, let me reiterate. 

Let's roll up our sleeves and get real about 'resources.'

The moon started out resource-depleted because it came from Earth's crust, after most metals already sank into our planet's core.  (Blasted out of our crust by an impacting mini-planet, we're now pretty sure.)

Then the newborn-molten moon fractionated again, sending most of what metals it had left settling into it's own core! 

As for what remained, there were no water processes which concentrated most useful ores on Earth. 

True there's aluminum and silicon and smidgeons of titanium in Luna's crust... and all of it is in super tight oxygen bonds that will take truly major energy input to separate -- possible, but hugely non-trivial. (Ever wonder why plants to refine bauxite (aluminum-oxides) are always next to giant hydro-electic dams?)

A little scattered meteoritic iron might get collected by dragging magnets endlessly through dust. Or else, we could go where it came from...

Asteroids. Half of all asteroids seem to have come from a shattered proto-planet that broke up, soon after the Earth formed. Some of the remnant bodies come from that proto-planet's carbon-volatiles-water rich outer crust. Some came from the stony middle regions. And many of them from a metal core of purified iron-nickel plus dollops to gold etc. Pre-refined metal! And the Psyche mission may confirm that big asteroid as the remnant of the core.

In other words, there ARE riches out there! Much of it accessible. Japan and NASA - with real help from ESA - have already done spectacular sample return missions from asteroids.

By comparison, the only resource advantage of the moon is purported Helium Three. And please show it to me. Show me a customer. Show me a plausible method to collect and refine it. Hold me back from strangling the next cultist raving "Helium Three!" 


== Oh, don't neglect the place altogether! ==

Yes, I do think we should keep exploring Luna!   For one thing, humanity is going back there, no matter what. And that's fine, Chinese and later Indian and Saudi and European and billionaire tourists - maybe someday even 
Russians - will skip about, planting footprints in that dusty, useless, utterly resource-free plain. And maybe the U.S. should sell them services, like orbital hotel rooms and landers! Indeed, let's send robots to explore some of those lava tube tunnels, partly to prevent rivals from claiming them all. 

But joining their mad rush for footprints? Why?

Their surface reasons will be 'scientific,' but we all know it will be tourism and national pride. Having their Bar Moonzvah, so to speak. (“Today I am a man!”) 

Mazel Tov. Americans and Japanese and Diamandis-ovs and Musk-ovites should transmit congratulations. Let's blow them kisses from the asteroids where we're getting spectacularly rich, doing things that only we (with our fellow true modernists) can do.

Wake up and smell the platinum.


And yeah.... nothing has changed since I wrote all that, except that bit by bit the truth about the SLS noondoggle is coming out. And maybe it's time for the space shuttle contractors to finally find honest work.

37 comments:

Diaspar said...

It has the benefit that we don't have to see a narcissist billionaire on top of the rocket. It follows the early NASA tactic of spreading the riches of contracting to make it politically possible to keep funding. I think that your dislike of this program is too much. The moon could be a way-station to Mars and the Asteroids.

Charles Smarr said...

Earth orbit is and will forever be closer to high quality space resources than the Lunar surface. Putting a way-station to Mars and the asteroids there would be just plain wrong. The political contract methodology is not only inefficient but borderline criminal.

David Brin said...

Diaspar: "The moon could be a way-station to Mars and the Asteroids."

As Sharles Smarr says - and I say said in the article - that is simply false from an energetics point of view. There are some other ways in which a moonbase might benefit Mars voyagers. But all are far fetched and none in the near future.

David Brin said...

Here's a new version of a song beloved by every guy I knew...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9RnhVDTks3g&list=RD9RnhVDTks3g&start_radio=1

And the arliest known recording, by a Zulu group in 1939...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WH0BrpCK0Cc

gregory byshenk said...

Three things of mine posted after the 'onward' in the previous. Seems silly to repost them.

Antonym said...

Let's head to Phobos and start uncovering alien artifacts.

gregory byshenk said...

As a related followup to my previous comments, I checked some current prices of electric vehicles in the USA.

Regarding Tesla, and comparisons. Yes, the Tesla's are all nicer cars than something like the Nissan Leaf. Then again, as noted earlier, it would be shocking if they were not.

The price of a Leaf ranges from $28k-$36k. The base price of a Tesla Model 3 (their least expensive) is $20k higher at the low end, rising to $34k higher at the top end (or nearly twice as much). The Model Y costs more than twice as much at both the low and high end of the range, and the Model S more than three times as much.

duncan cairncross said...

Gregory said

Everyone else was trying to build normal person's cars. That is what most cars in the world are. The 'car guy' cars are a minority. Most people's idea of a "good" car is a car that does what they need it to do at a reasonable price.

(1) - great "theory" about cars - unfortunately 100+ years of actual experience shows that its bollocks - sex sells cars!!

(2) - I have spent decades in the Auto business - and Tesla IS 10 years ahead

The guy in charge at VW said it -
they were taking 40 hours to build an electric Golf and working on reducing it to 30 hours
Tesla too 10 hours for the model Y

Leaf V Tesla
YES the Leaf has a higher "PRICE" than a Tesla 3
But Tesla is making over 30% on each car sold
The "COSTS" are similar
"Price" is because that is what people are willing to pay - with a 12 month waiting list


Cost of a "start-up"
If its a software business THEN you can use your "Promises"
For actual Hardware you need MONEY - lots of it!

An example would be the Cummins engines I used to work with
We sold engines to Chrysler (Dodge Ram) $2,000 for a 6 liter 300 hp engine

But in order to make them for that cost we had a $200 million block line, a $100 million head line a $100 million casting operation

Larry Hart said...

An a capella chorus that guys will love even more. :)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VNFoNBz9Dbs

Alfred Differ said...

Gregory Byshenk,

Car prices follow a 'decay' curve (roughly) in the used market. The question isn't whether they decay, but what the decay constant is. They don't quite decay to zero, though. They have scrap value, but you might not get that from a used car salesman. They might have 'parts' value if a number of others like them are still on the road, but you'll get better money from the junkyard owner than a used car salesman. When I was looking at used Leaf models, I didn't like the size of the decay constant and didn't believe in the parts value for more than a few years.

Here is an example using my Toyota Pickup. Manufactured in '93 (like) as a '94 model. My brother-in-law bought it new in '94 and I bought it used from him in '96. He ate the initial depreciation step. I held it until '17 knowing full well there were still plenty of them on the road and that people would want to buy mine. I used to get notes left under my windshield wipers asking if I wanted to sell it. When I did, I sold it at what I thought was a little under its part value to my neighbor who thought it was worth more than its parts value. He fixed it up and got it running again. Almost 30 years after it was created, it's likely still out there… though I lost track of it during the pandemic.

While I held that pickup, its price slowly decayed with time much like all the little plastic parts in the interior did. And the exterior paint. And the plastic lenses covering front and back lights. Price decay is just depreciation, but the rate at which it occurs depends heavily on what people think.

———

I'm no Musk fanboi. I've no doubt he's an SOB to work for. I saw that some of his SpaceX former employees are filing suit now, which means the lawyer sharks pushing their case think Musk is vulnerable enough to settle for $$$. He's a likely sociopath, but so are MANY of our successful entrepreneurs. The most successful find little ways to adjust to avoid being thrown in jail… without ever really becoming the nice people with whom we'd choose to have a beer.

I don't really care what people think of him, though. I'm interested in whether or not we can benefit as a civilization by tolerating him a bit. I think the answer to that is a resounding Yes.

———

Duncan has already chimed in about the need for $$$ to start companies that produce hardware. I can put dollar figures to what it takes to get going in an aerospace start up and tell stories about how the politics works. I was eyeball deep in two distinct efforts and saw people who risked millions NOT make it though they had some wonderful ideas and tech. SpaceX itself almost didn't make it.

Telling some my stories might have to wait a few more years for the statute of limitations to run out. (Or its equivalent on the civil side.) I like to think I'm a nice guy, but I left a wake of pissed off former partners. Did a thing or two along the way. Nothing I think was illegal, though. Just hardball. Maybe I get where Musk is coming from because I can be an SOB too. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

For the sake of being relevant to the topic of the post…


I don't mind if Americans want to go to the Moon again and prove this or that notion. I'd really prefer they NOT get the US government involved, though. Wanna prove He3 resources are there? Fine. Wanna dig up platinum group ores from asteroid impacts? Fine. Do it on private money, though, because getting the US federal government involved will jack up your costs about 100x. Don't believe me? Pfft!

Federal purchasing rules add considerably to the costs of projects because they don't just buy the thing being bought. They buy the pedigree for the parts too. They buy insurance against political risk which means a whole lot of due diligence is involved for everything ranging from what gets bought and where to who profits. There's nothing Senators love more than surprise political consequences for backing a project.

Get the federal government involved in your exploration project on the Moon and it becomes a political project instead of the exploration you had in mind. Politics is… uhm… volatile right now.

So how do you get there without the government?
Buy a damn ticket.
There is a company out there right now who can get your assay equipment into lunar orbit.
They are working on a way to get it down from orbit.

———

I know some guys who disagree with our host regarding the value of surface exploration on the Moon, but they don't want to use federal money if they can help it. I'm fine with that for two reasons that should be obvious.

1. If they succeed, their resources are close to markets here on Earth and they'll wind up proving (again) how humans expand into frontiers driven largely by market signals.

2. If they don't succeed, their investors will eat the losses proving again the value of market competition.


Please, please, please do NOT get the US federal government involved in anything beyond basic licensing of flights… which is mostly about insuring against risks of us screwing up and dropping hardware on people part way around the world.

David Brin said...

A rare event. I disagree with Alfred this time. Government endeavors must SHIFT to areas where its talents best apply. E.g. pure science or early tech. When Obama shifted from paying ULA anything they asked over to asking for bids on launch as a service, he performed such a shift, introducing competition and favoring the rise of fresh competitors. And while commercial is now a huge part of SpaceX business, the core remains SpaceX launching at half the price and still making huge profits that get re-invested.

Cari Burstein said...

Alfred Differ wrote:
When I was looking at used Leaf models, I didn't like the size of the decay constant and didn't believe in the parts value for more than a few years.

Keep in mind that electric vehicles which had federal/state credits available for them at purchase have a pretty significant immediate depreciation baked right in, because people are discounting that cost from the purchase price, but on the used market, you can't do that because those rebates aren't available again. Given the size of the rebates on the early models, it's a pretty big impact on the used price, and a much larger proportion of the total car value on a cheaper car like the Leaf compared to a far more expensive Tesla.

I won't claim that the early generation Leaf models didn't lose a lot of their value on the used market. I knew when I bought my first generation Leaf that would happen, because the technology was fairly new, they made some questionable decisions with regards to battery design which led to the battery life degrading more than it did on later generations, and that degradation made the range unreasonably tight in the long term. It was also really the first electric car produced in volume for the market, so there's a bigger supply of those early generation models than there were on earlier models (my 2003 RAV4 EV retained quite a lot of value when I sold it to buy the Leaf, because at the time they were so rare).

I didn't replace mine until 2020, when I finally needed more range than it could give, and I have been quite happy with my 2020 Leaf. I never even considered a Tesla as the price was higher than I wanted to spend, and I'm not a particular fan of the design (my mom loves hers though).

I don't think you can judge much about the state of the more recent generations of the Leaf or other electric cars from the state of the very early ones in the used market though. Things have changed a lot since the early generations- ranges are far more suitable to the general public, the battery tech in general has improved, and the market has matured some. There's going to continue to be improvements in the electric options, but the biggest jumps have already happened. If I recall you were also talking about the used car market in 2016, which is 6 years ago, and probably means the used Leafs you were looking at were from the first few generations of the car.

For the record, I've never bought any electric car specifically just because of environmental concerns (although certainly it doesn't hurt). I originally got my EV1 because I hated stopping for gas. I've never liked doing long road trips, and every electric car (I'm on my 4th) I've gotten has been sufficient for getting around to the places I want to go (even the Leaf I replaced probably could have worked, but it was getting a bit tight due to some loss of range after 9 years). I would never go back to a gas car, because driving electric is just so much nicer an experience and I'd like to continue my 22 year streak of not buying gas.

Alfred Differ said...

Where the feds are buying tickets to ride, I have no objection to them doing research in cis-lunar space. I think it unwise for those of us with with long range civilization goals to get them involved as the primary driver, though. Cis-lunar volume is developed 'enough' for the feds to take a back seat.

The boundary I draw is the cis-lunar volume between Earth-Sun L1 & L2. I make exceptions for research pointing outward from those 'locations' and another that uses useful orbits to perform engineering tests for efforts further out.

If they are buying rides instead of building them, I'm not going to complain much. I'll just point that political risk comes with costs that investors mistake for actual engineering costs. If your project does not place a Senator at risk of losing a future election, it 'magically' costs less.

It's time to consider other options. It's time to consider B2B services and government should have little to do with that.

Alfred Differ said...

Cari Burstein,

This is good to know. I didn't want to imply I would never consider a Leaf. I DID consider buying one and would think it over again when the time comes... probably about 3 years from now when my Corolla nears its 20th birthday.

That Leaf models have improved supports the notion that the industry has improved as a whole. That was actually our original point because Musk helped do that by selling a sexy car. Not everyone wants that kind of car, but there sure are a lot of Teslas on the road everywhere I go.

------

What I wound up buying was a '14 Subaru CrossTrek. Baby sized SUV. Sorta. Decent mileage and what I thought was a decent safety record with respect to keeping its passengers alive in an accident. I swapped with my wife since she drives a lot more and took the '06 Corolla.

Gasoline purchases are annoying, but I didn't own a home at the time. We lived in a townhouse with the tiny garage stuffed full of boxes. Temporary thing, but it influenced what I bought because I dared not charge a car from there. We got undervoltage events from the city utility often enough to fry the landlady's frig. The lesson in that for those who want electric everywhere is some places are not up to snuff. Even here in California. 8)

I'm in a place I own now and have full control. Bwa-ha-ha! I'll go electric somehow even if I have to generate it.

gregory byshenk said...

duncan cairncross said...
(1) - great "theory" about cars - unfortunately 100+ years of actual experience shows that its bollocks - sex sells cars!!

"Sex" helps to sell cars in some circumstances, particularly when the costs of buying and operating are low. But even then, things can change (cf: the explosion of sales of unsexy imports in the US when gas prices went up in the 1970s).

And "sex sells" all sorts of things - other things being equal - but other things rarely are, and there is always a tradeoff. The vast majority of buyers won't pay twice as much, or suffer with bad ergonomics, etc., for "sexy". Yes, some will, but most won't.

(2) - I have spent decades in the Auto business - and Tesla IS 10 years ahead

The guy in charge at VW said it -
they were taking 40 hours to build an electric Golf and working on reducing it to 30 hours
Tesla too 10 hours for the model Y


Yes, because the e-Golf was an electric powertrain bolted on to a petrol-engined design. This is inefficient, which is why VW switched over the things like the ID.3.

Leaf V Tesla
YES the Leaf has a higher [sic] "PRICE" than a Tesla 3
But Tesla is making over 30% on each car sold
The "COSTS" are similar
"Price" is because that is what people are willing to pay - with a 12 month waiting list


Almost. Tesla claims an average margin of 30%, which is not the same as "30% on every car sold". But yes, they are finally profitable.

Cost of a "start-up"
If its a software business THEN you can use your "Promises"
For actual Hardware you need MONEY - lots of it!


Obviously. But you need to pay attention to the point at issue. We were talking about paying one's engineers. If one is dealing with an old-school, bootstrap startup with very little funding, then one may need to entice employees with "hopes and dreams" (stock options, excitement, etc.) because one cannot pay them what they worth. If one's startup has $100 million in funding, then that doesn't apply in the same way.

duncan cairncross said...

We were talking about paying one's engineers.

If you have to spend a shit ton of money on equipment and material then the relatively small amount required to pay the engineers is not significant
AND
The decision NOT to pay the engineers is definitely something that the engineers would take into account

If you are a software startup with almost no equipment and material costs THEN paying with promises MAY be acceptable

Musk got his $180 million from PayPal - his second multimillion dollar enterprise

And then used that money to fund SpaceX and Tesla - neither of which could have been started without that sort of funding

Alfred Differ said...

Gregory Byshenk,

I've seen aerospace start-ups get going on a few million dollars and fail because they had to choose between paying their engineers and hardware iterative testing. Saw one start around $25M and still not make it. Saw one started by a multi-millionaire not make it because he had the good sense (and a smart wife) to recognize when he was beaten.

'Scrappy' is a very relative thing. I used to think one of my start-ups was scrappy because we figured out how to manage projects on budgets that typically had two less digits in the price tag. That multi-millionaire said we were chronically starved. He was far more right than I was and time proved it.

-----

The first multi-millionaire I met who took a shot at an aerospace startup gave some of the best investment advice I ever heard. He told us to stop pitching at investors, get out of the field, go make a few million doing something else, and then come back. Turns out EVERY rich guy I've ever met who took a shot at aerospace did EXACTLY that... and I now think it is the only way for the mammals to get past the dinosaurs.

scidata said...

Old Quebec joke:
Q: How do you start a small business in Quebec?
A: Start a big business and wait.

Last night Elon used it explicitly, in what may be one of the last tweets to ever go out. I really hope lessons get learned. IT expertise does not make one a psychohistorian (I should know).

I've used this line many times; but Mike, what does this have to do with space? is the usual response. (in the real world, I pretty much only talk about space). Hubble was first considered in the 1940s. The JWST had its first planning meeting before Hubble was even launched. That's how long it takes to forge an entirely new methodology/technology. Planners of the Carl Sagan Observatory* are rushing to get it operational in just 10 years. The reason is that the people who know how to build, pack, launch, and deploy such an instrument will retire (or pass on) in much less than 40 years. I doubt there's any similar urgency to preserve SLS's shuttle peeps :)

* 12m vs JWST's 6.5m, optical instead of IR, able to directly image local (25 ly) star-planet systems

Larry Hart said...

Looking at you, Kellyanne Conway!

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/17/opinion/democracy-american-voters-trump-election-deniers.html

...
It’s not that these Americans don’t care about their pocketbooks. Just as it’s a mistake for politicians to be cavalier about democracy, it is a mistake for elected officials to govern poorly or push policies that would leave typical members of the middle class worse off. They should, of course, campaign on bread-and-butter economics, too. But it sells fellow citizens short to assume they will sacrifice their democratic inheritance just because the price of gasoline spiked.
...

David Brin said...

At NIAC we funded 1st development of the STARSHADE concept which would put a mani-petaled flower shaped occulting disk hundreds of km from a telescrop, between it and a target star, allowing a view of nearby planets.

gregory byshenk said...

duncan cairncross said...
If you have to spend a shit ton of money on equipment and material then the relatively small amount required to pay the engineers is not significant
AND
The decision NOT to pay the engineers is definitely something that the engineers would take into account

If you are a software startup with almost no equipment and material costs THEN paying with promises MAY be acceptable


Exactly. That is the point.

The claim was made that Musk has to have been inspiring (or "persuasive") to get engineers to work on his SpaceX project, because it was a "startup". My point was that, with $100 million in "startup" money that doesn't apply in the way it does when one is self-funding or otherwise working with limited startup capital.

And this is not a 'hardware'/'software' thing, either. One can start a hardware company with limited funds - although you are likely to need more funding at some point to grow the business - and a software startup can be well-funded.

And then used that money to fund SpaceX and Tesla - neither of which could have been started without that sort of funding

Well, Tesla started without that funding, and then went in search of capital. But we can't know what would have happened with Musk. Maybe someone else would have funded them and they would have been more successful; maybe less successful; maybe they wouldn't have ever really got off the ground. And in any case, electric cars would have been produced on more or less the same timeline: again, lots of companies were working on them and putting them into production at about the same time as Tesla did.

SpaceX is a better example, in that Musk actually founded the company. But, again, we can't know what would have happened if he didn't. As in the case of electric cars, there were others looking to do the same things. If Musk hadn't started SpaceX, then maybe things would have slowed - or maybe someone else would have hired Tom Mueller and/or some of the other movers at SpaceX and done something similar.

But regardless of that, SpaceX has accomplished a great deal and is a great achievement. It is more the Tesla fanbois that irritate me, because - unlike SpaceX, which is doing things that no one else is doing - Tesla is not particularly special. If it has some edge over its competitors, that edge is a small one, and it is not doing anything that others can't. As I said above: if Tesla hadn't existed (or hadn't received funding), then the development of electric vehicles would not have been significantly different.

gregory byshenk said...

Alfred Differ said...
I've seen aerospace start-ups get going on a few million dollars and fail because they had to choose between paying their engineers and hardware iterative testing. Saw one start around $25M and still not make it.

There is a significant difference between "a few million" and "a hundred million". As I noted in my earlier response to Duncan: hardware is eventually going to cost money. With only a million and no additional funding, then one will probably be forced to cut corners.

Why did the $25M company fail? Run out of money? If they had four times as much would they have run out? And don't forget that after that first $100M, over the next few years they received another $115M.

'Scrappy' is a very relative thing. I used to think one of my start-ups was scrappy because we figured out how to manage projects on budgets that typically had two less digits in the price tag. That multi-millionaire said we were chronically starved. He was far more right than I was and time proved it.

Yes, being 'chronically starved' can be a problem with startups, especially those that have to produce actual stuff. But not only those, as the saying goes: "heroic effort is not a stategy". It may get you through a crunch, but it doesn't work over the longer term.

But SpaceX was never chronically starved.

Alfred Differ said...

Gregory Byshenk,

Okay. For the sake of clarity, I'll psuedo-name the multi-millionaires I've known who got involved and rank them in terms of wealth without stating what I thought their net worth was. The order is better understood as the capital they put at risk as best I knew it.

$B1 brought in a few million to buy a publicly traded company and did a reverse merger into it. That got him a stock ticker listing and a way to raise capital through bonds or equity offerings. His hardware flew to space a few times though on suborbital paths.

$C brought in a bit more than $B and kept his aerospace company private. They competed for the X Prize and Lunar Lander prize. They were beaten both times, but produced interesting hardware and software that solved significant problems related to landing rockets.

$B2 brought in (likely) tens of millions and kept his company private. They worked on orbiting habitats and wanted to provide livable volumes to anyone interested in short of long stays in orbit. In hindsight, he jumped the gun? Maybe? Well… probably by a few years at least. There are tourists who would like to go, but he needed reliable transportation services provided by someone else. SpaceX is finally at a launch cadence of once a week just this year.

$X had hundreds of millions he would have risked if he'd thought he'd met anyone credible. He made $$$ elsewhere and wanted to turn it toward space much like Musk did. Unfortunately, he acted as his own counsel when it came to tax laws in the US and wound up doing time.

———

None of those guys listed above is Musk… who I've never met. The first three actually produced hardware that got past the testing phase. The first two actually flew their hardware.

None of those guys listed above is Bezos either.

$C is the guy who called my team 'chronically starved'. Nice guy. Dead right. I'd work for him in a heartbeat.

$B1 picked the wrong technology though his hardware did help push Burt Rutan's design into space and make Mike Melvill an astronaut. It was a dead end though… and a few of us knew it.

$B2 I met somewhat indirectly. He won't remember me. I thought he was a bit of a loon, but didn't care too much because he was doing good by our civilization.

As for $X… I had the pleasure of pissing him off while I helmed an organization he funded. I'm still certain of the correctness of my decisions. I also wish he had hired good tax advisors.

———

The field is also littered with the corpses of innovators who brought in cash from angel investors with starting amounts of a million or less. Some of them managed to meet payrolls for a while. Some turned into contractor companies and then went under or were bought up.

There is a LOT more going on out there besides what the rich guys are doing.

Alan Brooks said...

One of these two investors is a first cousin of mine:
https://miltonfmr.com/how-charlie-ledley-and-jamie-mai-turned-110000-into-almost-130-million/

gregory byshenk said...

Alfred Differ said...
$B1 brought in a few million[...]
$C brought in a bit more than $B[...]
$B2 brought in (likely) tens of millions[...]
$X had hundreds of millions he would have risked [but didn't?...]

The field is also littered with the corpses of innovators who brought in cash from angel investors with starting amounts of a million or less. Some of them managed to meet payrolls for a while. Some turned into contractor companies and then went under or were bought up.

There is a LOT more going on out there besides what the rich guys are doing.


Which is all very interesting, and I see no reason to believe it is not completely true (FWIW, I knew one group who started one such company). But what does it have to do with the fact that SpaceX was well-capitalized (at least an order of magnitude more than the companies you mention) and thus was not at all in the same boat? Remember that we are discussing this because of the suggestion that Musk had to "persuade" his engineers because he couldn't just pay them what they were worth.

In fact, this response of yours at least suggests that being able to "persuade" engineers is nothing special, given that so many people are able do it.

Alfred Differ said...

Gregory Byshenk,

...the fact that SpaceX was well-capitalized...

It wasn't. It was better capitalized. He still had to persuade engineers to believe in a vision of success.

He had a lot of help in that they WANTED to believe it, but they almost failed. Their first few F1's did not succeed and blew through most of the capital. The first one that did succeed would have been the last one had it not because there wasn't enough left to do another without raising more money.

In fact, this response of yours at least suggests that being able to "persuade" engineers is nothing special, given that so many people are able do it.

Heh. I'll take that as a bit of snark and skip over the question about how often you've tried it. Some are relatively easy. The ones with the advanced skills you actually need rarely are because they've got advanced skills involving how people screw up perfectly good ideas. 8)

Musk had a very talented team early on. Part of why he did was because the rest of us who won't be remembered helped them hone those advanced skills involving how people screw up perfectly good ideas. 8)

No fanboi worship is needed here. The simple truth is Musk managed to do what a lot of us had been trying to do. A few of us knew how to promote. A few of us knew how to persuade engineers. What we largely lacked was a skill at persuading rich people to buy in. Musk sold himself on that as did $C and $B2. $B1 didn't have excellent persuasion skills when it came to engineers... so he had to pay properly... and ran out.

Persuasion isn't a magical skill. It's learned.
Persuading engineers isn't magical either. It's demonstrated.
Musk demonstrated it by learning on the job. SpaceX survived because of a number of things of which only one of them was the fact that he brought in just enough cash.

scidata said...

Alfred Differ: … but this is why I argue against have our federal government get too wrapped up in cislunar space in the future

I'm certainly not an enterprise founder, but I have been in the room a few times as a technical resource (and sternly instructed to only speak when spoken to). Here's how a JWST-type proposal might go:

VC: "Ladies and Gentlemen, the floor is yours."
Team: "We'd like to build a space telescope."
VC: "Why?"
Team: "To expand mankind's view of time and space, and our place in it."
VC: "I see. More coffee? I could sure use a refill."
[long, awkward silence]
VC: "What's your timeline, with details on startup costs, time to viable product, and mid-term ROI?"
Team: "We have tentative agreements to acquire possible computer time from a few interested universities. We have two PhDs on staff, except when they need to run exams and do their required school office time."
VC: "Oh. That's nice."
VC: "How about the long term - what's the expected time to an actual launch?"
Team: "Certainly no more than a decade or two, three at most, it depends on acquiring several as yet non-existent technologies."
VC: "Oh."
Me: Sorry, to interrupt, but my model has crashed again, I need to reboot."
[Team Leader glares at me and sees only someone he used to know]
VC: "Thanks so much for coming in. Please be sure to leave your security badges at the door."


I suspect that's a tad different than how such a meeting might go at NIAC. Government is s-l-o-w, but strangely permanent (the bureaucrats, not the politicians), and not averse to sending good money after bad, as long as it can be spun into an "invest in the future" stump speech for whoever is the next pseudo-boss (a reference to "Yes, Minister").

Of course, I'm personally on the grassroots side of things. I've been given the bum's rush out of politicians offices more than once. And I don't have a thick skin, so it hurts. I admire naive, spunky innovators much more than I do cynical grifters or Lord Dorwin types. Even a failed startup still brings a twinkle to their eye and fuels them to opine and reminisce with enthusiasm for hours. I spend every spare nickel and minute I have on advocacy for citizen science and DIY research, and I even take a modicum of pride at electoral defeats of fascists.


There is a LOT more going on out there besides what the rich guys are doing.

Correctamundo.

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

"...the fact that SpaceX was well-capitalized..."

It wasn't. It was better capitalized


If it was well-capitalized, it would be Spacex.

If it was under-capitalized, it would be spacex.

If it was over-capitalized, it would be SPACEX.

(Did I say that or think it?)

locumranch said...

The Artemis Mission is a realtime remake of Jim Henson's Pork & Pigs in Space, just click the link to see the US Democrat Party blueprint for gender fluidity, open borders & mass amnesty for illegal immigration:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EmI77ZBeJrQ

But, seriously folks, Dr. Brin deserves kudos for this, as he predicted that NASA & its bloated federal appendages were dead men walking, even before these porkers decided to kick the can another 5 years down the road & plagiarize the old story about the condemned man who promises the king that he can teach the royal horse to fly, if given a temporary reprieve & a little more time...

Because, like the Flying Horse project, its not the Artemis Mission which is of importance, but the 'temporary reprieve & a little more time' in order to allow NASA to gorge itself from the public trough for another 5 years, as self-perpetuation is always the primary goal of every organism & organization.


Best

GMT -5 8032 said...

I’ve never met a billionaire. I don’t know anyone involved in the space industry. But I am a US tax expert. It’s a shame that so many of the people in my profession are corrupt. They advise clients into conflict with taxing authorities then represent those clients through the enforcement proceedings. I was the government lawyer across the table from them. They would accuse me of unethical behavior even though I was telling them what they needed to do to spare their clients from expensive trouble. Too many of my co-workers were angling for jobs with the taxpayers or their attorneys.

David Brin said...

GMT shall we wager whether the top priority of Kevin McCarthy's narrow House majority - and it will unite MAGAs with RINOs -- will be to hamper the IRS from hiring the hundreds of new auditors intended (under Pelosi legislation) to go after rich tax cheats?

Even when he 'agrees" with me, locum is a miserable, tunnel-visioned crank.

Alas, my dear friend Greg Bear appears to be departing this realm, leaving a legacy of bold visions.

Larry Hart said...

Dr Brin:

Even when he 'agrees" with me, locum is a miserable, tunnel-visioned crank.


When he "agrees" with me is when I start praying to Jesus for help.

Larry Hart said...

Current-day Republicans explained (emphasis mine) :

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/16/opinion/trump-2024-election.html

...
For decades, conservatives have been a mass of angst and anger ready to hitch themselves to the next flaming chariot. They convince themselves, in the moment, that some principle is propelling their attachments — economic restraint, safe borders, anti-wokeness — but it is, in fact, just a perpetual rebellion against inclusion and enlightenment.

For them, change, growth and evolution are the enemy.

I will admit that change and growth can be messy; there can be missteps, which conservatives will inevitably seize upon as an indictment of change. But change is irrepressible and inevitable.

So, too many Republicans latch on to people who represent resistance and regression, people who claim the ability and desire to freeze time and reverse it.
...

Larry Hart said...

This was essentially the essence of Kurt Vonnegut's novel Jailbird, which he claimed was an attempt to write a science-fiction story about economics.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/11/19/opinion/musk-trump-bezos-bankman-fried-billionaires.html

...
Mr. Bankman-Fried embodies another pretension of plutocratic benevolence: that of the renegade, the people’s billionaire. Like many others, he hawked cryptocurrency as a fight against the establishment, against the big banks, against the powers that be, man. He has said his work was motivated by the ideals of effective altruism, a trendy school of thought that encourages people to go out and make as big a heap of money as they can so that they can use it to heal the world.
...

David Brin said...

onward

onward

Hal Canary said...

I just wish the US Congress would set goals for cost-per-ton-to-low-Earth-orbit. And maybe a separate goal for the cost and safety of a human-rated launch system. After we achieve good numbers there, we can start talking about long term plans for human space exploration.