Dec 232017
 

For about three weeks the world has been uncertain whether Elon Musk was serious or not with his claim that the first launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 Heavy would send a Tesla Roadser to Mars (well, onto a solar orbit that would zip past Mars). Turns out he wasn’t kidding:

Elon Musk Reveals Photos of Tesla Roadster Launching on Falcon Heavy Rocket

 

This… makes sense. It is standard for a new launch vehicle to not launch a paying payload, because the first launch of a new vehicle stands a fair chance of not working right. So they launch inert mass simulators. So… why not launch a car? It’s attention-getting, it builds on corporate branding, it’s newsworthy. But mostly…

Sure, it would be better to send a practical payload… space probes and the like. But the fact is that there isn’t a Space probes R Us superstore; these things are extremely rare and extremely expensive. You lose one of those things, and there’ll be a whole lot of financial trouble. But Tesla Roadsters? Bunch of ’em.

 Posted by at 6:23 pm
  • MzUnGu

    Nothing like throwing away a perfectly good car away after just a few years to save the environment… Reminded me times when I found a bunch of working CFL lightbulbs in the recycling bin after the LEDs came out. LOL

    This electric car fad never cease to amaze.

  • Paul451

    Sure, it would be better to send a practical payload… space probes and the like. But the fact is that there isn’t a Space probes R Us superstore; these things are extremely rare and extremely expensive.

    OTOH, you launch a car and it’s solely a media gimmick. No different to those “put your name on a microchip on a Mars rover” NASA/ESA gimmicks.

    Whereas you launch a dozen or a hundred university or hobby level projects, those which would not be capable of funding their own way into space, and you’ve created hundreds of students who have flown hardware in space. You are not creating a tiny, momentary interest amongst a lot of people, instantly forgotten as they click on the next dancing monkey, instead you are having a significant life-changing effect on a few.

    • Scottlowther

      That sounds nice, but are there in fact several tons of easily stackable and structurally sound and characterized student minisats sitting around just waiting to be picked up and launched into a solar orbit that will take them several AU away?

      • Paul451

        There probably are. But the point is that this flight is not exactly a surprise. There was nothing to prevent Musk from several years ago offering space on FH to otherwise unflyable projects.

        FH flight 2 will carry a bunch of low-cost (low value if destroyed) independent payloads, in addition to a USAF demo payload. SLS’s first demo will carry a bunch of fairly expensive (it is SLS) independent hardware to the moon. And standardised cube-sat ejectors have allowed low cost payloads to piggyback on virtually any excess payload capacity.

        What I’m suggesting is hardly unprecedented.

    • Christopher James Huff

      And when those university projects get blown up or dumped in the ocean? “Oops, we blew up the CEO’s car” is far better PR than “oops, we blew up a bunch of kids’ expensive space projects”.

      It’s a test launch, a particularly high risk one. They are frequently done with nothing more than a mass simulator for payload. Acting like it’s some wasteful stunt and complaining about the waste or lost opportunity for payloads is particularly stupid in this case, considering how much SpaceX has done and is doing to improve the cost and availability of space launches. There’ll be many more launches, possibly with the same first stage cores, with lots of spare capacity for secondary payloads and much better odds of getting where they need to go.

      • Paul451

        And when those university projects get blown up or dumped in the ocean?

        They would understand the risk. They’d be disappointed of course, but that’s the chance you take on a once-in-a-lifetime chance of a free launch.

        Cubesats, as tertiary payloads on conventional commercial flights, can cost around $100,000 each to launch. That’s launch costs alone. “Free, but very high risk of failure” is going to attract a long list of applicants who can’t afford such costs. Given the volume and mass available, they wouldn’t even be limited to cubesats, so multi-million dollar launch equivalent for nix.

        It’s an opportunity that won’t repeat until BFR launches.

        • Scottlowther

          If SPaceX is right about BFR, then it’d be kinda dumb to load up Falcon 9H with cubesats. Wait a few years and BFR will be able to toss out cubsats like rice at a wedding. Why risk throwing away a bunch of sats that people spent lots of time and money on when in a few years a “better,” cheaper, safer and presumably more reliable launch will be available? F9H blow up on the pad, all that’s lost is the rocket and a payload that the owner won;t care about losing. But i it blows up with a bunch of student satellites, that is in fact bad PR… and a lot of broken hearts.

          A test launch is the perfect opportunity to launch *worthless* payloads. Personally I’d love so see such launches used to send many tons of *water* or even sewage into orbit. Costs nothing on the ground. Worth its weight in gold on orbit… or on the Moon. If it blows up… meh. A car? Also worthless. But “PR stunt” does have a lot of intangible value, with almost no downside.

          A bit north of a decade ago, an early Falcon 1 rocket went foom and dumped a student satellite through the roof of the launch complex. Kinda ironic, kinda funny, but also sad for the satellites builders. And maybe a lesson that SpaceX learned.

    • se jones

      No different to those “put your name on a microchip on a Mars rover

      It is different. The difference is, those rovers are US government missions paid for by our tax dollars, whereas that Tesla Roadster and that Falcon-H are Elon Musk’s personal property, of which he can do as he damn well pleases, thank you very much.

      Lighten up.

  • se jones
  • se jones

    In case ya missed it, pictures of the fairing catcher ship are on the interwebs now.
    Nice of SpaceX to name the ship after me.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/78165c77f60300effd3a94368a1222fedc62499b89231061bf1f4f34a7224dda.jpg

  • se jones

    In keeping with Musk’s stated goal of not blowing a bunch more R&D on non-BFR stuff, I recon the team must of flown a bunch of fairing recovery test flights out in the desert or off-shore, before investing in these recovery ships. Here’s hoping for more spy pics.
    I’d think flying one of these fairings with its wind loading and odd shape, would be very tricky.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/071d1036a47ac4d86fb0b4d586236d8290dc95379200e8b8f7a195722593ba33.jpg