Saturday, December 06, 2008

New Ride

Though fish are happy to frolic in oil rigs, humans are very concerned about the environment. We must be careful not to overuse nature’s gifts. We did such a good job with the Prius that they are now difficult to buy. During the oil shock of 2008, many people discovered the advantages of saving petrol. This new Space age may also finally be the era of the electric car.

Elon Musk, who made a big success with Paypal, developed the Tesla electric car. This Tesla dealership in Menlo Park, California is one of only two. (General Motors has over 7,000 dealers.) To get a Tesla, I must put down half the cost or about 60,000 US. I must wait about a year for my car to be ready. Though going overseas is a big temptation, Elon has chosen to make cars in the US. The big US automakers ruined the environment with SUV’s and are now begging for help. Without a handout, Elon’s car is doing quite well.

To make a small fortune in Space, one should start with a large fortune. Elon’s other big project is SpaceX. On September 29 their Falcon 1 rocket finally reached orbit on the fourth attempt. On November 22 the larger Falcon 9 had a successful ground test in Texas. Thursday the Falcon 9 first stage was trucked out of El Suegundo on its journey to the Cape. Early next year Falcon 9 will be launched from Kennedy Space Center.

Both Falcons use the Merlin regeneratively cooled engine. Fuel is circulated around the combustion chamber for cooling, so there is still fuel in the pipes when the first stage separates. On the third flight of Falcon 1, the first stage continued accelerating after separation. It bumped into the second stage, sending Falcon 1 spinning out of control. This problem did not occur on ground tests because sea level does not have the low pressures of Space. A ground test does not always translate into a successful flight.

The Shuttle system was due for retirement in 2010. The STS-134 flight that I suggested for the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer may push that date into 2011. A report issued by the Congressional Budget office November 3 estimates that, with the AMS flight, chances are only 5 to 30 percent of finishing by September 2010. NASA is currently aiming for a September 2014 flight of Ares 1. This leaves at least a 3-4 year gap between US spaceflights.

If all goes well, 2010 will also see an unmanned Dragon dock with ISS. A crewed version will have maximum commonality. SpaceX is already lining up scientific customers for their Dragonlab. Elon and SpaceX employees point out that Falcon/Dragon are all-American systems. Like the Tesla, they are built of US parts in US plants. A manned Dragon may be the best hope for the US closing the “gap,” and they are not asking for handouts.



Blogger Kapil said...

Wow, I can't believe you're standing in front of a Tesla Roadster. I've been following them since they first released their intent to design them. I hope things are going well for you. I'm in Texas now instead of New England. It's funny where life takes you.

-Craig Dolder
2007 ICES

7:48 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

HI Craig: As you can see from recent posts, there are fun things to see in Texas. Stay in touch.

3:03 AM  
Blogger QUASAR9 said...

Well petrol (gasoline at the pump) is down thirty per cent in the uk

but sure give me an electric car with the acceleration of a Ferrari and a 200 mile range between re-charge anytime.

The only problem of course is if I need to do 500 miles today.
hmmm let me see
maybe we could have car share or car pooling
when you arrive at the next city
you leave your car on charge
and pick up another ready charged one from the parking lot

Not good news for those who are possessive about their cars, but great for those who want to be able to go long distances
Learn from the Pony Express

8:16 AM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Great hearing from you Q9.

4:10 PM  
Blogger qraal said...

Hi Louise

Elon Musk is a true pioneer, albeit one who's learning from the mistakes of others. I hope DragonLab really takes off. I do wonder if a round-the-Moon mission couldn't be launched by coupling a DragonLab to a separately orbitted modified Falcon-9 upper stage launched by a Falcon-9 Heavy. That'd be quite an impressive feat for a private company to pull off.

12:31 PM  
Blogger L. Riofrio said...

Hi qraal: Sounds like a great plan; I wouldn't mind going along. Elon has a lot of plans for Space Xploration, perhaps that is one of them.

7:29 AM  
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