Starlink, Magic Wrought Useful, by Babelfish


Clarke's Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Like some SST correspondents, I grew up in the frenzy of the 50s cold war. Missile Gaps. Sergei Korolev dueling with Werner Von Braun. Secret Russian super-rockets were hurling dogs, sputniks, Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova into orbit. US rockets were failing in many interesting and explosive ways. 

I think we all eventually learned that failures were to be expected and are now understood to be part of the price to pay for cutting edge technological advance. My dad taught me a valuable lesson in the evolutionary process of engineering when I gave him a VIP tour of the External Fuel Tank assembly facility, through the mighty machines we used. He commented that they were like the machines he had worked on while making missiles in the mid -fifties but grown very much larger. When I mentioned that to my engineer friends they all smiled and proceeded to tell takes of how that was true in so many ways. 

I read a lot of science fiction when younger. I remember being impressed that private industry was expected by many authors to make use of space and be the routine way to get into space. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, you took Pan Am to orbit. When I worked on the Shuttle program that all looked like science fiction. The Air Force and Navy were much larger drivers of space usage than many remember and, while Ariane Space was getting stood up in 1980, there was a time that any US civilian satellites were launched by NASA. NASA even got Congress to mandate that military satellites would be launched on the Shuttle. 

The USAF was wroth with space anger about that. I mean seriously wrothed off. Trying to manage their wroth, they concocted a security program for we Shuttle contractors. I attended a meeting where they proposed to take our location, the legendary Michoud Assembly Facility, and ring it with armed guards. People on the NASA and Martin Marietta side of the table were speechless and just about cross-eyed. Regrettably, in 1986, losing Challenger and two other consecutive failures (Delta II and a big Titan 34D) brought that to an end.

Disruption and disruptive technology. 

All these years forward, after investments to stand up commercial supply flights to the ISS and much other history, Space X launches 60 coffee table sized satellites using a newly fabricated second stage and a reusable first stage booster making its third trip. They have become a completely disruptive force in the space launch industry. I am in awe of their engineering and program management prowess. The images of the first Falcon Heavy side boosters landing back at the Cape was one of the greatest moments in our country’s history. It was pure magic.

Space X is riding on the creative frenzy of an entrepreneur like perhaps no other, the inimitable Elon Musk. Who else could launch a personal EV roadster into solar orbit? And, in the background, tick off a bunch of NASA and Air Force requirements for second stage maneuverability and space suit qualifications while entertaining us in a grand way. Who else could help invent PayPal, seriously disrupt the automotive industry, get in trouble with the SEC, smoke weed in public, make flamethrowers, create a tunnel boring company, sue the government over a contract award (and win) and the list is still growing larger. He appears to be unquenchable! Yes he is maddening  with his drama and overpromises. He is wildly optimistic about things like launch dates. His companies and products are not perfect. And yet he convinces people to invest in his dreams, over and over again. And convinces hordes of talented folks to work with him as well. He is the master disruptor and a modern day Merlin.

As proposed, Starlink is breathtaking and fully disruptive. 

From Wikipedia: SpaceX has plans to deploy nearly 12,000 satellites in three orbital shells by the mid-2020s: initially placing approximately 1600 in a 550-kilometer (340 mi)-altitude shell, subsequently placing ~2800 Ku-and Ka-band spectrum satellites at 1,150 km (710 mi) and ~7500 V-band sats at 340 km (210 mi). The total cost of the decade-long project to design, build and deploy such a network is estimated at nearly US$10 billion. It is intended to be a low latency internet service provider. That would be a game changer for internet service. Again, just fully disruptive. I have linked to a YouTube video that catches all of that.

In the attached Wikipedia entries, the future projected annual income from SpaceX is approximately $10 Billion USD from launch services and $30 Billion USD from Starlink. Starlink will fund Musk's ambitions for Mars exploration and settlement.

Suddenly the effort to make the Block 5 Falcon first stages reusable up to 100 times makes a lot of sense. It will take some 200 launches to complete this constellation. And they still have to make the business model work. It would seem Musk has bet the company that he will succeed where the initial Iridium failed. I wish Merlin and his friends all the luck there is in their quest!



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17 Responses to Starlink, Magic Wrought Useful, by Babelfish

  1. Avatar turcopolier says:

    Babelfish – Please accept the task of space correspondent for SST.

  2. Thanks for this Babelfish. Not just for the info on Starlink, but also for your personal vignettes of the history of spaceflight. That Starlink project is damned impressive. It does remind me of some of the more advanced emergency communication and navigation devices by Garmin and SPOT. My introduction to spaceflight was through a series of monthly booklets received through the mail. Each booklet came with a packet of stamped color illustrations which I had to lick and stick on the appropriate page. I still have some of them. The initial gift with this subscription was a plastic model kit of Alan Shepard’s rocket and capsule. That interest continued. I built several shuttle models with my first son. He was keen on becoming a space shuttle pilot until the Challenger disaster.

  3. Avatar turcopolier says:

    I continue to be a supporter of an independent US Space Force initially within the Department of the Air Force much as the USMC is an independent force within the Department of the Navy.

  4. Avatar BabelFish says:

    I will do so, Pat.

  5. Avatar walrus says:

    Thank you Babelfish. Now who will be the first SST Correspondent into orbit? Assuming we don’t already have an Astronaut lurker. I think today this is a real and valid question. Ten years ago not so much.
    Every now and then I think back 60 years ago to technology then and now…and Clarke’s Third Law. I don’t much think of The internet, computers, genetic engineering and suchlike, I go back further; Einstein’s photoelectricity work, quantum mechanics, Bohr, Dirac, Pauli, etc., – abstruse theoreticians in their day, who laid the foundations. They could not have known in say, 1929, where their academic questioning was going to take the world.
    The jury is still out on the deeper, perhaps religious, question of whether our technology will destroy us.

  6. Avatar BabelFish says:

    Thank you. The initial worry was a nuclear Holocaust, of course. Now I think it might be in science denial, as evinced by the anti-vaxer movement.

  7. Avatar b says:

    May on mention that starlink will polute the nightsky with thousands of artificial shiny objects? That it uses Ku-band radio which means that terrestic based radioastronomy, which uses similar frequences, will soon became impossible?
    It is a typical silicon valley project that ignores the commons and the damage it causes to the public to make a few people rich.
    IMHO Musk is a charlatan. His cars can’t sell without the thousands $$$ of subsidies that are no longer available. Hist Solar City scam has the same problem.
    Musk’s ‘hyperloop’ tuns out to just be regular tunnels a car can drive through but with lifts to enter/exit them so that the capacity is like only 180 cars per hour which is pretty much nothing when compared to the costs.
    His rescue submarine for the people in the cave was totally unusable for the purpose.
    Space-X is largely a government financed project executed by a private company which builds on decades of government paid science. One condition NASA made, I am told, is that Musk stays out of direct management of that project.
    He is seen as too instable and erratic to be trusted with such a critical issue.

  8. Avatar BabelFish says:

    From Wiki: “According to NASA’s own independently verified numbers, SpaceX’s development costs of both the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets were estimated at approximately US$390 million in total. “In 2011, NASA estimated that it would have cost the agency about US$4 billion to develop a rocket like the Falcon 9 booster based upon NASA’s traditional contracting processes”.
    If he is a parasite, he is a very efficient one at that.
    The government funded argument is a Centre Court tennis match that never ends. Boeing benefits from building military aircraft, Airbus can’t lose because it is a government creation by several nations. Boeing is given a USAF tanker contract and loses billions, Airbus has the A380 debacle and the ongoing A400M financal holocaust.
    It appears that the Tesla Model 3 may be the best selling car in Norway in March. How does a madman do that?

  9. Avatar Keith Harbaugh says:

    In terms of early space age history, anyone remember the meaning of “IBRM”?
    (It was “Into Banana River Missile”, referring to the many failures of the Navy’s Vanguard missile.)
    Currently, there is cause to worry about the Navy’s ability to manage technological advance.
    Exhibit A: “Naval Air: Fords Brace For The Worst”.
    This is an inexplicable design failure:
    “due to a basic design flaw, if one EMALS catapult becomes inoperable, the other three catapults could not be used in the meantime as was the case with steam catapults”.
    I wish Congress would take a break from investigating Trump,
    and investigate how this “design flaw” was not caught during the carriers design reviews.
    As to all these satellites, and the urge to put men on Mars,
    I’m (literally) an old fuddy-duddy, and a firm believer in Murphy’s law.
    If we put people in space, the same problems we have on Earth will be replicated in space.
    In particular, some bitter person will sabotage things.
    We’ve seen enough unstable types shooting innocent people on earth.
    Why risk things in space, where disaster would affect the whole mission?
    And as to all those satellites, see the Kessler syndrome.

  10. Avatar Keith Harbaugh says:

    Correction: I should have said “spectacular failures”
    Exhibit A:
    See more by visiting YouTube and searching on “Vanguard launch failure”.

  11. Avatar joanna says:

    I do more generally share hesitations about Musk, might be based on the “dirtball genes” I share with b.
    On the other hand Tesla was the absolute attraction during my niece’s wedding rented for the event and driven one of her earlier classmates and later co-students. He also “rode it”, offering guests a ride. …
    Fact is, among my niece’s IT and media co-students, from my rather limited perspective, he ended up in the most interesting environment. Were I one of those, alas I am not. 😉
    Life is complex.

  12. Avatar turcopolier says:

    joanna/LeAnder Musk is a genius. Are you comfortable with genius? IMO he is wasting his very valuable time with Tesla. My neighbor has an S-3. This is a very pretty car. He parks it i my driveway to charge it up. Musk should turn Tesla over to an automobile executive and concentrate on SpaceX, Borer Company and the like.

  13. Avatar Eugene Owens says:

    Thanks BabelFish, great write-up!
    My only contribution to the history of spaceflight are some stories I heard many years ago about the ‘Douglas Daredevils’. Also known as the V2 ‘Broomlighters’ during the 1946 thru 1950 launching of V2 Rockets from White Sands NM. Occasionally those liquid-propellant V2 engines balked and did not ignite at launch. The Douglas Aircraft contractors would then soak a broom in kerosene and go out to the launch pad and light them off manually. I always wondered if Werner von Braun’s launch crew at Peenemünde ever had to do something similar.
    The Douglas team later enhanced their reputation at Vandenburg AFB during Thor Booster launches in the 1950s. They did not need the kerosene soaked brooms. But sometimes when a propellant valve was jammed they had to race to the pad in a jeep, lightly knock on the frozen valve with a sledgehammer to unclog it, and then race in reverse back to safety behind a blockhouse. Often they had to do this as late as T-15 seconds.

  14. I agree S0aceX should be Musk’s priority. He should get automobile executives involved in his electric vehicle business. Maybe even merge that business into an existing car company. His cars can benefit from the know how in building cars gained over the decades in those companies. My younger son follows the EV industry and notes Musk’s cars could definitely benefit from this. One example is the video displays. Musk uses industrial standard displays rather than automotive standard displays. The industrial displays are not near the quality of even run of the mill automotive displays.
    My son test drove an S-3 around Richmond. He thoroughly enjoyed it and is sold on EVs. But both he and I agree the X model is ugly as sin. He plans to wait for VW to release their EV versions. He’ll wait for the second year, not the first.

  15. Avatar BabelFish says:

    I believe that SpaceX is capably run by Gwyenne Shotwell. I see Musk’s role as more a front man and a facilitator, a dreamer. Interestingly, Shotwell started in the automotive world.

  16. Avatar joanna says:

    TTG the groom links to VW somehow. His brother works for them as engineer. The one that rented the car though for the event the driver of bride and bridegroom and later driver for whoever wanted a ride would be closer to your, hmm, how to put it, IT enlarged intelligence security environment. Not the best way to put it. Admittedly.
    Apparently my brother managed to convince him to move to the front passenger seat, not sure sure though if it was him or someone else, who babbled about the amazing acceleration.

  17. Avatar Turcopolier says:

    Babelfish – The 2nd episode of “Unidentified” is now available on the History Channel. In this one, the team find and interview two of the radar techs from the USS Princeton during the Nimitz incident in 2004 off Baja California. There were hundreds of UFOs (UAPs) involved over four or five days.

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