Will Elon’s spacecraft start a new era in space?

Will Elon’s spacecraft start a new era in space?

What Elon Musk is doing with his company SpaceX and the Starship spacecraft represents a whole new league for what we can do in space, says Bragg Johansen, a member of the board of directors of space travel group Tekna.

Now, space enthusiasts and entrepreneurs around the world are eagerly awaiting the launch of Elon Musk and SpaceX’s second spacecraft. Will things go well, or will they explode like they did during the launch in April this year?

Bigger load than ever before

Space travel expert and enthusiast Bragg W. Johansen

Johansen believes Norway should know when to visit and plan for the exciting opportunities that will be available with SpaceX’s space travel program. The company plans to be able to send 1,000 spaceships in 1,000 days with larger payloads than ever before.

Starship, including the launch vehicle, is nine meters wide and 120 meters high, making it the largest spacecraft ever launched into space. In comparison, the height of the Saturn 5 spacecraft, which brought the first man to the moon in 1969 in the Apollo program, was 111 metres.

– Bragg Johansen says that NASA’s abandonment of the Apollo concept more than 40 years ago and starting the space shuttle program in 1972 was a huge mistake. The Space Shuttle had two horrific accidents, and was the most expensive and risky way to send things into space. Now all the aerospace companies have gone back to the Apollo design, where the payload is at the top and launched by the launch vehicle.

There are plans for Starship to transport equipment to Earth orbits, to the Moon, and eventually to Mars. The possibilities look great, both for space research and commercial activities.

The United States withdraws from Europe

Missile expert Adrian Jacques Bouiron

The spacecraft can carry 100 tons of payload, at a fraction of the price of the Space Shuttle, which can carry only 12 tons.

This was stated by Adrian Boiron, who, like Bragg Johansen, also sits on the board of Tecna’s space travel specialist group. He works daily as a systems engineer and missile expert at Nammo Raufoss AS.

The space industry is growing faster than the world’s global industry, says Boiron.

Satellites as a multi-billion dollar industry already exist today. With Starship, there are many new business areas opening up.

According to Boiron, SpaceX was on the verge of bankruptcy after many failed attempts with the Falcon 1 rocket before it finally succeeded. Now the company is launching more satellites than ever before, partly due to the Starlink program. SpaceX is not listed on the stock exchange, but it is estimated that its stock market value will be around NOK 1,500 billion with Starlink. The company has launched more than 3,000 satellites since 2018 to provide internet coverage around the world.

Now Boiron fears that the United States is falling behind Europe in the field of space travel.

– The European Space Agency began developing a new launch vehicle, Ariane 6, which can lift up to 21 tons of payload, in 2016. This has been postponed several times, and the first launch of Ariane 6 is now expected to be in 2024. Unfortunately Fortunately, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which can carry 22 tons during each launch at a lower price because it is reusable, has already been out-priced before it hits the market. This means that sending satellites and ships into space will cost the Europeans more than the Americans. This could result in a loss of competition for Europe, and put European and Norwegian space ambitions at risk.

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Has the European Ariane 6 already been outdone in price before being brought to market by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 which can carry more cargo for less? Image: European Space Agency

Factories in space

Boiron says that with Starship, which can carry payloads 10 times larger than either Ariane 6 or Falcon 9, we will soon be able to have factories in space that make, for example, optical fibres, medicines and alloys. Space crafting An example of a company that is betting on this.

– Zero gravity will mean that they can be manufactured to much better quality than those found on Earth. It could also enable the launch of a new, larger space telescope from NASA’s James Webb Observatory. If SpaceX succeeds in developing a reusable spacecraft, this means that the cost of launching satellites will be much lower than it is today with the Falcon 9 and Ariane 6.

Boiron adds that for Starship’s business model to succeed, the scope of the space industry worldwide, and activities taking place in space and on the moon, would need to be expanded and doubled over a decade.

– SpaceX with the Starship program therefore offers great opportunities, but of course also high technical risks, and the financial viability can be questioned. But if Musk succeeds in getting additional support for the spacecraft concept from both NASA and the US Space Force, the program will likely take off and Europe risks being left in the dust, Boiron says.

Trial and error – this brings success

According to Johansen, mass production, reuse and “trial and error” are key to SpaceX’s success as well as software development.

Musk spent a lot of money, but when he got the rockets, he was able to get a lot of contracts because the cost of launching something dropped by at least 50 percent. Then it can still get a very good margin on things like satellite, and still do it much cheaper than competitors.

Musk has shown many times that “learning by doing” is much more effective than simulating everything and assessing risks.

Bragg Johansen believes that many Norwegian industry leaders could learn something from Elon Musk.

– You can say a lot about Elon Musk, but the strength and gift is that he thinks big. While other space agencies are afraid of making mistakes, Elon Musk says he just hopes they learn from it if the next spacecraft crashes. Musk has shown many times that “learning by doing” is much more effective than simulating everything and assessing its risks, so that it is perfect on the first launch, Johansen says.

He believes Musk is successful because he exploits the advantages of mass production of rockets, develops software that makes it possible to launch rockets, and because most of the production is done within SpaceX.

– Mass-produced devices are safer than hand-made devices. Unfortunately, human error occurs more often than machine error. SpaceX is believed to save significant coordination costs by having a few suppliers and producing most of it in-house.

Europe must wake up

Johansen and Boiron agree on the need to increase space focus in Norway. With all the advanced equipment being sent into space, there are many Norwegian companies that can supply products, systems and solutions.

Boiron believes we are entering a golden age in the space industry, but people in Europe must wake up if we want to continue to keep pace with the development of the space industry in the United States of America. He believes that Norway must first and foremost assert itself more strongly through the European Space Organization (ESA), where a significant portion of Norwegian funds goes back to Norwegian companies in the form of projects that lead to commercial success.

Norway must establish its presence on the moon

Johansen believes that Norway should have greater ambitions, and that we should put ourselves in the driver’s seat.

– I believe that Norway should accelerate its space program and not rely on the European Space Agency, which helps us come to the negotiating table. We should cooperate directly with the United States, and perhaps have our own activities on the Moon. He says that Norwegian companies have a lot of advanced technology that could be interesting, and reminds us that NASA regularly visits ONS (Offshore Northern Seas) in Stavanger. He says many people there were impressed by a lot of the remote-controlled undersea technology that works in harsh environments.

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Mining on the moon

Bragg Johansen believes that Norway should focus on operations on the moon.

– People may think this is crazy, but I think Norway should prove itself on the moon. It’s not too far away, and soon it will become more and more accessible.

He believes it is entirely possible and that we have done greater things than that.

– The moon is in our neighborhood. It takes three days to get there. You can drive shuttle traffic back and forth. You can move water there, and you can do something there with soil production equipment. If an accident happens there, you can actually save someone.

Within 10 years, it is believed that spacecraft will begin landing on the moon, and that mining there, for example, may become relevant.

─ Transporting metals from the moon to Earth or to factories in space and then descending to Earth is very cheap. What’s expensive is getting it from A to Z. You use 12 times more energy to get from the surface of the Earth to Earth orbit than to get from the surface of the Moon to the Earth.

─Once you’re established on the Moon and you have a lot of equipment there, and you can start mining, you can send materials back to Earth very cheaply, he says.

Who owns the moon?

Who gets the rights to the moon is a very interesting question. The area of ​​the Moon is larger than the area of ​​the Earth.

─ Some areas may be more interesting than others. It was not explained how it was divided. It is usually those in the area who can divide it.

According to Johansen, we should note that Europe does not have any objects on the moon, while the United States, Russia, India and China do, and soon the UAE, Japan and Israel will do so as well.

─ If I were a bit provocative, I would say that Europe is not on the table.

─Just as our great Polar heroes put Norway on the world map with their expeditions that contributed, among other things, to Norway’s claim to one-sixth of Antarctica, we must get involved when the moon is conquered, believes Bragg Johansen.

─ We rent two starships, send the equipment, and then install ourselves there. With Starship, it would cost no more than a medium-sized offshore oil project, he says with a smile.

Dalila Awolowo

Dalila Awolowo

"Explorer. Unapologetic entrepreneur. Alcohol fanatic. Certified writer. Wannabe tv evangelist. Twitter fanatic. Student. Web scholar. Travel buff."

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