Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
July 09, 2021

The Space Race: Technical Facts vs Popular Narrative - by Gordog

by Gordog

lifted from a comment

A little while ago, commenter Karlof1 asked me about the space race, the Apollo Program, and the role of Nazi scientists recruited under Operation Paperclip.

This is a fascinating subject that has also been severely distorted by the American narrative.

What prompted Karlof's query was my earlier, and somewhat lengthy technical discussion of today's state of space technology, where the media narrative is that the US is greatly advanced, due mostly the 'exploits' of Space X---when in fact the situation is quite the opposite.

The US is far behind important core technologies like advanced rocket engines and space station tech, both of which it acquired from Russia. China has similarly acquired nearly all of its core space technology from Russia, but has built impressively on that technology transfer---including developing its very own space station tech, and its own advanced rocket engines.

During the 1990s, many important Russian industries were on the verge of collapse due to the disintegration of the USSR. Hence there was something of a firesale of Russian space tech, something that would have been considered unthinkable previously. The Chinese acquired their entire manned program, Shenzhou, lock, stock and barrel through direct technology transfer from Russia, resulting in the first Chinese man in space in 2003.

The US similarly bought its way into the Mir2 space station that was already built, but not yet launched, abandoning its own effort to build an indigenous station to rival Mir---the Freedom space station that was killed on the drawing board. Those Mir2 modules, now known as the Russian Orbital Segment, would become the functional core of the ISS.

The US also acquired advanced Russian engines and key engine technologies, mostly the RD180, which is in fact the undisputed workhorse for both high profile Nasa missions [such as the current mars rover mission], and the US Space Force, which launches nearly all of its mission-critical payloads on the Russian engines.

Other Russian engines, including the RD190 and even the 1960s era mothballed NK33s were also bought up and pressed into service by the US. That the Russians possessed this advanced engine technology was completely unknown in the west until the 1990s, which had regarded the 'closed-cycle' technology as technically 'impossible.'

So let's take a look back to the 1950s, when spaceflight was first achieved. This was an exciting era, and there is much to discuss here, so I will leave the Apollo story for another time.

By the latter stages of Word War 2, the Germans were the undisputed leaders in rocket technology. The V2 rocket, which was used to bombard London, was a hugely impressive piece of engineering for the time.

Russia, whose rocket technology in the 1930s was considered comparable to the Germans, had fallen behind. But the country did develop smaller, albeit usable rocket engines, for instance the experimental Bereznyak-Isayev BI1 interceptor aircraft. The US really had no rocket engine technology to speak of during this era.

But the US would import most of the German rocket engineers, as well as some working copies of the V2 itself. This would provide a strong base to build on, not just for the space race a decade later, but also the far more important race for strategic weapons, namely the intercontinental ballistic missile.

A quick tale of the tape on the V2: It had a mass of 12.5 metric tons, and a thrust of about 25 tons, from a single engine burning alcohol and liquid oxygen. It could reach a speed of 3,500 mph, and a flight range of about 300 km. Incredibly, over 3,000 of these were built during the war!

Von Braun and over 100 key V-2 personnel surrendered to the Americans, and many of the original V-2 team ended up working at the Redstone Arsenal. The US also captured enough V-2 hardware to build approximately 80 of the missiles.

The Soviets captured the V2 manufacturing facilities in Eastern Germany and used some of the remaining German engineers and technicians to build 30 V2s of their own by 1946.

The following year, a group of these engineers were transferred to Russia to work under the direction of Sergei Korolev, on the R1 missile, a copy of the V2, but built using Russian industrial plants.

This was quickly followed by the substantially improved R2, which first flew in 1949, and featured a number of key design improvements. R2 achieved double the V2's range, and a much higher speed of nearly 5,000 mph.

By 1953, the Russians started on what would become the world's first ICBM and also the world's first space launch vehicle---the R7 'Semyorka' rocket.

This was a huge leap forward in rocket technology. The R7 first flew in 1957 and launched Sputnik, the first satellite in earth orbit, later that year. It was also the launch vehicle for the first TWO humans in space, Yuri Gagarin in April, 1961 and Gherman Titov in August of the same year.

In the meantime, the US launched its first 'astronaut,' Alan Shepard on a suborbital 'spaceflight' atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket that was basically a slightly improved V2, comparable to the Russian R2 of a decade earlier.

In this photo from 1961, we see the Mercury-Redstone rocket that carried Shepard on America's first 'spaceflight' [more on that in a moment]. Joachim Kuettner, the Mercury project manager, and former V2 engineer is seen at left. 'Astronaut' Gus Grissom is sixth from left.

The size difference between the Mercury Rocket and the Russian Semyorka is obvious. With a mass of 30 tons, it was barely one tenth the mass of the R7. The latter's thrust of over one million pounds was more than TWELVE times the power of the single engine Mercury rocket with its 78,000 pounds of thrust!

Crucially, the single-stage Mercury could only reach a speed of about 5,000 mph, less than one third of orbital velocity of 18,000 mph [8 km/s].

A little basic physics to explain what 'space flight' really means. In short, it means achieving orbit, which is a function of SPEED, not altitude.

To understand this, a spacecraft must generate enough centrifugal force to overcome the earth's gravitational pull. When the spacecraft's centrifugal force is exactly equal to the earth's gravity, the spacecraft will continue orbiting the earth indefinitely, just as the space station stays aloft [provided it is high enough above the atmosphere that collisions with few and far between air molecules don't slow down its speed, which will cause it to descend, and require an engine burn to speed back up].

A good way to visualize this equilibrium of forces is with the Olympic hammer throw. As seen here, the athlete swings a metal ball attached to a length of cable he is holding. As he swings it around, the centrifugal force builds up and wants to hurl that ball off into space. But the cable is like the force of gravity keeping it from spinning off. The two forces are in exact equilibrium, until he lets go.

The only difference with an orbiting spacecraft is that the earth's gravity never lets go! Once equilibrium is reached the two opposing forces are equal and opposite, as per Netwon's Third Law. And since centrifugal force is a function of speed, it is necessary to reach a speed of about 8 km/s [18,000 mph] to counter the earth's gravitational acceleration of 9.8 meters per second squared.

[Here is the math: centrifugal force = mass x velocity squared, divided by radius of the circular motion. Since the radius of the earth is about 6,400 km, and we assume a unit mass of 1 kg, then it is a simple matter of algebra to solve for speed: square root of (earth's radius in meters x acceleration of gravity), which gives...square root of (6,400,000 m x 9.8 m/s^2) = 7,900 m/s, or ~8 km/s]

I am dwelling on this because it is important to understand what actual spaceflight means. Simply flying to any given height above the atmosphere is not spaceflight---anymore than a ski jump is 'flying.'

Similarly, feeling weightlessness also does not require actual spaceflight. Astronauts regularly train on large commercial jets that have had their interiors removed and the pilots fly the airplane in a ballistic arc that provides up to several minutes of zero g flight inside the cabin training space. In fact, you can have several seconds of zero g flight in a little Cessna student training aircraft!

So let's continue with the relevant stats for the first American 'spaceflight' of Alan Shepard. His 1961 flight aboard that Mercury rocket [a souped up V2] covered a total distance of 263 miles over the ground! While staying aloft for a grand total of 15 minutes!

Now compare that to Gagarin and Titov's real spaceflights, Gagarin making a complete orbit of the earth in about 90 minutes, which is 25,000 miles, almost one hundred times greater than Shepard's distance flown. Titov Orbited the earth 17 times in 25 hours aloft just a few months after Gagarin---covering a distance of 425,000 miles!

Obviously the US has been willfully deceiving folks about what spaceflight means for all of these decades.

And they have been doing it because they desperately wanted to show they could 'match' the Russians by sending a man into 'space.'

And the reason they could get away with this is because they knew that the majority of folks simply don't have any knowledge of physics.

It is a cynical charade that plays upon the public's lack of understanding!

It was only John Glenn's 1962 flight aboard a much more capable rocket, the Atlas, which put the first American in space. He flew three orbits, covering a distance of 75,000 miles in about four hours aloft.

This was in fact an incredibly daring feat, considering the shortcomings of the early Atlas rockets. This was also the first US ICBM. It was far less capable in both mass and thrust than the Soviet R7, and could only carry a fraction of the latter's payload. More importantly, it was prone to spectacular explosions.

After watching an Atlas ICBM explode shortly after launch, Mercury astronaut Gus Grissom remarked "Are we really going to get on top of one of those things?"

The numerous failures led to Atlas being dubbed an "Inter County Ballistic Missile" by missile technicians...

An 'inter-county' ballistic missile? Why not?...considering the first American 'astronaut' Shepard made an inter-county 'spaceflight.'

But hats off to John Glenn, who showed remarkable grit to fly one of these things at this stage in the game, where the Americans were clearly desperate to keep up. Glenn flew into orbit again at age 77, aboard the Shuttle STS95 mission.

What is clear to this point in time is that both the Russians and US piggybacked off the German V2 technology. The big difference in results was due to the Russians having their own, indigenous rocket capabilities that were not that far behind Germany.

The impressive Soviet buildup of higher education was perhaps the key, which built greatly on top of already world-leading institutions like the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, which pioneered the use of deep practical education in concert with industry, alongside the classroom theory. This influence was in fact adopted back in the latter 19'th century by MIT and other American technical universities.

During the Stalin era, 'Baumanka' founded more than 70 technical universities in the USSR. Among them some of the more storied names in specialist fields like rocketry, aviation [TSAGI] and many more.

I will leave the story at this point, but perhaps some interesting and hitherto unfamiliar aspects of the early space race have been presented.

There is still much more ground to cover before we get to the moon race, but it is worth noting that the R7 Semyorka evolved into the Soyuz launch vehicles, which have made nearly 2,000 spaceflights to date and are still carrying cosmonauts and astronauts to the space station.

There are many interesting technical details here, as the engines on the Semyorka-Soyuz are remarkably similar to the original V2. The Russians simply refined this basic engine technology and literally perfected it. However, the advanced closed-cycle engines would come along later, for larger and more demanding launches.

By comparison, the US space program was far more discontinuous. Neither the V2 nor the early Atlas technology was ever refined or taken to its logial evolutionary limit. The same was true for the Saturn V of the Apollo program, which was abandoned after just 13 flights. And so on down the line.

There is still lots of very interesting technical discussion engines to explore. And engines are of course the heart of any spacecraft---in the same way a turbojet engine is the beating heart of an aircraft.

Posted by b on July 9, 2021 at 16:17 UTC | Permalink

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@alaff | Jul 9 2021 21:31 utc | 56

Many thanks for that link, I turned on automatic translation and was able to get quite a bit out of what was said. It seems very impressive indeed what the Russians are doing wrt. rocket engines (that's an understatement). It seems to support what Gordog is telling us.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 10 2021 7:35 utc | 101

Space was US propaganda's last citadel. Hope you keep up the tech sphere comments Gordog and b posts a few more of them. An interesting comment thread here.

Re the aerial dirt bikes. That sort of flying wont be seen at the local aero club. Slow and low I guess compared to fixed wing,
but lapping it around the mulga with rotors nearly on the deck...

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jul 10 2021 7:38 utc | 102

What about the European Space Program? Was Ariane also based on German engineering? I haven't heard about them in a long time. They seem content with delivering satellites.

Posted by: Robert Macaire | Jul 10 2021 7:45 utc | 103

@alaff | Jul 9 2021 21:49 utc | 59

At the moment, Russian developers are creating a fundamentally new space engine - an ionic electric rocket engine, based on the use of electrical energy. It is stated that these engines will be capable of delivering speeds of 45-50 km/s, and will become the basis for missions to other planets.

Yes, that was stated at the end of video in the link you provided. Those speeds were said to be about 9 times higher than conventional chemical rocket engines. In other words an order of magnitude more thrust. If this is also combined with less required fuel mass, the resulting total performance will be even much greater. And the third point is how long such an engine is able to operate.

Today, travelling to Mars is like shooting a bullet and watching it fall. A space probe to Mars is in free fall almost the entire time (7-9 months). If you could fire a nuclear powered engine with the efficiency parameters the Russians are indicating at least part of the time, the travel time could conceivably be reduced to something very much less. I would like to see that happen!

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 10 2021 7:46 utc | 104

Interesting, so we are still to believe that US has been to the moon? Maybe it was just the moon of alabama...hehehe

Stretches credulity for me to have to carry all those contradictions around.

Posted by: Idiocrates | Jul 10 2021 7:50 utc | 105

@Idiocrates | Jul 10 2021 7:50 utc | 105

Apollo went to the Moon, yes. It would be harder to fake it at that time.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 10 2021 8:16 utc | 106

@Norwegian 106

I'm gonna play the devil's advocate here:

...and we know this (Apollo on the Moon) how?

We are forever told (including here on MoA) that we are fact based. So I am demanding some facts on this particular subject.

Apart from the PR what are the facts?

I am sure this will get deleted post-haste...because even on MoA facts are not always the currency.

Posted by: Idiocrates | Jul 10 2021 8:47 utc | 107

@ Idiocrates | Jul 10 2021 8:47 utc | 107

Please read this book explaining all the facts in detail (I have a copy)
How Apollo Flew to the Moon

Add all the historic videos, live television shows etc. and anything else you choose to add.

Then apply the Scientific Method to your hypothesis that it was faked, tell us how you can falsify the "hypothesis" that Apollo did in fact fly to the Moon and back.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 10 2021 9:18 utc | 108

The Russians were making beautiful rocket engines but the US made rockets which were good enough for their aim for world domination.
In 1962 the US had a few hundred ICBM's ready for first strike capability, Russia had 4 (where did I read that? Scott Ritter?). If the Cuba crisis had turned into nuclear war then as Gen.Turgidson explained, "I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops." Obviously Turgidson was disregarding what would happen to Europe and the possibility of nuclear winter.

Gareth Porter points out in his 2006 book that a period in 50's and 60's we associate with a bipolar world was actually a period of US unchallenged dominance where anyone aspiring to independence was posing a bad example and had to be squashed.

So my guess is that the Russian focus on space drew US attention because they could not accept a challenge to their domination on any front. Well , I mean that would be a factor.

Another factor would simply be the optimism of the time and the idea that people would really be able to achieve the Jules Vernes dream of going to the moon was fascinating. Werner Von Braun's main ambition was to go to space.

Posted by: Tuyzentfloot | Jul 10 2021 9:41 utc | 109

Idiocrates | Jul 10 2021 8:47 utc | 107

Wait and see.

If the Americans went to the moon they left traces; Footmarks, Flags, Bits of flying machines, beer cans and any other bits and pieces they couldn't bring back.

If they realy did land, the Chinese and Russians will find those traces and confirm. If the US didn't go, there will not be any traces, and then the Chinese and Russians will tell us that as well. Probably with a lot of pleasure.

Posted by: Stonebird | Jul 10 2021 10:13 utc | 110

In response to m@99,

The N-1 never flew. There were four tests and all four of them were failures.

Not an accurate claim. The N1 flew 3 out of 4 times, before running into problems and malfunctioning of course.

Posted by: Skiffer | Jul 10 2021 10:36 utc | 111

@ S.P. Korolev | Jul 10 2021 5:50 utc | 92 Thanks for the links!

My recollection, now illuminated, was of the machine "Gnom". I thought then and now that this approach was exquisite.

One is inclined to suspect that the technical material generated by Soviet ramjet/rocket combinations provides the foundational basis for present day Russian hypersonic machine.

Posted by: Walter | Jul 10 2021 11:01 utc | 112

Thinking this whole discussion over, I come to the conclusion that materials science is fundamental. Until you can make the right materials, you can't do things. No metal, no guns, no chemistry, no dynamite, no petroleum refining, no gasoline, and for something fancy like controlled hypersonic flight in an atmosphere you need a considerable collection of fancy new materials. And theory plays second fiddle to the hands-on imperative, because there are no rules you can rely on when you are looking for something new.

And I think we can say that we have failed to invest in materials science, because it can be very expensive and hard, and the payoff is uncertain. This is the "innovation" the media blathers about all day long and yet our "leaders" are unwilling to pay for. What we like is cheap and easy and the payoff wired in by law. We stopped investing in research and education, we don't like new things, we want to make bank on what we have already with expensive fancy toys.

So of course we lost the race.

The Imperative of Experiential and Hands-On Learning

Posted by: Bemildred | Jul 10 2021 11:25 utc | 113

Posted by: Stonebird | Jul 10 2021 10:13 utc | 110

Yes, I agree, I have not heard a peep from China or Russia about our moon landings. And I would expect they know by now. I don't disgree with the arguments about fakery, but I don't see why major adversaries would never mention it. I think we will know pretty soon now.

Speaking of materials science, they need to do a lot more work on radiation shielding too, that will have a lot of uses once we figure it out. I understand they are doing interesting things with fungi ...

Posted by: Bemildred | Jul 10 2021 11:36 utc | 114

ToivoS @50

Amusing to read about all the rocketry experimentation ... I remember that I read -- it probably was one of those great Time-Life popular science books -- about "Rocket Candy" fueled hobbyist rockets ... so I was going for sugar-potassium perchlorate mix, if memory serves ... but when I went to chemist/pharmacy shop they wouldn't sell it to me ... I then sent my mother to get it ... she came back and wasn't exactly happy if memory serves, they didn't sell to her either, saying we won't sell it because boys make bombs out off it. In retrospect it might have been a blessing in disguise.

re:Russian rocketry, I have an old book by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky,(Call of the Cosmos: A Collection of Papers, FOREIGN LANGUAGES PRESS) -- he describes how cosmonauts will communicate in space by putting their helmets in contact, or stretching a string between the helmets, as the radio wasn't invented yet I suppose.

Posted by: Aspiring Rocket Boy | Jul 10 2021 12:24 utc | 115

Walter @112

The Gnom was certainly an elegant approach, being a form of Air Augmented Rocket. Using air augmentation to overcome the low efficiency of solid propellants was a particularly inpsired solution. It's a shame it never flew, but the Europeans seem to have at least fielded an air-to-air missile based on this technology (see link above).

Russia's Avangard intercontinental range hypersonic system uses a conventional ICBM to boost a (probably) unpowered glider, but an air augmented rocket could be useful for something like the Tsirkon ship-launched hypersonic cruise missile, although I will have to defer to someone like Gordog to get into aerodynamic nitty gritty.

Posted by: S.P. Korolev | Jul 10 2021 12:27 utc | 116

Re: my own 109: it was Ellsberg who had found out (while it was too secret for him to know about it) that the first satellite data had shown only 4 icbms.

Posted by: tuyzentfloot | Jul 10 2021 12:30 utc | 117

"Apart from the PR what are the facts?"

Pictures or it didn't happen!

Oh, wait...

But that could just be Photoshopped, right?

Here is something for you to chew on: Prove that you exist. Prove that all of the senses that you use to perceive the world around you are not just a simulation piped into your consciousness from a powerful computer.

How about going a step further? Prove that you even have a consciousness to begin with. Prove that everything you perceive to be your own will, volition, and choice is not just a programmed script running in a crude biological computer.

Why bother with such silly doubts and questions as whether anyone has ever been to the Moon, or the South Pole, or Hoboken, New Jersey when there are much more immediate issues to be doubted?

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 10 2021 12:40 utc | 118

Bemildred | Jul 10 2021 11:36 utc | 115

"Speaking of materials science, they need to do a lot more work on radiation shielding too, that will have a lot of uses once we figure it out. I understand they are doing interesting things with fungi ..."

I knew it, we will be back to those "radioactive hybrid terror pigs" again before you can say "Jack Flash". They would be thrilled to know they were being sacrificed for the "good of humanity". At least they would be spared the ignominious end of becoming luminous pork chops or sausages.
A bit more seriously, the OTHER choice that could be made is to genetically alter humans to be ready for space travel; radiation resistant, smaller, unisexless, all it would take are a few gene-altering vaccines?

Long-time exposure to radiation is also one of the things that are not talked about - except Elon Musk was saying that a voyage to Mars could be a one way trip.

Posted by: Stonebird | Jul 10 2021 12:45 utc | 119

A bit more seriously, the OTHER choice that could be made is to genetically alter humans to be ready for space travel; radiation resistant, smaller, unisexless, all it would take are a few gene-altering vaccines?

Posted by: Stonebird | Jul 10 2021 12:45 utc | 122

Heh. Yeah. Pretty soon we can be just like a robot. Won't that be great?

But seriously, I don't think we have the foggiest idea what we are doing with genetics. Strictly in the data gathering phase whether we say so or not.

Posted by: Bemildred | Jul 10 2021 12:56 utc | 120

118 Ric G
The speculation about the USSR grain production is baseless. No "collapse" of Soviet grain production has been reported in the 1960s or 1970s. US grain exports - all feedgrain - to the USSR was in the range of 5-12 million metric tons per year, never more, compared to a USSR Production of around 90-100 million metric tons per season. And Argentinian, Australian, Canadian and other grain exporters were always eager to replace US farmers so they hardly had so much leverage. As said, there was not food shortage, only the Soviet people expected their meat on the tables, and the USSR agriculture had her drawbacks. But it is absurd that the USSR could have been coerced over grain imports.

Posted by: aquadraht | Jul 10 2021 13:14 utc | 121

Gordog | Jul 10 2021 4:56 utc | 89: Jackrabbit, here's one you probably won't like either! 😁

How many times do I have to say that I'm not a Musk fan?

I wrote of how much I enjoyed the 'Musk Debunked' videos and recommended them to others.

It is wrong to conflate Mush with the technology or to tar anyone that appreciates tech from a Musk company as a Musk fanboy.

Tesla and SpaceX have some good tech despite being led by an megalomaniac dipshit. Guess what, we could say the same about many tech companies. Somehow the engineers persevere ala Dilbert.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jul 10 2021 13:29 utc | 122

Stonebird @ 110

If the Americans went to the moon they left traces; Footmarks, Flags, Bits of flying machines, beer cans and any other bits and pieces they couldn't bring back.
NASA Spacecraft Images Offer Sharper Views of Apollo Landing Sites

India, Russia, and China have mapped the moon in a similar fashion.

I always liked the Van Allen Belt theory. Apparently they were able to fly around the worst part of the belt due to its shape. It has been extensively mapped today considering what we had up planning the Apollo missions.

I think one of the main fears is getting blasted with a solar flare at some point during the trip or when situated in a place like the Moon or Mars. There is no magnetosphere on the moon to protect them and a weak one on Mars. I am sure they have thought out in mission planning. The Sun also has many more satellites dedicated to it than the days of the Apollo missions.

Posted by: circumspect | Jul 10 2021 13:58 utc | 123

Ric G @126

Who is this "we" you speak of, Kemo Sabe?

If your argument is that nobody like yourself ever went to the Moon, then you are correct. It was very intelligent and industrious people who went to the Moon.

You couldn't reproduce the Wright brothers' first flights, and you don't have a quantum computer. You have no idea how either a quantum computer or the Wright Flyer even works, so why do you mention them?

America could not reproduce the Apollo Program today because America no longer has the resources, including of the human sort, to do it again. It took hundreds of thousands of highly skilled people to make Apollo happen, and enormous industrial supply chains. America was at its peak, both in skills and intellect of the workforce as well as industrial might back then. The fact that America cannot do Apollo now is not proof that America didn't do it then, but rather is evidence of the dramatic decline of America. Have you ever even met a master machinist under the age of 65? How about a programmer who can actually code in machine language, and therefore actually knows how computers work? One would think with the proliferation of computers there would be more people now who know how they work, but there are less.

You cannot make Moon rockets with a workforce of coffee chain baristas and Uber cabbies. If you want a Saturn V today you would have to outsource it to China. The American skills to do it are rotting in old folks homes now, and "woke" Millennials would rather watch a movie about going to the Moon than doing the hard work necessary for going there for real.

The harsh reality is that Americans today are seriously stupid. It is not so much that the brains of people today don't work as well as the brains of prior generations. The decline in apparent intellectual ability has instead arisen from a gradual but compounding dislocation of people's thought processes from a grounding in concrete reality. If one's initial assumptions used to start a process of analysis are based in fantasy, and the data used to correct the process is cherry-picked to agree with the fantasy initial conditions of the process, then the conclusions of that analysis can never approximate reality. Instead such analysis will increasingly diverge from reality. We have had this divergence going on for generations now, which is why American airliners fly themselves into the ground while their pilots fight for their lives with the control yoke and why simple condominium buildings collapse out of the blue.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 10 2021 14:05 utc | 124

113* Ric G

Yes,it was a wonderful age,and like so many others here at MoA,I was highly interested in astronomy and space travel.

Everything was possible those strange days.Great cameras.So why did they not take just one single shot of the Sun,the Earth and the Stars,which would be the most visible objects in Moon's heaven?Question I posed before,never got any answer.

Gordog,thanks for your comment that b turned into article!Looking forward to the follow-up!!

Posted by: willie | Jul 10 2021 14:06 utc | 125

willie @131

Do some experiments: Get yourself an expensive camera and go take some pictures of the sun. Be sure to use a good telephoto lens to get some nice detail. Come back and post links to the results here.

[That should be good for some laughs!]

Before you do that, though, go outside at noontime and take some pictures of stars. Post some links to those too.

After you have done that we will discuss your question.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 10 2021 14:17 utc | 126

Yes, I agree, I have not heard a peep from China or Russia about our moon landings.
Posted by: Bemildred | Jul 10 2021 11:36 utc | 115

Wherever the US rockets went - whether just earth orbit or to the moon or whatever - one has to assume the Russians would have tracked the rockets and would know objectively whether the US claims were true or false. How developed was Russian rocket [missile] tracking capability at that time? While people in the West would automatically assume the Russians would shout loudly if the US moon claims were false, I am not sure that assumption could be relied on. If the Russians saw a strategic advantage (I have no idea what) in keeping silent, they would keep silent. But not necessarily forever ...

Posted by: BM | Jul 10 2021 14:24 utc | 127

"If the Russians saw a strategic advantage (I have no idea what) in keeping silent, they would keep silent. But not necessarily forever ..."

Posted by: BM | Jul 10 2021 14:24 utc | 133

A fair point. I've had the same thought. They are very good about not saying things, not blabbermouths.

I seem to remember the pictures from the site mentioned above too, and the Chinese mapping.

I come back to we'll know pretty soon.

Posted by: Bemildred | Jul 10 2021 14:34 utc | 128

If you would ever have had contacts with Russians in the 60s (and later) you would know how proud they were about their space missions, and still are, by the way. The US success of Apollo 11 and 12 was felt as a failure for the USSR, mollified later by USSR success of Mir station and the crucial role they played and still play with the ISS. It is simply impossible that the Soviet government, much less Soviet scientists, would have been tacit about a US fake.

Back to the grain shipments: The negotiations about them started after Apollo 11, and initially led to some 5m tons, later up to 10m. It is more that the Soviets had leverage, and the US government had to subsidize farmers.

Further on: Luna 16, Luna 20, and Luna 23 brought moon minerals back, the samples were shared with the international scientific community. So had done the Apollo missions. The probes have been checked by scientists. Chang'e 5 was the latest lander bringing back material from the moon.

No geologist found contradictions. So either all of these probes must be fakes ;) or none.

As to the moon hoax "theories": they came up in a time of depression in the US after the defeat in Vietnam, and the deep confidence crisis with the establishment, after years of Vietnam war protests and the youth rebellion of the late sixties. Books like Kaysings We never went to the moon were part of this widespread mistrust, fueled by Watergate, Pentagon Papers and other non fake revelations discrediting the government.

That does not make these assumptions true.

Posted by: aquadraht | Jul 10 2021 14:48 utc | 129

In the end of course they simply asked Kubrick to stage the moonlanding. So him being who he was, he went ahead, got his own rocket built and filmed it on the moon so that it was done right. The crew was in it but he told them that if they talked they wouldn't get to go
in the time machine to film Barry Lyndon.

Posted by: tuyzentfloot | Jul 10 2021 14:59 utc | 130

Btw my apologies to Gordog for derailing this great article and the interesting discussions around it. I think we should leave the nevermoon stuff to agree to disagree. And thanks to William Gruff 130. Couldn't have said it better.

Posted by: aquadraht | Jul 10 2021 15:06 utc | 131

@William Gruff | Jul 10 2021 14:05 utc | 130

Hear, hear. Well said. Some of that applies outside the US as well.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 10 2021 15:47 utc | 132

@Ric G | Jul 10 2021 15:42 utc | 139

Those are not al foil, it's mylar. Al foil is what you need to wrap your head in.

Please stop polluting an otherwise excellent thread.

Posted by: A.L. | Jul 10 2021 15:49 utc | 133

Well,William Gruff.As you will know,the Moon has no atmosphere,so the sunlight is not diffused all over the sky.The Sun will more be like an image taken by the Hubble space telescope.An intriguing ball of fire on a black background full of stars,and I suppose one is able to see the Sun's protuberances.Because unhindered it would be harder to directly eye the Sun,but didn't they think of lenses like any amateur astronomer can use for picturing the Sun?

A picture of our reportedly Blue Planet would be easier to take,because the Earth reflects the light of the Sun and it would be less heavy on our eyes.

The stars would be an immense experience to watch,even more visible then from a high mountain top on earth,the sunlight reflected from the moon's surface will not be of hindrance,and you could take a picture from the shadowy side of a big rock,couldn't you?

I just try to imagine what would be the impression one would be getting,on making this small step for a man.I'm sure,if Armstrong had his kids with him on the journey,as a good father he would have pointed to the earth "Look son,there's Florida,look Africa!" after the first minute of total bedazzlement.

Unlike a lot here I have no scientific education,but I am still entitled to use my brain and gut to try to reason and ask simple questions.When I read somewhere a statement from NASA that they were not interested in returning to the Moon,because actually there was not much to discover,I immediately thought:"Well,how's that?Why not study a bit the extreme temperatures on both sides of a large rock.Over 100 C°on the bright side,under -100 C° on the other side.Wouldn't that be of interest to physics.?Experiment hard to stage on Earth,because of the atmosphere.The temperature fall and rise on the light/dark boundary would be very interesting to study.

Posted by: willie | Jul 10 2021 15:52 utc | 134

@William Gruff | Jul 10 2021 14:17 utc | 132

Do some experiments: Get yourself an expensive camera and go take some pictures of the sun. Be sure to use a good telephoto lens to get some nice detail. Come back and post links to the results here.

Some of us have actually done these experiments, it is not impossible of you have a little bit of know-how. I have taken detailed images of the whole sun and individual sunspots, star clusters and even star clusters in our neighbor galaxy Andromeda.

As you pointed out, the fact that people have lost their know-how doesn't mean it never happened.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 10 2021 15:55 utc | 135

@ Tyzentfloot 109:

In 1962 the US had a few hundred ICBM's ready for first strike capability, Russia had 4.


This is typical of the dense fog of US disinfo that we are forced to blindly wander through.

The Soviet Union had the FIRST USABLE thermonuclear weapon, the RDS37:

The weapon was air-dropped at Semipalatinsk Test Site, Kazakhstan, making it the first air-dropped two-stage thermonuclear test.

After the shock wave passed, all the viewers stood up and started cheering their success, the Soviet Union became the first to successfully air deliver a two-stage thermonuclear weapon.

And that's from the laughably stilted wikipedia.

It took the US at least another year [according to wiki telling] to make the hydrogen [thermonuclear bomb] small enough to be usable on bomber aircraft.

The first US hydrogen bomb, Ivy Mike, was the size of a building:

The 82 short tons (74 metric tons) "Mike" device was essentially a building that resembled a factory rather than a weapon.[9]

It has been reported that Soviet engineers derisively referred to "Mike" as a "thermonuclear installation"

As for ICBMs, perhaps you should review the link I had already given on that first US deployed ICBM, the Atlas. It had eleven failures out of 24 tests.

By the early sixties the US had very few of them, and they were of much smaller and of far lesser payload than the Soviet ICBMs of that first generation.

These were all kerosene and liquid oxygen fueled rockets [both Russian and American]. It was the Russians that developed the first truly usable ICBM with storable propellants, which could be launched quickly.

The US counted mostly on its bomber fleet to deliver a nuclear strike. The Russians likewise had a large fleet of heavy bombers, including the groundbreaking Tupolev Tu16, which is still China's main strategic bomber to this day, the Xian H6.

The Chinese have continually upgraded and refined this aircraft and it is still used to display strength in the region on a regular basis, like this one near Japan.

It's kind of amazing how the US went literally overnight from being badly behind in ICBM rockets and even deliverable hydrogen bombs, to having a dominance of 1000 to 4.

The mind bogles!

Posted by: Gordog | Jul 10 2021 16:01 utc | 136


Posted by: jo6pac | Jul 10 2021 16:06 utc | 137

144 Ric G
No idea how stupid you are, your posts are, and their derailing is annoying. As to the Soviet capabilities: They had a formidable surveillance system, based on ground radar stations around the whole Warsaw pact countries and Cuba, supported by satellite surveillance. The baseline was early detection of ICBM or strategic bomber movements, but of course they were capable to follow any spacecraft as long as it was in their sphere, practically spanning the whole planet.

Additionally they of course had radio surveillance of similar extent and quality. And all Apollo communication was clear text, I spoke with amateurs who caught part of Apollo 11 stuff (later the US changed frequencies so that the communication was shut for amateurs, but certainly available for the USSR, reasons were technical rather than secrecy).

So faking Apollo would have needed Soviet collusion from start. That is absurd.

Posted by: aquadraht | Jul 10 2021 16:16 utc | 138

Jackrabbit @ 128!

Somehow the engineers persevere ala Dilbert.

Yes, they do indeed. Musk treats his engineers like garbage. Much discussion on Reddit on that. Turnover is about two to three years---low pay, long work hours, espensive location to live in etc.

Look, I'm not saying SpaceX doesn't have some good technology. The Merlin engine is fine engine indeed. And it has proven itself well after about 120 flights, with only a couple of major disasters.

It is human-rated now and has already carried folks up to the ISS on I think three or four occasions. That is quite an achievement for sure.

But in fact it quite pales to China's achievement with their space station AND their high performance rocket engines that are they key to their very good Long March 5 launch vehicle.

I can't keep stressing this enough: ENGINES are the key. A rocket is just propellant tanks for the fuel and oxidizer.

The problem with Musk is that he has been talking a far bigger game than he has delivered. none of his claims have so far proven out. Even the part about supposedly cheap launches.

Here is one video I found last night that is really well done.

This guy has nearly a million subscribers and makes very watchable, interesting videos. And he is definitely a smart guy who seems to be in the science field. He notes that Musk is charging Nasa five or six times the going rate for the few launches they give him.

The so-called 'starship' that supposedly has those advanced new Raptor engines to rival the Russian tech, well that is complete nonsense. That thing is supposed to come back from ORBIT!

That is a total pipe dream that absolutely is physically impossible. But I will get into the technicalities at some point. The above video is not technical, but it really debunks his claims about 'cheaper' flights by reuse!

But yes, the SpaceX Falcon 9 is a good launch vehicle. The Falcon Heavy has only flown three times and is still a work in progress, according to the Space Force, which has not yet signed off on it as a launch vehicle [they use almost exclusively the Russian engines].

Developing space tech is a huge and challenging undertaking that takes TIME!. You can't go from junior high to PhD candidate in one bound! And that is exactly the bunkum he is selling.

The big problem is actually Nasa which has basically ben giving SpaceX tons of corporate welfare. The company was about to go bust in 2008, had it not got the Nasa contract for ISS cargo resulpply [and that was only for 12 flights].

They are still throwing money at this madman. It is quite insane!

Posted by: Gordog | Jul 10 2021 16:44 utc | 139

The biggest result of the Soviet space program was how Americans thought about and taught the engineering sciences. People in that era told me engineering went from car shop to discipline based on physics and mathematics.

Posted by: erelis | Jul 10 2021 16:55 utc | 140

Thanks to b for posting Gordog's article as a stand-alone topic. Haven't had a chance to read through all the comments but did want to mention this:

So, if Germany had won the war history would be rather different. I think this topic highlights that fact.

Posted by: the pessimist | Jul 10 2021 16:56 utc | 141

@the pessimist | Jul 10 2021 16:56 utc | 151

So, if Germany had won the war history would be rather different.

I think they are working on that problem as we speak, and are close to a solution.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 10 2021 17:00 utc | 142

@vk #8
Sorry, but your explanation is nonsense. The USSR wanted to go to the moon just like the US did for the same reason: propaganda.
No different than putting the first men/monkeys/dogs into space or whatever.

Posted by: c1ue | Jul 10 2021 17:24 utc | 143

I'm going to recommend one more video from this Thunderfoot fellow, which is shorter, but really good.

Here he debunks the so-called 'Starship' which he calls the 'flying dustbin,' lol!

This guy actually knows physics, as I suspected---and he goes into the same basic math I covered here about getting to orbit, which is about SPEED, not height. Well done!

And I will also note that while these knowledgeable folks are trying to spread some basic basic knowledge about space travel, we have the idiotic media now blaring about the 'space race' between two billionaires. And repeating the exact same BS!

Here is Bezos tweeting:

From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name.

For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line.

That's just great.

And what about that other four percent? You know, the people who actually know that FLYING into space is not about making a glorified SKI JUMP to a certain height?

Billionaires’ space race: Bezos’ Blue Origin dunks on Branson’s Virgin Galactic ahead of crewed flight, saying it doesn’t count

This is why I wrote my comment to begin with. People should know basic facts about our physical existence.

Not just the 24/7 BULLSHIT from billionaires and propagandists!

Posted by: Gordog | Jul 10 2021 17:34 utc | 144


The N-1 never flew. There were four tests and all four of them were failures.

Wrong. All four N1 rockets lifted off the launchpad.

The first N1 had problems within a few seconds of launch. The wreckage was found 30 miles away. The second N1 just cleared the tower before the engines shutdown and it crashed back onto the pad. The third N1 flew for about 60 seconds before an uncontrolled roll caused disintegration. The last N1 flew for about 90 seconds before breaking up.

So, yes the N1 did fly.

Posted by: firebird | Jul 10 2021 17:36 utc | 145

Firebird, no that doesn't count as any kind of flight.

Spacecraft have one purpose---to fly into space. If they fail at that, then they have officially never flown!

Posted by: Gordog | Jul 10 2021 17:45 utc | 146


All the professionals have quit teslaq😉 only yes men and factory workers still works there.

Instead of trying to be funny i think you should try my advice and check for urself, personally i only follow teslaq bc it is my "canary in the mine"
on the stonk market, as in;
"When the tesla/musk narrative die the bubble is about to burst"

My other bubble "canary" is tether and binance...

So keep ur "Russia Russia Russia" jokes for urself, i asked if you believe the musk narrative bc i wondered honestly, and fakex/spacex is just as "serious" as tesla is. IOW a subsidy sucking (F)elon musk ponzi scheme.

That was the reason i asked and wondered, bc it says a lot about a human if it is a musk believer or not.
Mainly about their ability to think independently, gullibility, iq and math abilities.

Posted by: Per/Norway | Jul 10 2021 17:45 utc | 147

@ Posted by: c1ue | Jul 10 2021 17:24 utc | 153

Propaganda is always a factor, but, in this scenario, you have to have at least military compensation in order for it to make some societal sense. There's a limit for everything - even to propaganda.

It's important to highlight the fact that the USA was always, from the very beginning, orders of magnitude richer than Russia/USSR. The Cold War inaugurated bipolarity - but one of the sides was always much stronger than the other. The USSR was always on the defensive during the entire Cold War.

Posted by: vk | Jul 10 2021 17:46 utc | 148

Gordog, great writing please write more.

b please let him write a follow up.

Posted by: Per/Norway | Jul 10 2021 17:49 utc | 149

Gordog | Jul 10 2021 17:34 utc | 154

Not just the 24/7 BULLSHIT from billionaires and propagandists!

That is why you and I are not billionaires Gordog. You have to be a believable liar above all.

But even you have to admit that the US bullshit at the beginning of the Space race was effective for the purpose of "National" Pride becoming a motivation. (Not the modern meaning of "pride" !)


BUT, - it is odd that there was so much interconnection between the US and Russsia in the realm of workable rocket engines. As a science fiction addict of those early years, I heard that many of the stories at that time incorporated workable theories to connect with their opposite numbers on the other side of the curtain. Ideas without frontiers. The numbers of scientists who ended up on the "other" side during the war, meant that this could really have happened. They knew each other.

Your details about the use of Russian engines and variants by the US fits in with that.


"Astounding Science Fiction" and then "Analog", both had a monthly editor's article where real situations and problems were treated in some detail. (I still have an almost complete set of both, in the bottom of a cupboard)

Some social/civil themes in many stories can also be seen as the inspiration for such as Bill Gates and others for population "arrangement", and control.

Luckily, most sci-fi novels had happy endings - Gates be damned.

Posted by: Stonebird | Jul 10 2021 18:47 utc | 150

@Gordog #149:

The so-called 'starship' […] is complete nonsense. That thing is supposed to come back from ORBIT!

That is a total pipe dream that absolutely is physically impossible. But I will get into the technicalities at some point.

Please do. I find it hard to believe that SpaceX engineers who have already delivered world-class products such as Merlin, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, as well as Draco, SuperDraco, Cargo Dragon and Crew Dragon, are all so universally stupid that they continue working on something that is “physically impossible”.

You can't go from junior high to PhD candidate in one bound! And that is exactly the bunkum he is selling.

Never heard Musk selling “going from junior high to PhD candidate in one bound”. Can you provide a reference please?

The big problem is actually Nasa which has basically ben giving SpaceX tons of corporate welfare. The company was about to go bust in 2008, had it not got the Nasa contract for ISS cargo resulpply [and that was only for 12 flights].

How is that a “problem”? Given geopolitical realities, it is entirely rational for the U.S. to attempt to eliminate its dependence on Russian rocket engines by subsidizing a domestic producer. Just as it was entirely rational for Russia to work on reducing its dependence on Western commercial jet engines by subsidizing half of development costs of Aviadvigatel PD‑14.

I agree with your point that we shouldn’t take SpaceX on their word regarding Raptor and Super Heavy/Spaceship until they actually demonstrate a successful space flight with claimed performance characteristics. In fact, I think we’ll see more failures when they attempt to do that. But I also think they’ll get it working, eventually.

Posted by: S | Jul 10 2021 18:48 utc | 151

Gruff @ 130

Yes, I knew a programmer who was fluent in machine language. First she was professionally destroyed. Then personally destroyed. I said “she”. The boys just could not take it that the lady could run rings around them. Also worked on the original Echelon program, which she quit when she saw lines by which the project goals could happen. Retribution came for that.

Posted by: Oldhippie | Jul 10 2021 18:58 utc | 152

Re : Regarding doubts on Moon Landing.

Since only the US allegedly had men touchdown on Moon only them can be sources for the success of said historical mission. Only when that others did the same thing that it can be objectively peer reviewed and confirmed.

However even if they are fake as found by others be it China or Russia later in their own moon landing success i doubt they'll expose them as such unless the US is politicizing the space exploration science by media first to cast doubt on the Chinese or Russian own space scientific efforts and findings. Simply because doing so can cast doubt on the entire space scientific findings and publication.

Personally since later I've found out many historic moments popular belief todays are false and totally fabricated from those cold war era such as TAM Square Massacres i doubt the moon landing is real.

Posted by: Lucci | Jul 10 2021 18:58 utc | 153

IIRC, there's an open air exhibit of a Soyuz rocket outside Moscow, and a copy of a Sputnik satellite in a St. Petersburg museum.

Posted by: Passerby | Jul 10 2021 19:05 utc | 154


Watch the Thunderfoot video I linked to in 154.

I'm going to discuss starship at a future comment.

Yes it physically impossible. This is not a reentry vehicle---a subject about which I do know something!

The Crew Dragon came with plenty of help from Nasa and is basically a modern version of the Apollo capsule. It is a conventional reentry vehicle.

The Shuttle was a reentry vehicle.

It is not to be expected that a layman would know what is required in terms of crucial technical things like aero-braking and heat shielding [which was a big problem on Shuttle and caused the loss of one]. So I will quickly touch on that.

The starship shape CANNOT aero-brake! It is a cylinder. Shapes are the key to aerodynamics!

This shape cannot possibly generate enough drag for it to slow down from 18,000 mph without burning up. That's why SpaceX only recovers the boosters [which only reach supersonic speeds] and never the second stage, which reaches orbital velocity of 18,000 mph and either stays in orbit, or burns up on reentry.

Also Merlin is far from a world-class engine. It is about one-quarter the power of the RD180 that the US buys from Russia. This has launched ALL of the US mars missions in the last 15 years plus all fo the other high profile interplanetary missions.

SpaceX has launched exactly ZERO of any of those. If Merlin was a 'world-class' engine, then both Nasa and the Space Force would use it, instead of the Russian engines.

Those Russian engines have launched ALL of the space Force launches, except a grand total of three given to Falcon [for much less valuable payloads.]

And the RD180 is only half the power of the RD171, which is equivalent to about 10 Merlins. It would easily lift a Falcon 9 on its own, instead of having nine engines!

There is no real engineering going on with this 'starship/flying dustbin.'

In any case, it is not any engineers that are making any claims about this contraption. SpaceX publishes ZERO in professional peer-reviewed literature.

So your objections are quite off target on matters of basic scientific and technological fact!

Posted by: Gordog | Jul 10 2021 19:20 utc | 155

@Norwegian 108

Wait a second, you want me to prove a negative? And at the same time you you invoke the scientific method? Not sure how that is possible...

Anyway, I am willing to entertaint a good disucussion on this, but a book, some pictures (from American TV) call that proof/facts?

So, I will come clean: I used to believe they went to the Moon. The older I get, and thw more I think about it the less believable it becomes. Why have they not been back? Another thinking point: if Russian rocket technology is so much superior then how come the US has been to the Moon and the Russians aren't even close, or the Chinese?

And if nobody can even think about it now, how come it was so simple all those years ago?

I say: the burden of proof is not on me. And I do not say this to be flippant. I would really like to be able to honestly admit to myself that humanity is so clever...but I do not seem to be able to square that circle.

Notice, I am NOT using to all the CT type arguments like: where isbthe shadow of that flag in the picture? This is because these are mere details which prove nothing either way.

The main stumbling block for me is that old just doesn't cut it for me.

Science is a beautiful thing, but it has NOTHING on belief. And will is not sufficient. Just because someone says "We will go to the Moon" doesn't make it real.

Posted by: Idiocrates | Jul 10 2021 19:45 utc | 156

@Idiocrates | Jul 10 2021 19:45 utc | 161

Wait a second, you want me to prove a negative? And at the same time you you invoke the scientific method? Not sure how that is possible...

In the Scientific Method, someone formulates a hypothesis and computes the consequences, e.g. "using a Saturn 65 type rocket and an Apollo capsule you can travel too the Moon" (If you want more details, see the book you just said you didn't want to read). NASA did that and produced lots of observations for us to observe, in real time and later. A few Moon rocks exist here on Earth for example. Then, someone like you comes along and say it never happened, i.e. you want to falsify the claim that Apollo went to the Moon. Ok, show us your factual argument for why you are right.

The only possibility in the Scientific Method is to prove a claim wrong, by comparing the observations available with the stated hypothesis and point to where they disagree. Can you provide an experiment that could falsify the hypothesis that Apollow went to the Moon or point to some way to resove the issue? The Key to Science

If you can't, then it is just word play. Which knowledge do you possess that makes it possible for you to decide either or? It seems to me from what you say it is just a question of belief on your part.

If you refuse this approach, please define what constitutes proof as you see it. If you can't define it, there is no point discussing it.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 10 2021 20:15 utc | 157

@ Idiocrates | Jul 10 2021 19:45 utc | 156

And if nobody can even think about it now, how come it was so simple all those years ago?

Nobody says it was simple , and nobody said it was simple back then. In fact what was said was the exact opposite. JFK: We choose to go to the Moon.

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard"

What has happened is that people in 2021 have been "simplified" to the level where many just can't comprehend that something complicated can exist.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 10 2021 20:28 utc | 158

Isn't it fascinating how in Russia people build rocket engines with supersonic jets literally in garages? :-)

Supersonic Mach rings
(I suggest enable automatic translation)

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 10 2021 20:50 utc | 159

S @151

Over a decade ago the forums at were filled with Boeing/Lockmart/ULA engineers chortling authoritatively over how Falcon could never fly, and how if it did it could never land and be reused, and how it certainly couldn't do that while carrying a useful mass of payload into orbit. "Physically impossible!" is what they said then too. Mind you, these were not at all stupid people. These were the brightest and most respected posters in the NASASpaceflight fora who were asserting that a rocket performing a propulsive landing on its tail like in a 1950s sci-fi flick was just outrageously silly and not to be taken seriously.

Well, they don't say that anymore.

Starship and its first stage, Super Heavy, will work. Guaranteed. They will be making regular flights into orbit, and sooner than one might expect. This doesn't mean gordog is stupid, even though his words will remain here long after they have been shown to be false by events. Much smarter people with insider knowledge have been wrong about SpaceX launchers. The problem is that they have approached the matter with with assumptions that don't apply to what SpaceX is actually trying to do. It is certainly impossible for, say Boeing, to do what SpaceX has done. Building giant model rockets, launching them, and fixing whatever causes them to explode? Absolutely impossible for an organization like Boeing or ATK/Thiokol or Lockmart. Instead they have to spend decades and countless $billions in engineering studies to find (hopefully) all of the ways that the rocket can possibly explode and fix them before ever launching one testbed product... which by the way, might only cost a couple $million. Musk doesn't consider the Starship test flights where they explode to be failures. Each of those explosions provides design information that would have taken $billions to learn in the cost-plus MIC approach that Boeing takes. Plus, those explosions are exciting.

One of the biggest impediments to understanding among the detractors is to get beyond the fixation on expendability in boosters. If one is intending to discard the vehicle after each launch then it is very important to maximize the efficiency of that launch vehicle. The vehicle's engines only have to last until the payload is successfully delivered, so efficiency dictates designing those engines to only last a little bit longer than that. Every additional kilogram of mass added to those engines to boost their longevity is a kilogram robbed from your payload capacity. Furthermore, it is imperative with expendable launch vehicles that they are designed to operate at the very maximum power levels of those engines. Again, using the engines of an expendable launch vehicle below their top power output robs you of payload capacity. You are carrying more engine than you need only to throw it away after a few minutes use.

When the main focus is reusability, on the other hand, the whole calculus changes.

Let's take a slight detour from rockets for a moment and think about something most people, particular motorheaded Americans, can understand. Let's say your car has an engine that can, with the throttle wide open, produce 300bhp. Of course you almost never operate it with the throttle wide open. You maybe use 100bhp at any given moment. Why have an engine that produces so much more power than you need for normal operations? Ask yourself how long that engine would last if it always operated at its extreme upper limit. Not very long, right? This concept is true of all heat engines (internal combustion engines, jet engines, rocket engines are all heat engines). The closer you operate a heat engine to its theoretical upper limit (the optimal range for the engine of an expendable launch vehicle) the shorter the life expectancy of that engine. The thing is, if you want to use your car tomorrow, you are not going to try to operate its engine at the hairy edge of its theoretical top limit for a couple hours. Indeed, that engine may fail catastrophically (throw a piston through the hood of your car) in just a few minutes of being run like that, where it would otherwise run for years without issue if you kept the power demands from it under say 90% of its limit.

There is a staggering difference in reliability between a heat engine run at the upper limit of its capabilities versus the same engine run anywhere below that limit. Even reducing the power demands by just 10% will improve reliability and reduce failure rate tremendously. A jet engine from a commercial airliner that can last years in normal operation will die in minutes if run near its theoretical upper limit. The same is true of car engines and rocket engines. The thing is, if you are just going to throw the engine away after a few minutes, as is the case with an expendable launch vehicle, then the optimal use of that engine is at that self-destructive power level.

SpaceX doesn't intend to throw their revenue launchers away, and so their launches are manifested with less than the vehicle's theoretical max payload mass. This allows them to program launch profiles that keep the demands on the engines well below the range where those engines start eating themselves up. This, paradoxically, results in a significant improvement in reliability of the engines, even when they used in a cluster of nine (the odds of failure of any one in the cluster is the product of the odds of failure of all of the engines in the cluster together; nevertheless, the hit to reliability of the engines - any engines - of operating them at the redline is so great that nine engines operating at 90% are still much more reliable than one engine operating at 100%).

I despise Musk as much as the next guy, but the approach SpaceX is taking works. I am hoping China is watching closely and learns from that approach.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 10 2021 20:55 utc | 160

Gordog @155: "The starship shape CANNOT aero-brake! It is a cylinder. Shapes are the key to aerodynamics! This shape cannot possibly generate enough drag for it to slow down from 18,000 mph without burning up."

Note the unintentional strawman argument here. SpaceX doesn't intend to rely upon aerobraking, at least not completely. They use propulsive braking. That, by the way, is a big part of why they need many smaller engines rather than one huge engine. You don't need as much thrust to brake down from orbital speed as you need to boost up to that speed because your fuel tanks are almost empty... you are much lighter at that point.

"Propulsive braking?!?!? That's crazy inefficient!!!"

The poster is stuck in an aerospace paradigm that simply doesn't apply to what SpaceX is doing. I hope the Chinese are watching and are more open to the possibilities, though, because they can take these ideas much further than SpaceX will.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 10 2021 21:10 utc | 161

@Gordog #155:

So your explanation, as an expert, for why it is physically impossible for the Starship (second stage) to land on Earth is that

The starship shape CANNOT aero-brake! It is a cylinder. […] This shape cannot possibly generate enough drag for it to slow down from 18,000 mph without burning up.

In other words, you’re saying that their planned orbital test flight will either never happen or never be successful: SpaceX outlines plans for Starship orbital test flight (Spaceflight Now, Stephen Clark, May 13, 2021).

Note that Starship is not a simple cylinder anymore: they added two pairs of wings. They also plan to “use variable thrust from its main engines to slow down for landing”. And they will also add a heat shield, of course. Are you 100% sure that there’s no way such winged, powered, thermally protected object could land on Earth?

Posted by: S | Jul 10 2021 21:18 utc | 162

Gruff @ 124

I’ll throw in another story for why America can’t do it. This one given to me by Forrest Buchtel, Jr., who is good with me repeating it and who created the worlds first and only million amp switch while working on Reagan’s Star Wars. That switch was supposed to work together with the famous orbiting x-Ray laser. Forrest is better known for his other career with Jaco Pastorius, Blood, Sweat, & Tears, Sinatra, etc., but he did have the PhD in mechanical and electrical and long tenure at Lawrence Livermore.

Forrest could never get any security clearance whatever. No one who had ever had an original idea could get a security clearance on the Star Wars project. Forrest’s incurable security breach was that he had worked with Duke Ellington. Of course he had known many many jazzers much further out than the Duke. But the FBI knew who the Duke was.

Since any who had a clue were always on verge of being kicked out the door the project managers were pure bureaucrats who knew nothing but how to climb the GS pay scale and collect a pension. This country has huge cultural blocks to ever doing anything at all. Coveting a secure pension never leads to innovation.

Posted by: Oldhippie | Jul 10 2021 21:22 utc | 163

Oldhippie @163

Both of your posts are great illustrations of a culture that is on its way down. Stuff like that needs to be fixed before America can ever do anything like Apollo again, but it is difficult to see how we could do that without our own Cultural Revolution. The cultural revolution we are having right now is going the wrong way... barking up the wrong tree. It is more like a cultural counter-revolution.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 10 2021 21:34 utc | 164

About aero-braking:

No, this contraption has absolutely no chance to do anything but BURN UP if it actually first attains orbital velocity of 18,000 mph, and then attempts to reenter!

As for retro-burning to slow down. This can only work AFTER the craft has slowed down to a quite LOW SPEED first. It is impossible to try to reenter the atmosphere with enough fuel to retrobrake yourself down from 18,000 mph.

You would need the SAME amount of fuel coming down, as going up!

This is very fundamental physics of energy. Again I suggest you watch this very good video where he presents the simplified energy math!

A rocket consists of 90 percent fuel. It uses the chemical energy in that fuel to convert it into kinetic energy of SPEED in order to reach 18,000 mph. The rocket structure is maybe another seven or eight percent, and the payload is just one to three percent [Falcon 9 payloads have been mostly about one to two percent payload.]

Now it is obvious that if you are going to burn fuel to slow yourself right back down from 18,000 mph to zero mph, you will burn EXACTLY THE SAME AMOUNT OF ENERGY.

This is an impossibility! Tsiolkovsky's rocket equation is the basic physics of all spaceflight, that governs this.

But to explain this to a layman in an understandable way, If you wanted to have enough fuel to be able to slow down by retroburning all the way, then you need double the fuel. But now your rocket is twice the weight, which means it will require twice the thrust.

That means it will burn twice the fuel and will just burn up ALL of that fuel anyway, just to reach 18,000 mph!

You simply cannot increase payload much beyond that two or three percent, even with the best rockets. So there is simply no room to convert payload into landing fuel!

What you are suggesting has zero connection to the reality flight physics.

On Falcon 9, Payload is reduced from 30 to 50 percent, to keep some fuel onboard, but that fuel only needs to slow it down from a quite low speed, since that first stage does not reach a very high speed to begin with!

Low speed equals low kinetic energy, which equals low chemical fuel energy needed. That's why you can land the first stage, but not the second.

So yes, starship reentering the atmosphere at 18,000 mph is most definitely a physical impossibility, in every sense of the word!

So that is why aero-braking is necessary. This aerodynamic braking DISSIPATES most of that huge amount of kinetic energy [and turns it into heat of the surrounding air; remember energy can neither be created nor destroyed, only converted to another form, just like the engine turned fuel chemical energy into kinetic energy].

And only at the last 'yard' do you need a parachute in the case of a capsule, or landing wheels in the case of Shuttle.

Again, if you know even the basics of aerodynamics you know that a cylinder has only HALF the drag coefficient of a flat surface. It has no chance to do anything but to burn up.

Those 'wings' don't have nearly enough surface area to accomplish the amount of braking that is required from 18,000 mph. Look at the surface area of the Shuttle underside, like in this cfd image.

The heat shielding on the bottom of that craft was an ENORMOUS scientific and engineering undertaking that took many years. This flying dustbin has ZERO heat shielding of any kind, lol!

Look, you can drink the Musk koolaid if you prefer, but his supposed 'orbital flight' is either going to be suborbital, or the whole thing is just going to burn up.

What little they have said is that it is only going to go as far as Hawaii and splash down in the ocean, lol. So that's no 'orbital' flight. This bullshit will all be quite clear in the not too distant future, lol!

Like the guy in the video says. Musk can go ahead and 'evolve' that flying dustbin into a proper Shuttle-like reentry vehicle, which will take many many years and billions of dollars.

And then he might as well put wheels on it, so it can glide in without any fuel, and without eating into the already precious payload to begin with.

Or he can count on bluffing and pulling yarn out of his ass! Watch and see. I will be here [with popcorn]!

Posted by: Gordog | Jul 10 2021 22:30 utc | 165

@160 Gruff:

Glad you pointed out Starship's de-orbit and land is powered (reverse thrust from engines) and not friction-deceleration. One point, tho, and that is powered de-orbit costs fuel, and getting that fuel up there in the first place adds a lot of mass, and that mass changes the economics of the flight.

@Gordog: I watched thunderf00t's video you linked, and while he was ridiculing the flying dustbin, he implied that the dustbin didn't have enough power, was only 1% of a real rocket, and some other disparagements which were a bit unfair.

The "dustbin"* flights were intended to test new engines and some tricky flight maneuvers, and not spend a lot on a rocket that will likely blow up. It's not intended to be a full-up test of all parts (an integration test). It's a minimum-configuration components test (more like a unit-test or sub-assy test). And thunderf00t should know that, and say it, but doesn't.

I also note that thunderf00t does a lot of videos in the "myth-buster" mode, and that makes me wonder a little, and taking those cheap shots didn't impress me all that much.

I think the upcoming first actual integration-test of the starship concept will have a 200' booster with the Starship stuck on top. Booster does the heavy lifting (2 mins worth), does a detach-fall-to-earth and the starship does the next big burn to get to orbital velocity and altitude (I guess, haven't seen all the details). I think the first "orbital" flight is between Texas and Hawaii. I don't know which "orbit" it'll get to (there are various orbits; lower altitude and higher velocity, or farther out going slower). But this first "orbit" is intended only to see if the starship concept can "get there and get back", not "get there and stay there".

So, if SpaceX can get most of their objectives dinged on this next "integration-test-of-all-components" flight. that'll be a big deal, as it will be a tail-down powered descent, with some nifty maneuvers, and a whole lot of new components incl. airframe, engines, software all working more or less as-expected.

Also, this Starship burns methane and oxygen. I didn't realize that. In my travels, I noticed that one reason they chose this fuel was because it could be synthesized on Mars. Apparently Mars has water and CO2, and that can be chemically re-combined into O2 and CH4.

Not bad.

*Apparently thunderf00t is English, and "dustbin" in English equates to "metal trash can" in American english.

Posted by: Tom Pfotzer | Jul 10 2021 22:59 utc | 166

@165 Gordog:

As I understand it, NASA has a big stake in the Starship's success, and that means they're probably monitoring the project very closely, wouldn't you say?

And during those project plan walk-thrus, and all those engineering and modeling discussions, it would seem likely that someone has already presented the set of objections you're surfacing now.

I am very much enjoying this discussion, but if you're really going with the "it's impossible" story, you're implying that a lot of very well-informed people, with a lot at stake, and making some very fundamental mistakes.

I have more confidence in both SpaceX and NASA than that. But I don't rule out failure at any point in the first Starship flight; there's a great deal of "new" in that system, and that's why they're only doing an up-N-down over the ocean flight, so if things go wrong, there's fewer people underneath the vehicle when it comes apart.

Posted by: Tom Pfotzer | Jul 10 2021 23:22 utc | 167

Tom Pfotzer says:

...that a lot of very well-informed people, with a lot at stake, and making some very fundamental mistakes.

Like the 'mistake' with Alan Shepard's 'spaceflight'---that was the point of my article?


Posted by: Gordog | Jul 10 2021 23:59 utc | 168

We now have reports that Russia's S-500 has completed combat testing and is ready to deploy, plus a naval version is being developed. Martyanov provides that update and more. This is what he says that's relevant to the current topic:

"Missile gap is real and the United States is nowhere near Russia in terms of missile technology. It is not even fair to compare. In fact, it is down right ridiculous. US lag here is counted in generations, not years."

There're 20 years in one generation. Martyanov's closing comment and question are very important:

"The Pax Americana is already dead and these are Russia's highly advanced weapons which for now keep relative peace on the globe. They are the guarantee against the preventive war. But will they be enough to prevent a desperation war which may originate inside increasingly chaotic, delusional and irrational American military-political establishment?"

Posted by: karlof1 | Jul 11 2021 1:01 utc | 169


Gordog - I'll say it again, this is very interesting material, and you've presented it exceptionally well, and in a most exciting-to-read manner. You've made it dramatic (as it truly is), and you've framed the Starship system tests as a contest between physics and hucksterism.

I understand the point you are making about Alan Shephard's flight (put up something, anything, to "get back in the game"), but I am not at all convinced that the situations are comparable (US @ Shepards' time, and SpaceX at US/now).

So much more is known, so many more resources available, organizations - like NASA - a great deal more evolved.

But we'll see very shortly, right? No matter what happens on Starship's flight - if it takes place - a great deal is going to be shown for whatever it is. Everyone will be watching, and the numbers at each stage of the flight will be on the screen for all to see.

Meantime, we're all very much looking forward to the next installment in your series. Best wishes.

Posted by: Tom Pfotzer | Jul 11 2021 1:09 utc | 170

re: Gordog @165

The poster has revealed itself to be an idiot with this comment. That makes me sad because the poster seemed so intelligent before. A smart person (which this poster apparently is not) would recognize that one is not just accelerating the rocket and payload to orbital speed to get into orbit, but the fuel too. When decelerating for reentry you do not need to decelerate the fuel that has already been burned. But the poster claims " slow down by retroburning all the way, then you need double the fuel." This assertion by Gordog is simply 100% demonstrably false. It is either a lie or an example of idiocy.

The poster is a liar or an idiot. There is no third alternative here.

SpaceX Starship will accelerate to orbit with 29 engines and decelerate for deorbit with three or four engines. How will three or four engines burn as much fuel as 29? Gordog's claim is nonsensical to the point of ridiculous. The poster is either stupid or lying, and in either case is relying upon readers to be baffled by bullshit that they don't understand.

I could wade through the rest of the poster's Gish Gallop of nonsense but there is no point. If readers cannot recognize that the poster is full of shite from the above illustrated garbage then digging into the rest won't help.

Here is reality that you can count on: SpaceX Starship will do what the poster claims is impossible and fly into orbit and return. It may even do that this year. Will the poster apologize for being so insistently wrong and deceiving readers? Of course not.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 11 2021 1:28 utc | 171

I had a short shift in the technological sector when I was young. A telecom manufacturing company in Burnaby, BC, Canada. There was an engineering shop. It had its own manufacturing shop. When the bugs were worked out the final effort went down to the factory floor. I think we all miss those days. 1973 was a better year than I gave it credit for.

Posted by: William Heflin | Jul 11 2021 1:51 utc | 172

William Gruff @171--

IMO, you've misinterpreted Gordog's prose. To do a powered descent, you need to haul more fuel than if you were just doing the burn then discarding. Give that a thought.

Posted by: karlof1 | Jul 11 2021 2:01 utc | 173

Regarding large VTVL rockets reentering the atmosphere, would Philip Bono's approach be more likely to succeed? Although he favoured single-stage vehicles, Starship seems to owe a debt to his designs from the 1960s. His plan was to reenter blunt end first like Soyuz or Apollo while running propellant through the engine to cool it or running the engine at very low thrust to create an insulating layer of gas.

Posted by: S.P. Korolev | Jul 11 2021 2:23 utc | 174

karlof1 @Jul11 2:01 #173

But Gruff is not really wrong because SpaceX plans to re-fuel on Mars. Mars lower gravity means that the there is less of a penalty for the added weight.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jul 11 2021 2:34 utc | 175

karlof1 @173

So you were baffled by the bullshit? That is unfortunate.

The poster was very clear, and bolded the lie to boot:

"You would need the SAME amount of fuel coming down, as going up!"

This claim by the poster is not even remotely close to the truth. It is massively wrong. It is irredeemably and egregiously wrong.

Starship dry weight: about 120 tons
Starship fueled: about 1,320 tons

This isn't your specialty, I realize, but you can easily see that it would take most of the 1,200 tons of fuel on Starship to accelerate it to 18,000 mph when it starts off fully fueled. Most of the mass that you are accelerating is fuel. Most of that mass is gone (burned away) when you achieve orbital velocity. You don't need another 1,200 tons of fuel to slow the remaining 120 tons of spacecraft down. A tenth of that will be much more than enough.

Perhaps it is counter-intuitive or something, but as a launch vehicle proceeds with its launch and burns its fuel it gets significantly lighter. Each kilo of fuel that remains can impart more change in speed to the spacecraft than each kilo of fuel that was burned before it. Whatever fuel is left after a spacecraft achieves orbit can be thought of as significantly more powerful than the fuel that was burned before it, at least where changing the spacecraft's velocity is concerned. One ton of fuel in otherwise empty fuel tanks can change the velocity of the spacecraft far more than one ton in a fully fueled spacecraft.

This is obvious, right? It is too obvious for it to have been a mistake by the poster.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 11 2021 2:48 utc | 176

S.P. Korolev @174

Yes, evaporative cooling with an ablative plasma film would probably work great. SpaceX was apparently planning to do something like that by bleeding propellant and using the resulting plasma as a shield. I think they decided that the plumbing for that would be too complicated.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 11 2021 2:56 utc | 177

The only advantage going down instead of up is using the atmosphere as a brake (requiring heat shielding) or cushion (flying when safe to do so) or using an engine that consumes atmospheric oxygen (like the hyper-sonic engines).

If you're not going to use the atmosphere then you need the same energy going down as you do going up.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jul 11 2021 3:29 utc | 178

William Gruff @177

Bono proposed a Starship-sized cluster of plug nozzles to create a massive aerospike engine, so I guess he thought if you already have a plumbing nightmare you may as well use it. I love his idea for a space station taxi derived from Apollo's S-IVB stage as well. Just flip the LOX & LH2 tanks to help centre of gravity, put a plug nozzle on the J-2 engine for optimum performance as atmospheric pressure changes, put a Gemini capsule on top and some landing legs on the bottom and away you go! Apparently it required some ablative material around the engine that had to be replaced, and single stage designs are always vulnerable to weight growth, but it's still a cool idea to test the technology.

Musk was teasing a hypersonic flight a few weeks ago of the Starship alone before the first orbital attempt with Super Heavy that reminded me of Bono's taxi. I assume it will get nowhere near orbital velocity with its stainless steel construction and methane fuel (if it doesn't burn up from aerodynamic heating or break apart), but adding in that test is slightly less crazy than jumping straight from subsonic tests to orbital flight.

Posted by: S.P. Korolev | Jul 11 2021 4:32 utc | 179

Powered re-entry? How many tons of fuel to slow the carcass from orbital velocity? Plus the extra fuel needed at launch to take that extra fuel to orbital velocity.... lifting all that extra fuel means bigger engines required for launch.

The extra fuel for re-entry is payload. I guess there's a ratio of payload to thrust/fuel required.

Posted by: Peter AU1 | Jul 11 2021 4:47 utc | 180

176 William Gruff
I most times appreciate your contributions, but here you are going over the top. The polemics are absolutely unnecessary.

I agree that the phrase "You would need the SAME amount of fuel coming down, as going up!" is misunderstandable, and wrong if it relates to the whole mass of fuel spent on a space or orbital craft. But related to the mass of the fuel finally used for coming down it is obviously correct. All fuel used to brake has to have been transported up in the first place, and that requires the same amount of energy which has to be spent for braking.

Of course this is not the case for fuel or any kind of propulsion such as boosters spent on prior rocket stages.

Posted by: aquadraht | Jul 11 2021 5:52 utc | 181

A bit of a tangential bit of trivia here. By 1938, the Germans had also developed radio guided bombs that were steered by a joy stick onboard the aircraft carrying the ordnance.

Posted by: guidoamm | Jul 11 2021 6:26 utc | 182

@Gordog | Jul 10 2021 22:30 utc | 165

Thanks again for an excellent contribution, very well presented!

Never mind Gruffs objections (I am sure you will address them better than I am doing below). He mostly make a lot of sense on a lot of stuff, but he is out of his league on this topic.

To accelerate from 0 to 18000 mph requires the same amount of energy as retarding from 18000 mph to 0, assuming the same mass. But obviously there is no fuel station in low earth orbit, so you need to bring the extra fuel with you accelerate from 0 to 18000 mph with essentially 2xmass (twice the fuel). This requires much more thust, which burns up all the extra fuel on the way up. So on reentry you have nothing or very little to break with, and you end up burning up on atmosphere reentry at 18000 mph, because the starship contraption have no heat shields or other means to slow down.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 11 2021 6:26 utc | 183

@Jackrabbit | Jul 11 2021 2:34 utc | 175

But Gruff is not really wrong because SpaceX plans to re-fuel on Mars. Mars lower gravity means that the there is less of a penalty for the added weight.

So your point is that it will work out to send the Starship contraption to Mars, it will refuel there and be safely able to perform a powered re-entry to Earth, but if it is sent only to low Earth orbit it has no way of avoiding burning up on re-entry?

No wonder why the west is disintegrating with such logic and physics...

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 11 2021 6:35 utc | 184

@Norwegian 158

Your points about the scientific method are all good and I mostly agree with you. However, it is still a case of proving a negative and logically it is generally not possible to do.
I will agree that if we framed the problem in the positive direction i.e. prove that they have then we may be able to get somewhere. But, and here is the main problem: the burden of proof.
From my understanding, and from what you wrote, the best proof are the Moon rocks. The problem is that they ate not final proof: they could have just fell down to earth, they could have been here all along (I admit this is a bit stretching credulity, but logic demands this is taken into account).

The statements about people being dumbed down 'now' in relative to 'before' carry no scientific weight i.e. they are just like my quesion of how come 'they' did it then and not now.

Anyway, I congratulate you for engaging this at a rational level without adhominem attacks or recourse to 'belief' based arguments.

In any event, I am open to facts on this. Actually, I seem to remember that those on the Moon left a transmitting device, but I am not certain if my memory serves me right or if I dreamt it.

If someone knows more about this perhaps they can point this out.

Oh, and 'wait and see' for the Chinese or Russian to confirm yankee tracks in lunar dirt is interesting, but who can tell when that will be ;-) if ever.

Posted by: Idiocrates | Jul 11 2021 8:43 utc | 185

@Idiocrates | Jul 11 2021 8:43 utc | 185

Anyway, I congratulate you for engaging this at a rational level without adhominem attacks or recourse to 'belief' based arguments.

Ad hominem attacks are usually a substitute for factual arguments, and that's not required here :-)
In any event, I am open to facts on this. Actually, I seem to remember that those on the Moon left a transmitting device, but I am not certain if my memory serves me right or if I dreamt it.

If someone knows more about this perhaps they can point this out.

You probably mean the Apollo 11 Laser Ranging Retroreflector. It is not a transmitting device, it is a passive reflector. This is even better, because you can convince yourself about the instrument's existence by setting up a telescope receiver (it's an optical signal) and observe no signal until your laser beam emitter pointed at the Apollo 11 landing site at Mare Tranquillitatis sends a laser beam signal to it. Based on the hypothesis of the earth-lunar distance and the existence of the reflector, you should be able to receive a weak reflected signal with the proper time delay (just over 2 seconds). Now, point the laser beam anywhere else on the Moon, and there will be no reflected signal.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 11 2021 9:16 utc | 186

@Norwegian 186

Thank you for the info on the 'Apollo 11 Laser Ranging Retroreflector'. This gives me some cud to chew on.

Out of curiousity: have you done the experiment of confirming the device's existence?

Posted by: Idiocrates | Jul 11 2021 11:32 utc | 187

aquadraht @181: "I agree that the phrase "You would need the SAME amount of fuel coming down, as going up!" is misunderstandable, and wrong if it relates to the whole mass of fuel spent on a space or orbital craft."

What else could we be talking about? We're discussing real spaceships here and not theoretical ones where you can disregard the mass of the fuel for Hollywood plot reasons. The poster's claim is only correct if we talk only about the theoretical amount of fuel to accelerate and decelerate only the 120 ton spacecraft itself, but in the real world where is that propellant supposed to come from? In the real world you have to carry it with you and add it to the total mass of the vehicle. In this case the mass of propellant that the vehicle starts with is ten times the mass of the vehicle itself. The mass of the vehicle almost becomes insignificant and lost in that difference! You cannot just disregard that enormous mass of fuel... an enormous mass that is mostly gone once you reach orbit.

Again, this is too obvious to have been a mistake. Even toys like Kerbal Space Program take it into account.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 11 2021 11:42 utc | 188

Fascinating discussion.

I'm just gonna wait and see.

Posted by: Smith | Jul 11 2021 12:04 utc | 189

Ya well , the Rooskies can build great rocket engines - strong and powerful enough to go to the moon, but won't put more than 100 hp motor in their Lada's. WTF is up with that? I wanted to rebuild one on their motors - Detroit wise but Oh No -- you need a hundred pages of paperwork and documents - lol We can go to the Moon , but I can't pass another car on the 2 lane.

Posted by: GMC | Jul 11 2021 12:11 utc | 190

Norwegian @183

You are making the same "mistake" that Gordog does, though I suspect in his case it is not a mistake. That poster presumably has some aerospace engineering background and thus a boneheaded "mistake" of this nature from him is unacceptable. You are overlooking the fact that the vast majority of the mass of the spacecraft is propellant, and in the process of accelerating and decelerating what is primarily a mass of propellant, that propellant is consumed. You are not accelerating and decelerating the same mass, so the amount of propellant required for accelerating and decelerating will not be the same. The amounts will be very different. In fact, the curve describing the change in velocity from each kilo of propellant consumed is logarithmic; as you burn fuel each remaining kilo of fuel becomes logarithmically more effective in changing your velocity. Of course that starts to diverge from a true logarithmic curve as you approach the asymptote of that curve because the mass of the spacecraft itself finally begins to predominate as the mass of propellant remaining falls below the mass of the spacecraft itself, but the principle still stands.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 11 2021 12:13 utc | 191

GMC @190

Yes, the Russians, or at least the Soviets, certainly do built spectacularly awesome rocket engines. Nobody is saying that they don't. And Indians build remarkably crappy rocket engines. But you know what? Indian rockets make it into orbit, even with engines that would embarrass a Lada.

Awesome engines are a great thing to have, but not the only thing.

Posted by: William Gruff | Jul 11 2021 12:25 utc | 192

@Idiocrates | Jul 11 2021 11:32 utc | 187

Out of curiousity: have you done the experiment of confirming the device's existence?

It requires money and connections I don't have access to. I don't think it can be done with amateur equipment. A powerful laser emitter is required because of atmospheric dispersion, and the receiving telescope must have a large aperture to be sensitive enough. But this is a question of money, not of principle.

If you live in the US, you may want to contact McDonald Observatory in Texas, since it is stated that they have done many such experiments. I would presume they will be happy to show you the results if you ask.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 11 2021 12:46 utc | 193

Norwegian @Jul11 #184

I think its obvious that my comment is predicated on a safe landing on earth.

Just because its not clear to us how that is to be accomplished doesn't mean that it won't be addressed.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jul 11 2021 12:50 utc | 194

I'd think you are wrong. Suppose that for a deceleration of the device you need just about the same mass of fuel that its own mass (which is approximately true). This means that you need to bring to the orbit twice larger load. And to get it there you have to burn twice more fuel at the period of acceleration.

Posted by: sasha | Jul 11 2021 12:54 utc | 195

@William Gruff | Jul 11 2021 12:13 utc | 191

We all agree that the mass of the rocket at the launch pad is

m1 = mf + rocket mass + payload mass
where mf = fuel mass at the launch pad

The fuel mass dominates completely. The fuel mass is the amount of fuel required to accelerate the rocket to 18000mph in low earth orbit. It doesn't matter which curve you apply for fuel consumption, once you are in orbit that fuel is gone. Mass in orbit becomes

m2 = rocket mass + payload mass

To return to earth, you have to aerobrake m2 because there is no fuel to perform powered descent.

Ooops, no heat shield => burn.

To perform a powered descent without any aerobraking means you have to perform almost all of the power braking outside the atmosphere, you need to slow down from 18000mph to something much closer to 0 using rocket fuel. Which requires essentially the same amount of fuel as the ascent. So the mass in orbit really needs to be

m2' = mf + rocket mass + payload mass = m1

The only way to achieve that is to revise the launch pad mass. A very naive estimate could be (the factor is likely >2):

m1' = 2*mf + rocket mass + payload mass

But now the launch pad mass is almost twice what it was originally. Most likely you will never reach orbit this way because the engines are not powerful enough to lift the extra mass into 18000mph/low Earth orbit, or alternatively the engines will burn all ~2*mf amount of fuel on the revised ascent, and your best option is to end up in orbit without any significant amount of fuel for power breaking anyway.

Ooops, no heat shield => burn.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 11 2021 12:57 utc | 196

@Jackrabbit | Jul 11 2021 12:50 utc | 194

I think its obvious that my comment is predicated on a safe landing on earth.

Just because its not clear to us how that is to be accomplished doesn't mean that it won't be addressed.

That is what we are doing, and we are saying it will not work, and explain why. Dreaming is fine, but if you claim millions from the government and say you will do it in practice, you need to show how. I agree with Gordog it looks impossible.

Posted by: Norwegian | Jul 11 2021 13:03 utc | 197

William Gruff @Jul11 12:13 #191

At both lift-off and the beginning of de-orbit (with intent to land on earth) a large mass of propellant is required. Laws of thermodynamics mean that it has to be the same - unless there's some other factor involved, like an atmosphere that you can make use of.

In a closed system, without atmosphere, ascending trades potential energy of the fuel for kinetic energy (thrust) for potential energy of gravity. To descend safely to the surface, you have to use the same amount of energy to counter the potential energy of gravity.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jul 11 2021 13:06 utc | 198

Norwegian @Jul11 13:03 #197

There's supposed to be a test soon. Tom Pfotzer (see his comments above) and I are expecting that we will learn more when that test is conducted.


Posted by: Jackrabbit | Jul 11 2021 13:09 utc | 199

Wow! This is what it must be like to be accosted by a violently crazy homeless person who decides to start spitting on random passers by!

The crazy person claims that only 10 percent more fuel is needed because the craft is now so much lighter since it has burned off all of its fuel.

'This should be obvious,' he says.

But of course...which is why crazy homeless people who like to spit on folks always get hired by rocket companies to design rockets!

But let's consider this FULLY. Yes, it is correct that we need far less fuel to land a craft that is now much lighter [we will do the actual numbers shortly].

But what our crazy person / pretend rocket physicist doesn't yet know is that extra ten percent of the fuel for the retroburn reentry has now DOUBLED THE PAYLOAD! Since that extra propellant mass has also been accelerated to final orbital velocity!

Using his own number of 'starship' mass of 120 tons plus propellant mass of 1,200 tons, for a total launch mass of 1,320 tons.

Now with that extra 120 tons of PROPELLANT PAYLOAD, the amount of fuel needed to get that now twice heavier payload mass to orbit stays the same, right?

Well, no. Not unless someone has figured out how to make a rocket engine that is TWICE as fuel efficient as our most advanced engines in 2021. A quantum leap that has never been achieved before, seeing as even the best engines of 2021 are at most 50 percent better than the German V2 of the 1940s.

This means the payload fraction doesn't change. If it took 1,200 tons of propellant to get 120 tons up to orbit, it's going to take 2,400 tons of propellant to get 240 tons of payload into the same orbit!

Now THIS is what should be obvious!

But let's do the numbers. The Tsiolkovsky rocket equation tells us how much propellant mass is required to achieve a given rocket speed, which is called delta v---given an engine fuel efficiency called specific impulse.

Delta v = engine specific impulse [ISP, in seconds] x g [m/s^2] x natural logarithm [ln] of the ratio of rocket mass full to rocket mass empty [Mo /Mf in kg].

The engine specific impulse is the fuel efficiency of the engine. The g is the acceleration of gravity, which, on earth, is 9.8 meters per second squared. Specific impulse for today's rocket engines is on the order of 300 seconds.

Using crazy person's own numbers of 120 tons of mass for the starship payload, plus 1,200 tons of propellant [I guess the weight of the engines, propellant tanks and rocket fairings is somehow not counted, but no matter, we will assume that there has been a Musk 'breakthrough' and all of these are completely weightless---all of the rocket mass that is not payload is simply propellant!]


Delta v = 300 s x 9.8 m/s^2 x [ln] 1,320,000 / 120,000 kg}

Which gives us a final velocity for that 120 ton payload of 7,050 m/s.

Well, that's a little short of our needed low orbit velocity of 7,800 meters per second. But if we increase our engine ISP to 330 seconds, we get 7,750 m/s. Close enough.

Of course, this is with our 'magic' rocket that has zero empty weight. It's all just propellant and payload.

If we add 120 tons of fuel to that payload so we can retroburn it back down:

Delta v = 330 x 9.8 x ln 1320/240 = 5,500 m/s!


Obviously we don't have enough propellant. Let's try again with double the propellant:

Delta v = 330 x 9.8 x ln 2640/240 = 7,750 m/s.

Yeah. That's why people who don't know the very first thing about rocket physics should maybe stop and THINK about how much they really know about rocket physics, BEFORE viciously lashing out!

I will have more on this a little later, because we don't really know how much fuel is in fact required. That requires an energy analysis---rather than crazy person's 'guesstimate' of 10 percent.

Also we need to account for the mass of the rocket structure and engines! Stay tuned, folks!

Oh well, I guess to a crazy person, everyone is crazy but himself. This should be 'obvious.'

Posted by: Gordog | Jul 11 2021 13:10 utc | 200

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