Starship, Not Twitter, Will Bring Elon Down
A cascade of failures to come, from Starship, Starlink and Tesla.
If we fixate on the Elon Musk’s Twitter tantrums we’ll miss the exciting, and final chapter of Starship, Starlink and Tesla.
It will begin with Starship (probably blowing up), followed by Starlink (falling out of their tenuous orbits faster than new ones take their place) and then Tesla.
Starship is never going to work. One doesn’t need science to understand why. Experience says one can’t succeed if one tries to shoot for the Moon (er, Mars) with too many untested (unproven) technologies.
Mankind has been flying rockets into space (orbit) for over 60 years. Just today NASA finally launched a rocket into space more powerful than a Saturn that flew over 50 years ago. Since the 60s, there have over 5,000 orbital launches.
It’s not like the space industry hasn’t been trying to build more powerful rockets.
Musk believes he can single-handedly do what the best and brightest haven’t been able to do since his father was born. (Let me point out that the Falcon rocket is not an unqualified success. It burns fuel to land which could be used to put more stuff in orbit.)
Let’s start with the engines. Artemis (SLS) has 6 engines at takeoff. Starship will have 33. Do you know why Artemis didn’t use 33 engines, or even 8?My guess is more engines; more shit that go can horribly wrong.(The Russians tried many engines and failed, if I remember correctly).
With all those engines you won’t be surprised that Starship will be TWICE as powerful as Artemis. 17 million pounds of thrust vs 8 million pounds. In a few years Musk will have doubled the power of a rocket (the SLS) that took 50 years to match the power of the Saturn created in the 1960s-70s.
So far, Starship is only twice as powerful as SLS on its launchpad.
Starship contains every facet of Musk’s genius. Because something is possible Musk claims he can make it probable. This bothers me — a lot. I’m the first to push for innovation. But watching all these young technologists and scientists work on Musk’s pipe-dreams enrages me. It’s a huge waste of human capital. Musk fosters intellectual laziness (by selling fantasies). Okay, back to the story.
33 engines, and a real-life gargantuan Tonka toy that will catch the booster before it crashes to the ground (which Starship has proven very good at). So I say, “yeah, if you can catch your rocket before it hits the ground and blows up, good idea!” I mean, it’s not like Musk is totally detached from reality!
Starship hasn’t flown in a year. And when it did fly, it only flew on a few engines (and still mostly crashed or blew up). Instead, Starships, in various states of completeness, move around at the “Spaceport” like contestants in a beauty pageant.
Every day Musk fanboys watch and comment on every movement. Lift starship booster here! Drive rocket part there! Build another rocket here! All this action! All this movement. Building! Watching parts crumble when loaded with fuel. Or blowing up. Or just sitting there while Musk fanboys say they just discovered warp drive in some secret trailer.
Later this year, or the beginning of next, when Musk can’t delay another launch, can’t hide from the truth, that Starship will not fly, it will become obvious that Starlink can’t survive either. Starlink, as Musk points out himself, can’t work financially if it can’t get its satellites into orbit cheaply (on Starship).
Once Starship can’t keep Starlink afloat, people will start wondering if the Tesla corporation can afford to keep building replacement screens for their Teslas. I don’t need to explain why Tesla will fall. Millions of words have been written explaining that.
Will Starship try to make a Hail Mary launch in the next few months? All engines blazing! All or nothing! Musk must do something. Starlink is hemorrhaging money. Starship isn’t a cheap hobby.
If he does go for an orbital launch, I expect catastrophic failure. If not the first launch, then the second. Next, Starlink won’t be able to hide from the economic reality that it can’t sell $100/month internet access launching its satellites on the Falcon (or any other working rocket).
I don’t want Starship to blow up or Starlink to fail. Quite the opposite. But Musk can’t cheat the hard-won experience in space technologies. He can’t cheat the dirty economics of mining scarce stuff out of the ground for batteries, or the shortcomings of renewables or the long-term costs of maintenance.
All that said, he inspired many, he challenged what can or cannot be done. I’ll be sad when he’s gone. When Starship blows up. I won’t be cheering. Or take pleasure in my brother-in-law dismantling his Starlink dish because $300 a month is too expensive. Or judging one of my friends trying to sell me their Tesla.
Or maybe it will all work! I’ll be happy to be wrong!