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New Charity Bet: Date of first time Starship reaches orbit.

Cosmacelf

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Mar 6, 2013
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So we just concluded a charity bet on when the first tenth Falcon 9 reuse would occur. @e-FTW won.

Let's keep going and do another bet. This time, the next relatively near term big event will be Starship achieving orbit. To do this, SpaceX will have to use a Super Heavy. They've already built a pathfinder. Presumably the next Super Heavy will attempt a launch? With or without a Starship on top of it? My guess is that the first Super Heavy launch will just have a mass simulator on top ... or something like SN15 as a mass simulator. So then the question is whether an engineering prototype of something that isn't expected to land will qualify as Starship achieving orbit.

Hmmm ... thinking out loud again, any kind of Starship is not going to be demisable. That hunk of stainless steel isn't going to completely burn up, which would result in quite the re-entry event. If I'm correct, then SpaceX will only loft up a real Starship that has a chance of a controlled re-entry, if not even a landing.

Note that re-entry is a whole 'nother engineering challenge for Starship. Lots of failures are expected there, and I suspect the first many re-entry attempts will be soft ocean landings. Or at the most, landing on one of their ex-oil ocean rigs.

Oh, and that brings up another possible bet. Super Heavys are all expected to be re-usable. So, a bet could be first re-use of a Super Heavy.

And, since predicting the future is hard, SpaceX could throw us a curveball and the first orbital Starship might actually be designed to be a tanker, and it will be intentionally left in orbit.

Discuss!
 

Grendal

SpaceX Moderator
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Jan 31, 2012
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Love it!

Let's focus on one or two at a time. Starship isn't getting to orbit until after Super Heavy is up and running. So how about a guess on that? A Super Heavy launch date. Will a Starship be stacked on it when it happens? Aargh. I expect so. So that day might be the same as the first Starship to orbit.

So what is the next major milestone we can bet on? My guess on Starship to orbit is 5/4/22.
 

Cosmacelf

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Ok, let’s do it as first Starship to orbit. We will include anything that resembles a Starship, so it could be an orbital tanker, or a starship that orbits and attempts a landing, or even the moon HLS starship. The day will be recorded as the local time of liftoff.

I’ve been too optimistic on the last two bets, but I think Grendal to way too pessimistic in his bet. I’ll choose December 1, 2021.
 
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Cosmacelf

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I'm in for first Starship to orbit. (To me that means first Starship to have a nonzero chance per Elon of successfully deorbiting and landing. Soft water landing counts.) 10/31/2021.

Uh, don’t go changing the bet. I wrote “We will include anything that resembles a Starship, so it could be an orbital tanker, or a starship that orbits and attempts a landing, or even the moon HLS starship.” The problem is that we know of three different Starship configurations, at least, today alone. Two of which aren't intended to come back to earth. We do not know SpaceX’s plans, so to cover ourselves, I’d like to make this bet as broad as possible and include all Starship variants.

I‘m pretty sure that SpaceX won’t put up a Starship that has zero possibility of even doing a soft water landing. They would want to test re-entry if they expected an orbital starship to come back. It would be a wasted opportunity otherwise.
 
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Ben W

2008 Roadster, 2017 M3, 2022 MY
Feb 27, 2009
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Uh, don’t go changing the bet. I wrote “We will include anything that resembles a Starship, so it could be an orbital tanker, or a starship that orbits and attempts a landing, or even the moon HLS starship.” The problem is that we know of three different Starship configurations, at least, today alone. Two of which aren't intended to come back to earth. We do not know SpaceX’s plans, so to cover ourselves, I’d like to make this bet as broad as possible and include all Starship variants.

I‘m pretty sure that SpaceX won’t put up a Starship that has zero possibility of even doing a soft water landing. They would want to test re-entry if they expected an orbital starship to come back. It would be a wasted opportunity otherwise.
I don't expect there to be a difference in practice; i.e. I fully expect SpaceX will reach both milestone definitions with the same flight. Of course yours is the one that counts for the bet. Tanker and Starship configurations are both Earth-landing-capable (are they not?), and I'm sure the first several orbital flights will be orbital velocity rather than escape velocity (moon mission, which may require on-orbit refueling in any case?). Is the ultimate plan for lunar starship to ditch it on return to Earth, or to make it Earth-landing-capable? Presumably the Mars configuration (for return to Earth) will have to be Earth-landing-capable, or at least aerobraking-capable.
 
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Cosmacelf

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I don’t think we know if tankers will be earth landing capable. My guess is that they won’t be. Why should they be? They will be permanent orbital infrastructure. No reason that I can think of to bring a tanker back.

But I think it is a pretty safe bet that any use of a super heavy will attempt to put some kind of starship into orbit.
 
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Ben W

2008 Roadster, 2017 M3, 2022 MY
Feb 27, 2009
756
735
Santa Barbara, CA
I don’t think we know if tankers will be earth landing capable. My guess is that they won’t be. Why should they be? They will be permanent orbital infrastructure. No reason that I can think of to bring a tanker back.

But I think it is a pretty safe bet that any use of a super heavy will attempt to put some kind of starship into orbit.
My understanding was that fully refueling a Starship on-orbit (for e.g. Mars departure) always requires 5-6 "tanker" launches, since the tanker will use 85% of its fuel on the way up and only have 15% left to donate in orbit. And for economic purposes, all of these tankers will have to be reusable (it's pointless/unsustainable to have them all stay in space as long-term depots), implying that the tanker design will have to have reentry / landing / reflight capability. Maybe a small number of them could remain on-orbit as long-term depots, but I'm not sure there would be much advantage to having very different configurations for the depot vs reusable tanker, since both will have to be able to transfer fuel the same way. I guess a pure depot configuration would only need vacuum Raptors and no flaps/heatshield/legs, replaced with solar panels and other equipment needed for a longer stay on-orbit. But probably it makes more economic sense for even the depots to be able to fly home for reconditioning/refueling/reflight/retirement rather than sit in orbit empty between launch windows, to eventually be ditched into the atmosphere and litter the oceans. So at least for the first few iterations, I'd expect the tanker and depot design to be very close to the same, or essentially for one of the tankers to function as a short-term depot.

Given how fast SpaceX is cranking out Starship SN's, I'm sure they will put a functional one on Super Heavy for the first orbital attempt. It's also likely they will do a few suborbital tests with mass simulators first, maybe even some with fully functional Starships to test reentry performance at Mach 5-15 or so, before going whole-hog to orbit and Mach 25. I expect the first orbital ascent attempt will have a far higher probability of success than the first orbital descent/landing attempt, but that doesn't make either less exciting!
 
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I don’t think we know if tankers will be earth landing capable. My guess is that they won’t be. Why should they be? They will be permanent orbital infrastructure. No reason that I can think of to bring a tanker back.

But I think it is a pretty safe bet that any use of a super heavy will attempt to put some kind of starship into orbit.
I hadn't thought about this before, an orbiting fuel depot.
We expect somewhere around 6-8 tanker flights to refuel an orbiting starship; but if instead you refuel an orbiting depot ahead of a starship launch, a departing starship could refuel from the depot in one go rather than waiting for the dozen successful tanker missions before an interplanetary voyage.
This wasn't how it was portrayed in the video promos we've seen. Would a fully fueled tank bleed off while on orbit? Could they prepare a depot days/weeks in advance of a launch?

Edit: just realized probably OT; should post somewhere else?
 

Nikxice

Active Member
Oct 31, 2014
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Weighing in on the charity bet. Starship or a variant reaching orbit sounds fine. Would assume the winning date encompasses achieving either Earth or circumsolar orbit (as in the first Falcon Heavy test in Feb. 2018).

A year ago I'd have picked Elon's 50th birthday, 6/28/21, but at this stage that date would be a losing ticket. So, I'm going into the mix with @Grendal (5/4/22) and @adiggs (6/2/22) and slide between them with the precise launch date of 5/6/22. That'll coincide with Founders Day, 5/6/02, celebrating SpaceX at 20. While I think it's feasible SpaceX could orbit a Starship as early as fall 2021, believe they'll save that show for next year. Reaching orbit will be a difficult task, however getting back down all in one piece seems laden with incredible complexities. So perhaps instead of going for instant orbital gratification, SpaceX might continue opting for relentless suborbital testing, working out issues associated with reentry and landing. By incrementally testing higher, faster, hotter reentries, the number of future RUDs could be reduced. This might also increase test vehicle reusability, saving time and money.

Suggest adding an end date for contest entries. Perhaps May 31st or maybe sometime before July 1st. Can't blame anyone who waits. Given the opportunity to extend the clock, stragglers will seek to lay low in the weeds to gain every edge. ;)
 

Cosmacelf

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Mar 6, 2013
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Suggest adding an end date for contest entries. Perhaps May 31st or maybe sometime before July 1st. Can't blame anyone who waits. Given the opportunity to extend the clock, stragglers will seek to lay low in the weeds to gain every edge. ;)

Good point. Elon could surprise us at any time with some out of the blue tweet. Let's make it even tighter. End of next week. Contest closes May 21st. Get your bets in now.
 
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Ben W

2008 Roadster, 2017 M3, 2022 MY
Feb 27, 2009
756
735
Santa Barbara, CA
I hadn't thought about this before, an orbiting fuel depot.
We expect somewhere around 6-8 tanker flights to refuel an orbiting starship; but if instead you refuel an orbiting depot ahead of a starship launch, a departing starship could refuel from the depot in one go rather than waiting for the dozen successful tanker missions before an interplanetary voyage.
This wasn't how it was portrayed in the video promos we've seen. Would a fully fueled tank bleed off while on orbit? Could they prepare a depot days/weeks in advance of a launch?
The short-term depot idea is exactly how I pictured it: launch 6-8 tankers over the course of a few days, keep one in orbit and fill it to 90% from the others, then launch Starship to rendezvous and top off. Especially for crewed Starships this makes much more sense than sitting in orbit for days waiting for a bunch of tankers, and that many more chances for something to go wrong. The depot tanker could have a solar shade on the nose to keep it very cold to reduce bleed-off, and/or just maintain alignment with nose or engines pointing toward the sun. The non-spherical shape of Starship has all sorts of advantages!

Staying on-topic, I chose an optimistic date for reaching orbit (10/31/21) because I think going up will be the easy part. For Starship descent, I predict a first RUD-on-landing (but in one piece until reaching the ground) on 4/20/22, and actually sticking the landing on 6/9/22. (I suspect both events may happen somewhat sooner, but I had to claim those dates :D)
 
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