Elon Musk. Mission to mars

Original author: Chris Anderson
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When a person tells you that he once planned to set up a garden on Mars, you will doubt his mental health. But if the same person has since launched several rockets that are really capable of reaching Mars, sending them into Bond-style orbit from a tiny island in the Pacific Ocean, you should find a different diagnosis. Extreme business is just the point: the line between insanity and genius is very thin, and you need a little of both of them to really change the world.

All entrepreneurs are risk averse, but more importantly, their ability to self-deceive. Indeed, psychological research has shown that entrepreneurs risk no more than non-entrepreneurs. It's just that they are so capable of believing in their ideas about the future that they begin to realize them without realizing the risk. Of course, they are wrong, but without being so wrong, deliberately not ignoring all the skeptics and all the evidence to the contrary, not possessing such courage, you can not start anything radically new.

I have never met an entrepreneur who would fit this model more than Elon Musk. All the entrepreneurs I most admire - Musk, Jeff Bezos, Reed Hastings, Jack Dorsey, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and others, sought not only to build a large company, but also to tackle really significant problems. But even in a class of people changing the world, Musk stands out. After successfully selling the Internet companies he created, including PayPal, a South African native could simply retire to enjoy his wealth. Instead, he decides to change the most complex industries in the world. At 41, he reinvents the car with Tesla and builds an electric car factory in Detroit. (Wired represented this venture in discussion 18.10) He is transforming energy with SolarCity, a startup,

And he leads a private space race with SpaceX, capable of replacing the shuttle and taking us into interplanetary space. Musk founded the company in 2002, and developed a series of new generation rockets that can deliver payload into space for a small fraction of the cost of launching existing rockets. In 2010, SpaceX became the first private company to launch a spacecraft into orbit and bring it back. In 2012, her ship successfully docked to the International Space Station.

No wonder for the movie Iron ManMusk served as a prototype of the character Tony Stark, played by Robert Downey Jr.: This material is worthy of a superhero. I met him at the Tesla factory in Fremont, California, to discuss how cheaper and (sooner or later) reusable rockets could ever deliver a man to Mars.

Freelance entrepreneur Elon Musk. Photo: Art Streiber

Chris Anderson : You're not a scientist or a space engineer by training.

Elon Musk: It's true. My main education is physics and economics, but I grew up in a kind of engineering environment - my father is an electrical engineer. And there were a lot of engineering around me. When I asked, they explained to me how these things actually work and work. I also made myself, for example, a model of a rocket. But in South Africa there were no ready-made rockets: I had to go to the pharmacy, purchase components for rocket fuel, mix them, put the mixture into the pipe.

Anderson : But then you became an Internet entrepreneur.

Musk : I never did physical labor. I founded two online software companies, zip2 and PayPal. So it took me several years to partly study rocket science.
Anderson: How did you turn to space, how did your next project come about?

Musk : In 2002, when it became clear that PayPal was for sale, I spoke with my friend, entrepreneur Adeo Ressi, who was my college neighbor. I stayed at his house for the weekend, and when we returned on a rainy day, I was stuck in traffic jam on Long Island. He asked me what I will do after selling PayPal. And I said: well, I have always been interested in space, but I do not think that I can do something there alone. But, I continued, it is already clear that we would like to send people to Mars. Suddenly I asked myself why this has not happened so far. Then I went to the NASA website to see the schedule of the flight there. [ Laughs . ]

Anderson : And, of course, there was nothing.

Musk : At first I thought, damn it, maybe I'm just not looking there! Why is there no plan, no schedule? There was nothing. It seemed insane.

Anderson : NASA has no budget for this.

Musk : Since 1989, when research showed that a manned flight would cost $ 500 billion, the topic has become very dangerous. Politicians do not want an expensive federal program that would be used as a political weapon against them.

Anderson : Their opponents would call it a futile effort.

Musk : But the United States is a nation of researchers. America is a concentrated spirit of exploration.

Anderson : We all went into the unknown to get here.

Star man . To see Elon Musk’s astronomical goals in perspective, look at some of what he has already achieved. - Victoria Tang
1983 - At the age of 12, he develops the video game Star Burst and sells it to a computer magazine for $ 500.
1995 - He drops out of physical education at Stanford University two days after starting to start developing zip2, an online publishing platform for the media industry.
1999 - Compaq buys zip2 for $ 307 million.
2000 - Creates PayPal by merging his new online payment company, X.com, and Confinity, created by Max Levchin and Peter Thiel.
2001 - The Mask Foundation is established to provide grants for research in the field of renewable energy, space and medical research, as well as scientific and engineering education.
2002- PayPal enters the market; stocks rise more than 54 percent on the first day of trading. Eight months later, eBay acquires PayPal for $ 1.5 billion. Musk founds SpaceX.
2004 - Invests in Tesla Motors, a company producing high-performance electric cars.
2006 - Helps create SolarCity, which provides 33,000 buildings with solar power systems. Becomes the head of the company .
2008 - NASA selects the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon space shuttle to deliver cargo to the International Space Station after the shuttles retired.
2010 - Starring in the movie Iron Man 2. Director John Favreau says that Musk inspired him to the image of Tony Stark.
2012 - Dragon SpaceX becomes the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the ISS.

Musk : So, I started with a crazy idea to spur national will. I called it the Oasis of Mars Mission. The idea was to send a small greenhouse to the surface of Mars, along with dehydrated nutrient gels that would moisturize after planting. You would end this project with wonderful photographs - green plants on a red background, the first life on Mars, and as far as we know - the farthest place where life has ever penetrated. It would be a big waste of money, but in the plus you will get a lot of engineering data on what is needed to maintain such a greenhouse that keeps plants alive on Mars. If I could afford it, I realized that it would be a worthy investment, without the prospect of obtaining financial benefits.

Engine Merlin Photo: Art Streiber

Anderson: In a way, are you going to buy a trip to Mars?

Musk : Right. So I began to evaluate this enterprise. Spacecraft, communications, greenhouse experiment: I figured out how to do it all inexpensively. But then the turn came to calculate the cost of rockets - that should move all of the above from Earth to Mars. The cheapest US missiles that could do this would cost $ 65 million, and I figured it would take at least two.

Anderson : So, 130 million dollars.

Mask: Yes, plus the cost of everything else, which would mean that I would spend everything I earned on PayPal, and with any price increase, I could not cover the cost of the flight. So then I came to Russia three times in late 2001 and in 2002 to see if I could agree to buy two ICBMs, obviously, without nuclear weapons.

Anderson : Of course.

Mask: They would cost me from $ 15 million to $ 20 million each. It was, of course, a big step forward. But, when I thought about it, I realized that the only reason the ICBMs were so cheap was that they were already made. They just stood idle without being used. You could not make new for sale at the same price. I suddenly realized that all my premises for the idea of ​​the “Oasis of Mars” are not good. The real reason why we are not going to Mars was not the lack of national will; and the fact that we did not have enough cheap rocketry to get there with a reasonable budget. This is the perception of the American people, correctly, given the current technology, that there is no financial sense to fly there.

Anderson: Instead of buying rockets for a charity mission, you realized that you need to start a business to make rockets more effective.

Musk : We needed to put rocket technology on the path of rapid improvement. Trying to collect the Oasis of Mars, I talked with many people in the space industry and began to figure out which of them was technically astute and who was not. So I put together a team, and for a number of Saturdays, gathering with me, we did a feasibility study to create more efficient missiles. It became clear that there was nothing to prevent us from doing this. Missile technology has not advanced significantly since the 60s, perhaps stepped back! We decided to reverse this trend.

Anderson : And you reversed it.

Mask: Six years after we founded the company, in 2008 we launched into orbit our first rocket, Falcon 1. And the price, not the cost, mind you, and the total launch cost for customers was about $ 7 million.

Anderson : How did you get such a low price?

Mask: I try to approach things based on physics. But physics teaches us to argue based on primary principles, and not by analogy. So I said, okay, let's look at the primary principles. What is a rocket made of? Aerospace-grade aluminum alloys, as well as titanium, copper and carbon fiber. And then I asked, what is the cost of these materials in the commodity market? It turned out that the cost of the materials that make up the rocket was about 2% of its price, which is an insane ratio for large mechanical products.

Anderson : How does this compare, say, with cars?

Musk : It depends on the car. For Tesla, this is probably between 20 and 25 percent.

Anderson : The difference is an order of magnitude.

Mask: Right. So, I thought, we are able to make rockets much cheaper considering these material costs. A lot of pretty stupid things should happen on the market. And so it is!

Anderson : For example, what?

Musk : One of them is an incredible aversion to risk in large aerospace firms. Even if advanced technologies are already available, they still use obsolete components, often those that were developed in the 1960s.

Anderson : I heard that there is a rule that, in fact, you cannot fly with components that have not yet flown.

Musk : Right, which is obviously shown in the movie Trick-22 , isn't it? Must be a joke by Groucho Marxon this occasion. So, yes, there is a huge prejudice against risk. Everyone is trying to optimize their ass cover.

Anderson : Good phrase.

Musk : The results are pretty crazy. One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a replenishment contract for the International Space Station, and their rockets, in fact, it sounds like a joke, they use Russian rocket engines that were made in the 60s. I do not mean that their design is from the 60s, I mean that they start with engines that were made literally in the 60s and, it seems, are stored somewhere in Siberia.
Dragon Capsule Photo: Art Streiber

Anderson : Where else is inefficiency?

Mask: Secondly, there is a tendency for large companies in the aerospace industry to outsource everything. It was fashionable in many industries, but aerospace brought it to the point of absurdity. They give outsourcing orders to subcontractors, and then subcontracting outsourcing to sub-contractors, and so on. You have to go down four or five levels to find someone who is actually doing something useful, actually cutting metal, forming atoms. Each level above requires its own profit - this is overhead to the fifth degree.

Anderson : Is this the result of bureaucracy?

Mask: In many cases, the largest customer was the government, and in government contracts was what they called cost plus: the company receives a fixed level of profit, regardless of how wasteful it is. This actually stimulates doing everything as expensive as possible.

Anderson : This kind of bureaucracy should also play a role in the bidding process.

Mask: It pisses me off. The preferred approach of the Pentagon is to conclude long-term contracts with a single counterparty, which means to lock the entire business into one company! We tried to bid on the primary contract for the Air Force, but this is practically impossible because the United Launch Alliance, owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin, currently has an exclusive satellite contract with the Air Force. This is completely impractical.

Anderson : Wow, really?

Musk : Even if we save taxpayers at least a billion dollars a year, this is a conservative estimate.

Anderson : It sounds like the essence of the proposal is not to surpass its competitors, but simply to compete in price.

Mask: Listen, rocket speed will always be about the same. Convenience and comfort will be about the same. Reliability should be at least the same as what was done before, otherwise people will not use rockets to launch satellites, worth many hundreds of millions of dollars, but there are not many opportunities for improvement. Thus, you really have one key parameter to judge by the improvement of technology, and this is the price.

Anderson : So how do you do this? What is your process?

Mask: Now I have to tell you something, and I say this in the best and most harmless way possible: I do not believe in processes. In fact, when I interview a potential employee, and he or she says that “this is all about the process,” I see this as a bad sign.

Anderson : Oh no. I'm fired.

Musk : The problem is that in many large companies, the process is becoming a substitute for thinking. You have been called to act like a little gear in a complicated car. Honestly, this allows you to save people who are not so smart and lack a creative approach.

Anderson : So what did all your creative people come up with? What has changed in your core technology compared to what it was 50 years ago?

Mask: I can not tell you much. We have practically no patents in SpaceX. Our main long-term competition is in China, and our published patents would be farce because the Chinese simply use them as a recipe book. But I can give you one example.

Anderson : Which one?

Musk : This is an aircraft design. If you think about it, missiles are really just a container for liquid oxygen and fuel, this is a combination of a fuel tank and an aircraft.
Traditionally, an aircraft’s rocket is made of an aluminum plate about two inches thick, from which everything superfluous is cut off (in order to get an arc-shaped element of a future cylinder from a flat plate? - approx. Cholga) Then you fold what is left into the desired shape, usually into cylindrical segments, since missiles are usually cylindrical in shape. This is how the Boeing and Lockheed missiles are made, and most other missiles, too. But this is a very expensive production method, because you use a small part of the original mass of the plate. You start with a huge plate of material, and then you mill everything that is not needed, and you have huge losses of material. In addition, the processing and removal of excess metal takes a lot of time, and all this is very expensive.

Anderson : What is the alternative?

Musk : This is similar to the way most planes are made: strength is ensured by bonding longitudinal and transverse stiffeners.

Anderson: It's like aluminum origami - it requires very precise cutting of the grooves in them so that they fold into a rigid shape.

Musk : But there is one catch, because you cannot rivet a rocket, as you can rivet a plane. The pressure drop for an airplane — the difference between internal and external pressure during a flight — is perhaps 7 to 10 psi. But in the case of the rocket, it is likely to be 80 pounds per square inch. It is much harder to rivet so as to withstand leaks at this pressure.

Anderson : Right.

Mask: Thus, the approach used for aircraft is not entirely suitable for missiles. But there is another way to do this - using advanced welding technology called rotational welding. Instead of riveting longitudinal and transverse stiffeners, you can use a special machine that softens metals on both sides at the same time, without holes and without melting them. Unlike traditional welding, which melts and potentially endangers some metals, this process works well with high-strength aluminum alloys. You get a stiffer and lighter structure than was possible before. And your material loss, maybe 10%, only when trimming the edges. And the ratio of material purchased to flying, as they call the “bought / flew” relationship, which used to be 10-20,

Anderson : Wow! Why aren't you afraid to tell us about this method?

Musk : I can safely talk about this because no one knows how to build a rocket in this way. [ Laughs .]

Mask on the background of the Merlin engine. Photo: Art Streiber

Anderson : Let's talk about where it all goes. You have reduced the cost of rocket launches by 10 times. Suppose you can reduce it even further. How will this change the game? It seems that when you drastically reduce the price, you can open a whole new market. This is a form of research in itself.

Musk : Right.

Anderson : What do you see the prospects of the new market?

Mask: A huge satellite market. There are many applications for satellites that suddenly begin to make sense if transportation costs are small: more telecommunications, more broadcasting, better weather forecasting, more scientific experiments.

Anderson : That is, traditional segments of the satellite market are becoming cheaper.

Musk : There are also likely to be many more private space flights.

Anderson : You mean tourism.

Musk : Yes, but I think tourism is too derogatory. It can be argued that most of our state space flights were tourism. But the main goal that I still believe in the long run is to populate other planets.

Anderson: And the Dragon ship, which you docked with the ISS in May, has features that can ultimately prepare it for a manned flight to Mars.

Musk : Over time, yes. Dragon's shunting engines are large enough to provide emergency rescue at launch. Which means the ability to move away from the rocket with an overload of about 6g. This is the same level of traction that is suitable for supersonic braking when landing on Mars.

Anderson : Could you send Dragon to Mars, and not to the ISS?

Musk : Well, he would fly very slowly, and when he arrived, he could not sit down and leave a crater.

Anderson : So the problem is how to stop when you get there?

Mask: Dragon of the second version, which should be ready within three years, will be able to do this. But in fact, if humanity wants to become multi-planetary, the fundamental breakthrough that should occur in the rocket industry is fast and fully reusable rockets. While they are not there, space transport will remain two orders of magnitude more expensive than it should be.

Anderson : Really?

Musk : Imagine you need a new plane for every flight. Very few people will fly with this.

Anderson : Doesn't fuel account for most of the costs?

Mask: The cost of fuel on the Falcon 9 is only about 0.3 percent of the total price. So, if a vehicle costs $ 60 million, fuel may be a couple of hundred thousand dollars. It is jet fuel for missiles, which is three times the cost of normal jet fuel. This is due to the use of helium for boosting, which is a very expensive boost. Next-generation missiles could use cheaper fuel and also be fully reused.

Anderson : What would you announce right now?

Mask: I hope that we could introduce architecture next year. I would like to emphasize that this is SpaceX's aspiration; I am not saying that we will do it. But I believe this can be done. And I believe that this achievement would be tantamount to what the Wright brothers did. This is the basic thing that is necessary for humanity to become a cosmic civilization. America would never be colonized if ships could not be reused.

Anderson : But wasn't the space shuttle reusable?

Musk : Many people think it was reusable, but the main fuel stage was thrown out every time. Even the parts that were actually returning were so hard to upgrade that the shuttle cost four times as much as it would require missiles with equivalent payloads.

Anderson : It's like sending Columbus ships, and returning the lifeboat back.

Musk : We started rocket reuse testing with the Grasshopper project - this is the Falcon 9 first stage with a chassis that can take off and land vertically.

Anderson : Huge rockets landing on their feet? Lord's shit.

Musk : Yes, shit of the Lord. When entering orbit, the first stage unfolds, restarts the engine, returns back to the launch site, reorients, deploys the chassis, and lands vertically.

Anderson : It looks like something from a movie or my old books about Tintin . This is the path to space that was supposed to be.

Musk : Exactly.

Chris Anderson (@ chr1sa) is Wired editor-in-chief and author of Makers: The New Industrial Revolution

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