What if Elon Musk Could Boost the Pentagon into Orbit?

The Pentagon: It Even Looks Like a Space Colony

Weighing many millions of tonnes, The Pentagon — US military headquarters — is far too massive for any of SpaceX’s current generations of rockets to boost into orbit.

  • Falcon 9 can only lift about 20 tonnes.
  • Falcon Heavy will boost around 50 tonnes of payload.
  • And BFR — Big F’N Rocket (where “F’N” stands for Falcon) — is planned to boost roughly 150 tonnes per launch.

150 tonnes is a lot of mass to loft into Earth orbit, but compared to The Pentagon’s many millions of tonnes of steel and concrete, the BFR simply cannot cut the mustard.

Large Payloads Lead to Permanent Human Presence in Space

Many people get excited about a day trip to the edge of space — as Jeff Bezos’ company will soon offer. Others are thrilled at the prospect of flying from New York to London in 20 minutes. But that is only scratching the surface of what space has to offer.

Next Stop: Cislunar Space
Image Source

If launch companies such as SpaceX or Blue Origin can affordably boost payloads of hundreds — or thousands — of tonnes on a regular schedule, productive human infrastructure can be rapidly built in Earth orbit, in cis-Lunar space, on the moon, on Mars, and beyond.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo 2 is said to be scheduled this July. Pictured: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft onboard takes off during the Demo-1 mission, at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on March 2, 2019. Photo: JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images )

For years, Earth will need to supply all human space outposts with regular shipments of food, water, and materials for use in construction and industrial production. But as humans build better ways of processing and utilising space materials mined from asteroids and the moon, more human space ventures will learn to grow their own food and become more self-sufficient in water and materials. The commercial supply chains will soon go in both directions, as space-made products and materials become part of the Terran trading markets.

It should be clear to everyone who pays attention that the entire human space venture hinges upon affordable access to space for high mass payloads. The Falcon Heavy, with a payload of over 50 tonnes to Earth Orbit, will be a good start. The Heavy is scheduled for its second launch — and 1st commercial launch — sometime in April of 2019.

SpaceX rockets are designed to be reusable, which so far seems to allow for lower costs to LEO. Unlike other space launch companies, SpaceX seems to be constantly at work upgrading its rockets to be ever more reliable, less expensive, and more capable in terms of lifting heavier payloads for a wider range of space missions — including manned Mars missions. Blue Origin is being forced to work harder just to catch up — and then to keep up with SpaceX if it can.

SpaceX BFR/Starship
The Starship rocket , which is currently in development, is capable of carrying up to 100 people at a time – and will one day transport humans to the Moon and Mars.

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6 Responses to What if Elon Musk Could Boost the Pentagon into Orbit?

  1. Improbus says:

    I think the first viable product from space, other than surveillance and communications, will be power and LOTS of it. Since the US can’t seem to build a new nuclear reactor to save its life this is a good plan B. In space the sun shines 24/7. We just need to make sure our power satellites are out of missile distance … or maybe put an armed station between them and any approaching objects.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Maybe so. An added bonus is that all those microwaves beaming down from orbit would pop your popcorn for you. Just pour a half cup of popcorn into a large plastic bowl and set outside your kitchen window for 5 minutes or so. Add salt and oil of choice. 😉

      • Improbus says:

        I assume you are joking. The radiation that hits the ground would not be enough to fry a sparrow in flight. It might make it a bit uncomfortable if it stays in the radiation for an extended period of time though. The best part is that the receiving antenna is just a bunch of wire and easy to construct.

  2. bob sykes says:

    I find it difficult to believe that reusable rockets lower launch costs per kg. The rocket must carry enough additional fuel for the landing. That fuel reduces the payload. It also increases the fuel expenditure for launch, because it too is launched. Also, the rocket itself has to be built more heavily to withstand repeated launches and landings. This is a critical issue if humans are on board. The heavier rocket also reduces payload and increases fuel requirements, both for launch and landing.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Good points, and probably some of the primary reasons why the industry had to wait for R&D heavy and highly experimental companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, before achieving both lower cost launches and almost-reusable launch vehicles.

      While it is often argued that re-usability reduces costs, the Space Shuttle demonstrated that a half-assed attempt at re-usability actually increased costs. With the two private US launch companies SpaceX and Blue Origin, the coexistence of lower launch costs and reusability may be partially a coincidence.

      Theoretically, a rocket capable of flying in more varied weather conditions would be more economical by making better use of facilities and staff. Other improvements in rocket design for more efficient launch, better orbital maneuvering and docking with orbiting facilities, and more efficient re-entry (advanced heat shielding for example) and landing would all help with efficiency and economy of the total flight cycle. Engineering is about getting more with less. Rocket engineers have not reached the pinnacle of achievement quite yet.

      It should be pointed out that the “re-usability” concept applies to both hardware and wetware — the human ground crews. Theoretically the more frequent the launches the more economical the utilisation of human crews for launch, monitoring, and recovery.

    • Mike Houst says:

      Then you need to read Dr Jerry Pournelle’s analysis of reusable rockets. It was a very sad day when he passed a couple years ago.

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