Showing posts with label Elon Musk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elon Musk. Show all posts

27 April 2013

We need a new approach

SpaceX is solving a fundamental blocking problem in spaceflight. This is a great example for the church where a similar blocking problem needs to be addressed. As with all such problems we need a new approach, a new way to see the problem and find a solution.

Grasshopper landing, 5th test flight
Sometimes good examples help us to see our situation in a new light, and great examples can even encourage us to do something about it.

Here is a truly great example from SpaceX, the Californian commercial spaceflight company owned and run by Elon Musk.

First the example, then we'll take a look at how we might apply it to the church.

Spaceflight? Church? There seems to be a disconnect, perhaps. Well no, actually. But more on that later.

Spaceflight is expensive - Here's the situation as Elon found it. Spaceflight is extremely expensive; launch costs for placing a large communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) are typically £150 million or so.

This is what I call a blocking problem. It blocks further progress. Spaceflight cannot become routine on a large scale with launch costs of this order. For decades these high costs have been regarded as unavoidable. What might be done to reduce them?

By carefully designing the company's Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets to be as efficient as possible, both in terms of manufacture and deployment, Elon Musk has been able to trim the launch cost considerably. But it's still too high, much too high.

Not being one to give up easily, he realised that the fuel costs are less than 1% of the cost of the rocket, so if a rocket could be reused over and over again (like an aircraft) the cost per launch could fall very dramatically.

Grasshopper - So this is what SpaceX has been attempting with its 'Grasshopper' project. Grasshopper is a test version of the company's standard Falcon 9. It has flown five times so far, higher each time. The recent flight to 250 m is amazing to watch. It goes up, it hovers for a while, and then it returns to the launch pad and lands!

Watch Grasshopper do it's stuff in this SpaceX video. Don't miss it. It's truly astonishing!

On the next cargo flight of Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX intends to 'land' the first stage on the sea as a trial run. They don't expect to succeed on the first attempt (though I suspect they may do better than most people think). But they will persevere and when they are comfortable with the process they will eventually return an intact first stage to the launch pad.

And then they'll work on minimising the refurbishment and refuelling so that the same rocket can be flown several times a week, perhaps even several times a day. And they plan to work on returning the second stage as well.

I'm sure you can see how this will change everything. Space launches will become far cheaper and new markets for launch services will develop as a direct result.

And the church? - Ah, the church! You see the church has a similar problem, something that has been taken for granted like high launch costs in the rocket business. Church in the West has seen falling numbers, falling influence, falling relevance to ordinary people.

All sorts of programmes have been organised involving better music, excellent teaching, novel forms of meeting, cafe church, simple church, exciting children's programmes, house church and more. None of these things in themselves has made a fundamental difference.

Like Elon Musk and SpaceX we need a new way of thinking.

And we already have one! Alan Hirsch has put his able mind to work and has identified six key elements that are essential but sufficient for explosive and continuing growth. Taken together (and he makes it clear that they must be taken together to be effective) these six elements can make a dramatic difference.

The first key element is 'Jesus is Lord' and that should surprise none of us. But what are the other five?

You'll have to wait for a later post to find out. But if you can't wait, get a copy of Alan's book, 'The Forgotten Ways' and start reading. It's excellent stuff, illuminating, exciting, and carrying a real hope for the future of the church in the West.

Questions:

  • Does it seem to you that church in the western world is advancing or retreating?
  • Why is the western church not growing explosively like the church in China or India?
  • Have you heard Alan Hirsch speak, or read any of his books?
  • Is Jesus truly at the very centre of all you do and say and think?

See also:

20 March 2013

Elon Musk at TED

Elon Musk is an extraordinary entrepreneur. He is behind SpaceX and several other ground-breaking companies. Interviewed here for TED he explains how he has achieved such success. It seems that it essentially depends on beginning with sound principles, aiming high and taking risks.

This rocket is landing, not taking off!
Sometimes a truly extraordinary event or person comes along and changes everything. Elon Musk is one of those people.

He was a co-founder of PayPal and sold his share in the company for a considerable fortune.

Wanting to devote his life to things that would solve major issues for the human race, he went on to develop a company building electric cars to reduce our need for fossil fuels (Tesla), a company to dramatically reduce the cost of spaceflight (SpaceX) and a solar power company  (SolarCity) to eliminate the fossil fuel industry.

Elon Musk hopes to make humanity a multi-planet species by making it possible to colonise Mars.

How does he do it? - Chris Anderson, the curator of the TED Talks, interviewed Elon to find out what makes him tick and exactly what it is that has enabled him to succeed repeatedly. Chris would also like to know whether the essential factors can be identified and encouraged in others. Can Elon Musk become a sort of 'template' or guide for success with extreme projects?

The answer is, quite possibly, 'Yes'. The keys seem to be to aim high, take risks, base new ventures on the underlying principles and work up from there. It's also useful to pay close attention to negative feedback from friends.

Watch the interview for yourself. It is short, fascinating, and informative.



Questions:

  • What most astonishes you about Elon Musk's achievements?
  • What is the most interesting part of his thinking? What is fundamental?
  • How might you use the underlying principles in business, church, politics, education... ?
  • What are you waiting for?

See also:

09 December 2010

TECHNOLOGY - SpaceX, another first

It was a privilege to be able to watch SpaceX's live webcast of the launch of their first Dragon capsule. This is a unique achievement, it's the first time a private company has put a spacecraft into orbit and safely returned it to earth.

Launch of Falcon 9 and Dragon, 8th December 2010The icing on the cake is that they also manoevered Dragon while in orbit, testing some of the moves that will be required to dock with the International Space Station (ISS). But why is all this such a great thing?

Let me explain. The human race undoubtedly has a built-in urge to explore and try out new things. We might have different views on the reason for this, and some might argue that space exploration is far too expensive to justify. But for whatever reason people have a built-in desire to explore beyond the boundaries, to go further than before, to see and understand new things.

SpaceX have done something amazing. They are a small company working on a small budget, in just eight years they have developed two launcher families and a spacecraft and have won a NASA COTS contract to resupply the ISS and return cargo to Earth. In the past only nations and groups of nations have returned a spacecraft from orbit. The Soviet Union and the United States achieved this in the early 1960s, and later China, Japan, India, and the European Space Agency (ESA) have done so too.

SpaceX was founded and is managed by Elon Musk, reinvesting some of his personal fortune earned by creating PayPal. Elon and SpaceX are determined to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of spaceflight tenfold and they have now demonstrated a realistic chance of doing so. Not only did they fly Dragon to orbit and return it intact, the spacecraft and (potentially) the first stage of Falcon 9 are reusable for multiple flights.

They have built all the hardware themselves, including the rocket engines. The designs are deliberately simple and the propulsion systems are modular and include a great deal of built-in redundancy.

Finally, Dragon and Falcon 9 were both designed with a view to launching crews to low Earth orbit. This is expected to take a further two to three years and Dragon will accomodate up to seven astronauts.

SpaceX deserve a huge round of applause for an outstanding achievement. As a recent aerospace start-up company what they have done is truly game-changing.

See all articles about SpaceX.

29 September 2008

Up, up and away!

Yesterday was a very special day. Elon Musk's company, SPACEX, launched a small rocket and carried a dummy payload into Earth orbit. So why is that special? Falcon 1 launchHere's why - it's a major change from government funded space programmes to private spaceflight. SPACEX is a privately owned company, and they achieved this all by themselves.

I was so excited that I mailed a congratulatory message to the company, here's what I wrote...

To everyone at SPACEX and Elon in particular. Well done everybody, this is a great day for spaceflight and space exploration. In fact it's a major turning point that will go down in history. On Sunday 28th September 2008 private individuals running a private business have a space programme!

From this day forward, spaceflight is no longer the domain of governments and big business alone. Cheaper orbital access is coming with the Falcon family and in a few years with Dragon - first for cargo, then for astronauts. This is fundamentally different from major aerospace companies launching communications and weather satellites. Why? Because they are in it to use expensive technology developed by or for government programmes. The days of cutting edge at high price are coming to an end, to be replaced by routine at budget prices.

SPACEX - you have changed the world... er, I mean space!

Congratulations!


The company - Elon Musk had already run several highly successful startup ventures including PayPal. He has spent some of the proceeds on innovative technology startups like Tesla Motors and Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX).

SpaceX has designed and built Falcon 1 from scratch, it is intended to be cheap to operate, mainly reusable (the first stage is designed for recovery, the second stage is expendable), and simple. Simplicity is really the key, a simple design is likely to be both cheaper and more reliable than a complex design.

The successful flight - After three launch failures, the fourth attempt resulted in a smooth ride to orbit. Falcon 1 has shown it can do the job and the next flight in early 2009 is expected to loft a Malaysian satellite.

This will begin a revenue stream for SpaceX and put the company on track for eventual growth. Meanwhile, 2009 should also see the first flight of Falcon 9, a much larger and more powerful launcher.

Meanwhile, although the first success placed only a dummy payload into orbit, it did so accurately and without incident. The icing on the cake was that the second stage engine was successfully restarted while in orbit, something SpaceX hoped to achieve, but not necessarily on such an early flight.

The future - Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and perhaps Falcon 9 Heavy will meet the same requirements as other launchers already in the market place, but they'll do it at perhaps a third of the price. This suggests that SpaceX may be a name to watch, they might be able to clean up, taking over a large part of the space launch business.

Not only that, the company is building a cargo delivery craft, Dragon, which will launch on Falcon 9 and is also expected to fly in 2009. And a passenger version is already under development and may fly in 2010, carrying up to seven astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS).

As if even that is not enough, the launch manifest for 2011 has a Falcon 9 booked for Bigelow Aerospace who plan to orbit their third inflatable habitat, Sundancer. It will be the first privately developed and launched craft capable of use as a manned space outpost. Bigelow already have two development systems in orbit, Genesis I and Genesis II, both are still in operation and returning images and other data at the time of writing.

In other words, SpaceX and Bigelow taken together represent the beginnings of private, manned, orbital spaceflight. Now that really is exciting!

See also: Dragon readies for launch

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