Elon Musk Just Gave The Most Revealing Look Yet at The Rocket That’ll Fly to The Moon And Mars


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A stunning insight into the future of space travel.

Elon Musk has provided several new, rare, and telling glimpses into how his rocket company, SpaceX, is building a spacecraft to reach Mars.

On September 17, Musk announced that SpaceX would fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon on the company’s Big Falcon Rocket or BFR. During that event, Musk showed off new renderings of the launch system, along with a few photos of the work going on inside SpaceX’s spaceship-building tent at the Port of Los Angeles.

These were the first new details about SpaceX’s rocket construction we’d gotten since April, when Musk posted a photo that revealed SpaceX was building the spacecraft using a 40-foot-long, 30-foot-wide cylindrical tool.

“SpaceX main body tool for the BFR interplanetary spaceship,” Musk said on Instagram.

SpaceXMoon1(Elon Musk/SpaceX; Instagram)

Aerospace industry experts say the newly released pictures reveal new information about how SpaceX is constructing the BFR and how quickly the project is moving.

“It’s unusual for companies and even government agencies that develop rockets to reveal much about the hardware they’re developing. But what Musk wants to do is to bring along the public with him,” Marco Cáceres, a senior space analyst at the Teal Group, told Business Insider. “He lives and breathes this company. So when he has hardware that he’s excited about, he just wants to show it and be as transparent as possible.”

What the new BFR fabrication images reveal

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The BFR is designed to be a 39-story launch system made of two parts: a 180-foot-tall spaceship, from tip to tail, and a 230-foot-tall rocket booster (which the ship rides into orbit). Musk has said the spaceship is the “hardest part” of the system to build, so SpaceX is prototyping it first.

Musk’s vision is to launch the spaceship into orbit and refuel it while it circles Earth. Then the ship can fire up its engines, fly through space, land on Mars, and later rocket off of that planet and return to Earth. Because it’s designed to be 100% reusable, the system will supposedly be able to do all of this many times.

Musk said in 2016 that SpaceX is building the system “primarily of an advanced carbon fibre,” which can be stronger than steel at one-fifth of the weight.

One of the new images Musk shared on September 17 shows a ribbed, spoked tube with a worker inside. This is the inside of the cylindrical tool that Musk first revealed in March; it’s called a mandrel. Robots wrap layer upon layer of carbon-fibre tape around the mandrel to form a 30-foot-wide “barrel section” of the spaceship.

SpaceXMoon2Inside a mandrel that SpaceX uses to build carbon-fibre-composite sections of the Big Falcon Rocket. (SpaceX)

The carbon fibres are soaked in a glue-like epoxy, then heated so that the composite cures and hardens.

The photo below, which Musk also revealed on September 17, shows a barrel section that’s been cured and freed of the mandrel. The rounded dome on the left appears to be part of a propellant tank also made of carbon-fibre composites.

SpaceXMoon3A completed carbon-fibre-composite barrel section of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket. (SpaceX)

Many carbon-fibre tapes are woven fabric. But Steve Nutt, a professor of chemical, aerospace, and mechanical engineering at the University of Southern California, told Business Insider that he thinks SpaceX engineers are wrapping the mandrel in an unwoven version of the tape.

Nutt said such unwoven tapes provide the “highest stiffness and strength” because they don’t easily kink or wrinkle (which can weaken a structure). They also maximise the amount of super-strong carbon fibre relative to epoxy, he said.

Nutt said it’s “quite clever what they are doing.”

Carbon fibre must be squeezed while it’s heated and cured, so Nutt thinks SpaceX may be using very large plastic bags and sucking out the air to compress the layers of tape. But he’s unsure how SpaceX is actually heating the parts.

“Structures are getting too big to oven-cure, so they might be using so-called ‘heat blankets,'” he said.

‘He’s shoving this in NASA’s face’

Cáceres, who’s studied the aerospace industry for decades, said the new photos highlight a project of epic proportions.

“This is probably the biggest challenge that I’ve seen since the Saturn V days, in terms of engineering,” Cáceres said, referring to NASA’s Apollo-era moon rocket. “Nothing I’ve seen is remotely this size.”

Even New Glenn, a reusable heavy-lift rocket being built by mega-billionaire Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin, doesn’t compare, he said.

SpaceXMoon4Yusaku Maezawa stands inside a completed carbon-fibre-composite barrel section of SpaceX’s Big Falcon Rocket. (Yusaku Maezawa/Twitter)

Revealing these images forces the public – and potential investors – to take Musk seriously, Cáceres said.

Cáceres previously estimated that the BFR development program could cost about $US5 billion, and Musk gave the same estimate when he announced Maezawa’s role in SpaceX’s moon tourism mission.

“He’s looking for investors because he’s not Jeff Bezos, who could probably do this on his own,” Cáceres said. “Musk is not as wealthy. He can look for investors by building stuff and showing it off. If you see how much hardware he has and how big it is, people will say, ‘Yeah, this is a serious program.'”

If the 2023 moon mission aboard BFR – a project Maezawa calls #dearMoon -is successful, that would send a big message to NASA about SpaceX’s capabilities.

“This doesn’t look like a stunt,” Cáceres said. “It looks like a trial run.”

SpaceX has gotten billions of dollars in NASA funding through the agency’s Commercial Crew Program, which aims to partner with private companies to build a system for launching astronauts to the International Space Station. So it would make sense for Musk to try to get NASA’s attention (and money) again for the development of BFR.

Right now, NASA is building a giant, one-use launcher called Space Launch System, which may cost more than $US20 billion to develop and priced at about $US1 billion per launch. Meanwhile, SpaceX’s BFR may cost the company tens of millions to refuel and launch once the spacecraft is operational.

“In a way, he’s shoving it in NASA’s face and saying, ‘You guys are crazy to build this rocket,'” Cáceres said of Musk and SLS, respectively.

“Elon Musk is a very charismatic figure and a showman. He understands that, for many years, NASA has been trying to create public excitement about space exploration, and they always try to recreate the excitement around Apollo. But they’re not successful.”

Musk, on the other hand, may be beating NASA at that goal.

“The thing Musk is building looks like it’s out of a science fiction movie. He wants to get the public excited, and that excitement can attract investors, ” Cáceres said.

If SpaceX does not attract NASA funding for BFR development, then the company might rely on space tourism, contracts with government and commercial interests to launch cargo and satellites, and profits from SpaceX’s planned constellation of 12,000 internet-providing satellites, called Starlink, to pay the ambitious program’s bills.

“People can’t say, ‘Musk is all talk.’ He has accomplished so much in a short amount of time,” Cáceres said.

“When I was at trade shows 10 years ago, when I asked Boeing and others about SpaceX, they rolled their eyes and said, ‘They aren’t going to be around very long.’ Now SpaceX is the major player in the industry.”

StarLink resurfaces: GM corn banned decade ago found in Saudi Arabia.


The Saudi Arabian food chain has been widely contaminated with GM ingredients, according to a new study. The findings include controversial StarLink maize banned for human consumption in the US over ten years ago.

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The study published in the journal Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology found that genetically modified StarLink maize, allowed for domestic animal feed only in the US, has been contaminating Saudi Arabian products.

StarLink is a trade mark for a type of GM maize manufactured by Aventis Crop Science at the time when it was going through the American apparatus. Later it was bought by Bayer. 

Back in 1998 the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved the maize for domestic animal feed only, so the company manufacturing StarLink decided not to apply for separate approval for human and animal consumption.

Nevertheless, residues of StarLink maize were detected in taco shells in September 2000, indicating that it had entered the human food chain.

Following the findings all genetically modified food was recalled causing widespread disruption to the corn markets in 2000 and 2001.

Aventis then withdrew its registration for StarLink maize varieties in October 2000 and promised it would no longer be produced.

Despite these assurances, aid sent by the UN World Food Program and the US to a number of Central American nations was found to be highly contaminated with StarLink corn. 80% of the 50 samples tested came back positive for StarLink maize and Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador were all compelled to refuse the aid, according to the journal Green Med.

In 2005 Saudi Arabia approved the import of GM food, but banned the import and agricultural use of genetically modified animals, their byproducts and GM seeds, dates and decorative plants. The law also stipulated that any product containing GM material was required to be labeled in both Arabic and English.

In the 2013 study, 200 samples were collected from the Saudi Arabian provinces of Al-Qassim, Riyadh and Mahdina between 2009 and 2010 and were screened for GM ingredients. 26% of soybean samples were positive for GM gene sequences, while 44% of maize samples came out positive for GM gene sequences.

The overall findings pointed to a discovery of more than 1% contamination of maize samples with StarLink maize, as according to the detection sensitivity of the test kits used in the research the likelihood of a false positive reading is extremely low.

The authors of the report conclude that “establishing strong regulations and certified laboratories to monitor GM foods or crops in the Saudi Market is recommended.”

An earlier study published in the African Journal of Food Science in 2010 also found that the food chain in Saudi Arabia had been contaminated with GM ingredients.

The study analyzed 202 samples of mainly imported food, which was sampled from local markets in Ridyadh. Of the 202 samples 20 tested positive for GM ingredients.

The authors of the 2013 finding raise questions of why GM corn, banned in the US is resurfacing in a distant country like Saudi Arabia. They also question the level of contamination in the US, considering the fact the labeling and import of GM products is more stringent in Saudi Arabia than in the states.

“Mandatory labeling of GM-containing products and/or a total boycott of manufactures who are not already complying with this objective, or do not already have plans to do so in the immediate future,”the study concludes.