top of page
  • Writer's pictureMatt Russell

#153 - Starship and Lurking Black Holes

This week we talk about Starship, obviously, but perhaps even more excitingly the possibility that we have a black hole lurking in the Solar System.

“Though my soul may set in darkness, it will rise in perfect light;

I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”.

from the old "The Old Astronomer"Sarah Williams, who died in 1868 at the age of 31

The whole poem sounds like the sort of thing our birthday boy could have written

Christen Sorensen Longomontanus 4th October 1562

Born is a poor area of Denmark, his father died when he was eight and he was brought up by an uncle and educated to high level, he was sometimes asked back to help his mother with labouring on the farm, but was allowed to follow his studies as best he could at the local Sunday school.

Eventually, due to the animosity of less enlightened members of his family, he ran away to Viborg and then to Copenhagen. He prodigious willingness to learn got the attention of Tycho Brahe, ad he assisted Tycho on his observations. He kept learning at German Universities and in his many stints with Tycho worked on his Tychonic Lunar Theory in Prague. Eventually, he was chair of Maths at Copenhagen University.

He championed some fairly crackpot ideas, ...Comets were messengers of Evil, Tycho Refraction, and squaring the circle despite his contemporaries complaints.

He is most famous for pushing the geoheliocentric Tycho system and completed much of the noseless wonders work after his death. His data was probably as good as Keplers at the time.

Not heard of him really? it seems we should have, had he not been overshadowed by star botherers Kepler, Brahe and Copernicus.

60th Anniversary of Launch of Luna 3 on a Luna 8K72 (looks pretty much the same as the rocket still in use to carry astronauts to the iss)!! The first picture of the far side of the moon. ( I dare you to say dark) The first Gravity assist Manoeuvre, and the first 3 axis stabilised Spacecraft.

Korolev, Kurchatov and Keldysh; The Orbital mechanics genius behind this one was Mstilav Keldysh, If Korolyov was the chief designer, this guy was the chief theoretician of the soviet space era, and he was born in Riga. Held back in early life DUE to his nobility.

The Russian probe was the 3rd to go near the moon, as the name suggests, and although the picture quality was rudimental the first-ever atlas of the moon was attempted from these photos. With two low lying regions called Mare Moscovienese (Sea of Moscow) and Mare Desiderii (Sea of desire) which actually also contains the sea of cleverness (Mare Ingenii)

Historic photo - the first of the far side of the Moon, taken by Luna 3, October 7, 1959. The dark patches at left include Mare Crisium (on the near side), Mare Smythii, and Mare Marginis (on the border of the near and far sides). At bottom is Mare Ausatrale. The dark patch above right of center is Mare Moscoviense, and below right of center is Tsiolkovskiy crater. Below and to the right of Tsiolkovskiy is Jules Verne crater.

29 Pictures were taken, 70% of the far side, and transmitted back to earth on its journey home, but only 17 were actually retrieved before the probe burned up back in the earth’s atmosphere (although it may have stayed in earth orbit till after ‘62.)

Imagine how hard this is back then!!! The spacecraft was spin stabilised until it was near the moon and ready to do photography, then the spin was stopped, Then the spacecraft was able to point one axis towards the sun which was fully illuminating the far side at the time (hence why it isn’t the dark side) and a photocell at the other end of the spacecraft looked out for the shiny moon and as soon as it was detected the camera started taking photos. with its dual-lens camera fixed at that end of the spacecraft. The 200mm for full-disk and 500mm for regions.

The film was 35mm isochrome film. The film was automatically processed, developed, and fixed and dried, then put in a spot scanner at a resolution of 1000 lines and transmitted via FM analogue video, a bit like a fax machine. Amazingly the radiation and temperature proof film had been stolen by the Russians from American Spy balloons (Genetrix)

The camera was a KMZ AFA-E1.

Elon Musk Starship.

The 200 Tonne Mk1 Stainless Steel Starship was on full display, next to a Falcon 1 as musk gave his address in Boca Chica Texas, on the 11th Anniversary of Spacex first Orbital mission. (77 Missions ago) :SpaceX

A rapidly reusable rocket is barely possible given the physics of the earth. ….Musk

It is all about Steel. “Honestly I’m in Love with Steel” Musk.

“Yeah that’s all good and that ...but ...Er ...get a move on with this other thing” ...Jim Bridenstine. …….cough SLS cough ..said musk what about Boing, are they too busy crashing jets? With Congress dubious about funding the Artemis is this Jim’s move to win over the space establishment.

Remember the whole idea is to build a rocket so big and powerful that it can carry humans to the moon and Mars including all the payload, and at the same time be fully reusable to get that cost down. To spread consciousness beyond the planet.

The one thing that is remarkable is the insane dizzying supersonic speed of development, this has been described by Musk as exponential, and he is saying that if this exponential development speed is kept up then we should see orbital flights NEXT YEAR.

The Starship didn’t even exist until 2019 that with SLS that has now been in development for 6 years and is still 2 years away from a maiden flight, using old shuttle parts at that, with no real innovation to think of.

Starship, on the other hand, is continually changing and morphing, the design is fleet of foot. What earlier this year had been a three at the back fin design is now a 2 fin at the back and 2 at the front. Apparently these fins, like their design, need to be very agile, and Musk has stated that he is using the motor/battery tech from Tesla to control them.

To test this in-atmosphere manouvering we will see this mk1 and a Mk2 (Florida rival) vehicle in the coming weeks or months attempting high altitude tests. Mk1 initially to 20Km. This may be quickly followed by a mk3 vehicle that begins construction soon, then a mk 4 or mk 5 going into orbit, thrown up on a Super Heavy booster!! In about 6 months!!!! Musk admitted himself that this sounded nuts !!!!

Super heavy has 6 landing legs, 37 raptor engines. (only 12 prototypes have been built so far) the 7 in the middle will gimble and good old grid fins and reaction control thrusters will help land these behmoths.

The mk1 starship currently has 3 raptor engines, much to everyones excitent. However the real thing will have 6. 3 sea level engines that can gimbal, and 3 vacuum engines that are fixed for stability.

The bottleneck for production is incredibly the raptor engine, but due to reusability if the test goes well this may not be such a bottleneck after all, according to musk. But they hope to get to a raptor a day by next year!!!

Why stainless steel, it doesn’t get brittle when very cold, it’s got a massively high melting point, it’s insanely strong, it’s easy to weld, it’s a mature engineering material, it’s really cheap,

Stainless steal actually with a minimum of 11% chromium content by mass and a maximum of 1.2% carbon by mass, had it’s 100th birthday, sort of, in 2015. Brits really can lay claim to this one. Amazingly Faraday himself was an early pioneer of this type of alloy way back 200 years ago, but Harry Brearly of sheffield patented the modern stainless steel and used it for cutlery before setting up the Amercian Stainless steel company with another stainless steel patent holder, Elwood Haynes, to settle the disputed claims pretty much exactly 100 years ago.

As Musk points out, stainless steel really is bloody cool.

The Mk1/Mk2 prototype Quickfacts?

  • Size: 9 m (30 ft) diameter by approximately 55 m (180 ft) tall

  • Bit Taller and much wider than an Ariane 5, bear in mind it’s just the second stage.

  • Booster is a wopping 68 meters (223 ft) long and 9 m (30 ft) in diameter (very similar to the first 2 stages of Saturn V)

  • Mk1 empty mass: 200,000 kg (440,000 lb);

  • Gross mass with propellant loaded: 1,400,000 kg (3,100,000 lb)

  • “Mk1 ship is around 200 tons dry & 1400 tons wet, but aiming for 120 by Mk4 or Mk5. Total stack mass with max payload is 5000 tons” musk tweet

Testing: vertical-takeoff and vertical-landing suborbital flights. Like the test regime frequently seen with new aircraft, but has rarely been done with orbital spacecraft (the Space Shuttle is an exception), and has never been done on a launch vehicle second stage on powered test flights into the upper atmosphere.

  • Propulsion: (initially) three Raptor methalox engines;

  • Attitude control atmosphere

  • two front canard fins and two rear "moving fins"

  • Stability control is via rapid movement of both rear and forward fins during entry and landing,

  • vernier force control from the attitude control system thrusters.

  • The control surfaces are actuated by "many powerful electric motors and batteries"- Telsa

Mk1: Texas; Mk2 Florida.

The Mk3 orbital prototype will be built at the Boca Chica site; SpaceX anticipates that construction will start in October 2019.

A first orbital flight is expected with Mk4 or Mk5 in mid 2020.

What about moral concerns?

Samantha Rolfe -Lecturer in Astrobiology and Principal Technical Officer at Bayfordbury Observatory, University of Hertfordshire voices her concerns over the moral consequences I really like this spin on this story. I think this should be an on going discussion and i wouldn't be too worried by Musk's timelines. We are not going as humans to Mars anytime soon, there are just a heap of hurdles that are not even close to being solved. But we do need a debate as to what happens if and when we find life on Mars. I think it would be the most exciting news ever if we do find life, but once that party is over we'll all have some serious thinking to do.


Refuelling in space is hard but we're about to see a test for a similar concept

9th october a Proton with a Briz m will take up an orbital atk MEV-1 space craft that will attempt to joinup and control a 2001 intelsat 901 satellite on orbit!!! They will do this in graveyard orbit testing all the systems for a few weeks before dropping down to carry on with the misssion in geo.

However, this is not refuelling that would require. " To get into the inside of the spacecraft, open up fill and drain valves, put in fuel — which is very volatile — and then seal up all the interfaces and separate from the spacecraft. There is significantly more operational complexity that’s involved in refueling whereas MEV’s approach is to go and attach to your client’s spacecraft and that’s it. Then MEV takes care of station keeping and attitude control. It’s a much simpler concept. Said ken lee of intelsat in space news."

Bobby zee is correct's hard.

A black hole may be the lurking at the edge of the solar system.

The volume of the solar system is just vast, every time you go 10 times further out the volume increases a thousand fold, we say we know the solar system ...but really it's a complete mystery, you could hide virtually anything out beyond the kuiper belt. Massive planets, small planet ...anything's just crazy. The solar system is just huge and we just know about our back yard.

The Scale of the Heliosphere and Nearby Galactic Neighborhood The solar system and its nearby galactic neighborhood are illustrated here on a logarithmic scale extending (from < 1 to) 1 million Astronomical Units (AU). Our Sun and its planets are shielded by a bubble of solar wind - the heliosphere - that is about 100 AU in size. The actual boundary between solar wind and interstellar plasma is called the heliopause. Beyond this bubble is a largely unknown region - the interstellar medium. Threaded through the boundaries of the heliosphere is the Kuiper Belt - the source of short-period comets. The nearest edge of the interstellar cloud that presently surrounds our solar system is thought to be several thousand AU away. The Oort Cloud is a spherical shell of comets extending from <10,000 to ~100,000 AU - the edge of our Sun's gravitational sphere of influence. Alpha-Centauri, the best known member of our nearest star system, lies well beyond at ~300,000 AU. Interstellar Probe is to be man's first spacecraft designed to exit the heliosphere and begin the exploration of the interstellar medium.

Astronomers have been looking for Planet 9, which was theorised by the same astronomers who ironically had demoted Pluto the original planet 9 to a minor planet. Many objects called Trans Neptunian Objects in the Kieper Belt are being shepherded into odd orbits and a large planet orbiting much much further out than pluto might explain this. However other papers have demonstrated it could be swarms of objects and debris fields or just statistical confirmation bias.

A massive Planet 9 or Golfball sized Black Hole shown at 1:1 scale.Artist's impression of Planet Nine as an ice giant eclipsing the central Milky Way, with a star-like Sun in the distance. Neptune's orbit is shown as a small ellipse around the Sun. The sky view and appearance are based on the conjectures of its co-proposer, Mike Brown. Credit Tom Ruen

This new paper the work of Jakub Scholtz at Durham University in the UK and James Unwin at the University of Illinois at Chicago published this week has gone in the other direction. Some scientists have argued that during the early rapid expansion phase of the Universe tiny black holes would have been created, called primordial black holes, made not from stella collapse but from density fluctuations in spacetime, so are usually quite small. There should be vast quantities of these MACHO things. Many would have been small enough that they would have evaporated via Hawking radiation by now, but some would have made it to this epoch slowly leaking away. They have even been considered to be dark matter candidates, the causes of FRBs or the seeds of the supermassive black holes at the centre of galaxies. But what if one is lurking at this edge of the solar system beyond the map?

This sounds quite frighteningly...but as we've explained before black holes do not vacuum everything up and destroy it. In fact, this object will behave almost identically to the famed planet 9, only its gravitational pull being of any effect.

So an object 5-15 times the mass of the earth may be out there, but we've been looking for a large planet, like neptune, when really it could be an object smaller than a tennis ball. Even the size of a golf ball. When I said it was leaking energy via hawiking radiation, the smaller a black hole is the more intense this becomes, however even at this size the energy coming off makes it colder than the background radiation.

How the hell do you find a completely black super cold object? Well, it should still act as a gravitational lens, but this effect is minimal but may actually be observable in the next decade via survey telescopes and projects like the polish OGLE.

Amazingly this object will interact less than a planet as it's smaller so much less likely that other objects will smash into it, meaning we probably won't even see any accretion disc of matter etc.

Space Fact

2 weeks ago we mentioned a second interstellar object ,borisovs comet, which not only has been confirmed but officially named Borisov, It’s giving off cyanide and probably comes from a double dwarf red star system called Kruger 60.

Quick fact about the first!!!!

‘Oumuamua originated from a frame of reference, local standard of rest (LSR), which is defined by averaging the random motions of all the stars in the vicinity of the sun. The solar sytem is essentially wizzing past it and it is sitting still in the iniverse. ‘Oumuamua is like a street sign, with the solar system driving past on its journey around the galaxy.

Could there be an array of road posts, defining the average galactic frame of reference in interstellar space?

138 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page