All posts filed under “Aerospace

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Highly recommended read – “The Martian”

I originally heard about “The Martianvia this tweet from Clay Bavor, a VP for Product at Google.  As he wrote:

If you’re an engineer, you must read The Martian.

If you’re into space, you must read The Martian.

If you’re an engineer AND into space…

That was intriguing enough to pick it up, and I’m so glad I did.  It was a brilliant read, and the story has stuck in my mind ever since.

The premise of the book is simple: a team of astronauts travel to Mars.  But they have an incident and need to leave quickly.  One of the crew looks like he died in the incident, and they are forced to leave without him.  Except he wasn’t dead, and he has to learn how to survive until he can be rescued.

For an engineer or anyone who enjoys some of the technical details of space travel and survival, this book is incredibly well researched and has just the right enough depth of detail to make it very realistic, but without going so far as to come across as a textbook.  But it doesn’t just focus on what people might assume would be the problem of survival on Mars (air, water), he also deals with the smaller but critical systems, too.

The story itself is a thriller… it has just as much or more momentum than a Baldacci / Lee Child / John Grisham novel.  The story takes place on Mars, on Earth, and in between with the crew members that left.  It’s very well crafted, and you literally never know what’s going to happen next.  The benefit of the setting of survival on Mars is that the writer was completely free to think up highly plausible scenarios that could kill any astronaut… and he does!

As it turns out, The Martian (the book) is being made into The Martian (the film), which started filming a month ago.  For the Interstellar fans amongst you, the film will star both Jessica Chastain and Matt Damon. 🙂  I can’t wait to see it next year.

Like Clay Bavor, I simply can’t recommend this book highly enough for anyone that enjoys space, engineering, technology, or thrillers.  Seriously… go buy it and start reading it today.  (Get it at /

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Meet the rockets that will be bigger than Apollo (SpaceX)

I’ve been a big fan of SpaceX for a long, long time. SpaceX has cracked the nut of becoming a viable, commercial heavy-lift aerospace company. They’ve redrawn the economics of the industry, and have a very bright future ahead of them. The last two recent successful launches of their Falcon 9 rocket have been spectacular!

Aside: I got my degree in aerospace engineering because I love the technology and the aspiration; I avoided working in the field because it’s too cyclical, corporate and dependent on government help.

But onwards and upwards…

Earlier this summer SpaceX made a few presentations outlining some of their future plans. And those plans are AWESOME. Here’s what they’ll be up to in the near term as they develop the Falcon X line of rockets:


The current Falcon 9 rocket can get 10.5k kg into Low Earth Orbit. More tangibly, the Falcon 9 puts the equivalent to three and a half Hummer H2’s into orbit. Doing this requires nine first-stage engines and one second-stage engine.

SpaceX currently has the Falcon 9 Heavy rocket in development. This essentially straps on two additional first-stage sections for a total of 27 first-stage rocket engines! This is a healthy additional boost, and gets 32k kg into orbit. So if you ever wanted to compact eleven Hummer H2s and send them into orbit, this rocket can do it for you.

The Falcon 9 Heavy will also be able to lift more into orbit than Atlas V, Delta IV, or Ariane 5. There are only two systems on the drawing board that are potentially larger than this rocket, and they’re both Russian vehicles that don’t look likely to actually be built. (Of course it will cost you; $56million for a Falcon 9 and $95million for the Falcon 9 Heavy.)

But Space X is looking at developing a large new version of it’s first stage engine, Merlin. (These are speculative right now because it would take $1billion to develop the engine, but clearly thought out.) Powered by this engine, the rocket could put 38k kg into orbit.

Suddenly, this image gets very interesting:


This outlines how SpaceX could operate a Super-Heavy-Lift Launch System. The Falcon X Heavy could lift 125k kg into orbit, and the Falcon XX could lift 140k kg into orbit.

Within six months as the Space Shuttle program shuts down, there will be NO operational Super-Heavy-Lift system operational. And the largest consistently successful Super-Heavy-Lift system was the Saturn V rocket that sent the Apollo missions to the moon.

Where the Saturn V could lift 119k kg to orbit, the Falcon XX could potentially lift 140k kg to orbit. If successful, this would be the heaviest payload sent by man into space. (To complete the metaphor, it’s the same as lifting forty-seven Hummer H2s into orbit.)


I love the ambition of SpaceX, and that they’ve gone from nothing to multiple successful launches in less than a decade without any public funding. (Though they have had key public contracts to resupply the Space Station.) That they’ve designed it from a blank sheet, not being required to refit existing infrastructure or deal with an existing bloated bureaucracy is brilliant, and probably part of the reason they’ve been successful. Lean and mean…

Hopefully this gives you a sense of the future of the space part of the aerospace industry in the USA.

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Why I chose to be an aero major?

So my undergraduate degree is in aerospace engineering, from the University of Michigan. (Go BLUE!) As I wrote yesterday, I am and always will be an aero geek.

But perhaps I also chose it for long-term earning potential? A blog post in the New York Times showed this graph of the “Top 10 College Majors That Lead to High Salaries”:


Of course, I didn’t choose it for the salaries; I just love aerospace technology.

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More on SpaceX…

So I’m an aero geek; always have been, always will be. But with SpaceX’s latest big update, I have to say that I absolutely can’t wait to see the first Falcon9 launch.

(See an earlier post on SpaceX and Falcon 9 here.)

For background, Falcon 9 can lift just over 10,000kg to Low Earth Orbit. The future Falcon 9 Heavy (which is the standard Falcon 9 with two additional Falcon 9 1st stages bolted on for a total of 27 engines at the start) will be able to lift 29,610kg to Low Earth Orbit!

To put that in relative terms, here is what other rockets/systems can lift to LEO:

  • Apollo: 118,000kg
  • Space Shuttle: 24,400kg
  • Delta IV Heavy: 22,950kg

In other words, this small, entrepreneurial rocket company that was founded less than ten years ago is building some of the biggest rockets around.

But enough of that… let’s get to the pictures! (Which are all from the SpaceX updates page here.)

The nine engines of the Falcon 9 first stage:


The assembled Falcon 9 first stage engines & thrust assembly (at 17,000lbs this is over half the weight of the unfueled rocket):


The first stage engines getting ready for shipping:


The Dragon capsule, which sits at the top of the rocket for Space Station resupply missions:


The full rocket, on the launch platform at Cape Canaveral: