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    Engineering Rapidly Reusable Rockets

    enSeptember 22, 2023

    Podcast Summary

    • Unlocking the full potential of the satellite economyDeveloping fully and rapidly reusable rockets is crucial for a thriving space economy, as it addresses the historical parallels between expensive and unreliable space transportation and wooden tall ships, and allows for consolidation and mastery of both first and second stages.

      The key to unlocking the full potential of the satellite economy lies in the development of fully and rapidly reusable rockets. This was emphasized in the discussion with Andy Lapsa, co-founder of Stokespace, who spent over a decade at Blue Origin and is now on a mission to make this a reality. The importance of reusable rockets is rooted in the historical context of transportation, where the expensive and unreliable nature of space transportation parallels that of wooden tall ships 200 years ago. By mastering the reuse of both the first and second stages, consolidation and a thriving economy in space can be achieved. The engineering challenge of making this a reality is significant, as seen in the past failures of rocket launches due to small issues and the long wait times between launches. Companies like Stokespace are working to change this, and the future of space transportation depends on their success.

    • A unique opportunity for growth and survivalSpace exploration is necessary for understanding Earth's impact, finding efficiencies, and ensuring continued growth and sovereignty as the population scales.

      We are at a unique point in history where the technological advancements, moral imperative, and geopolitical climate have come together to make space exploration a necessity for the continued growth and survival of our civilization. Space provides an opportunity to understand the impact of our civilization's growth on Earth and find efficiencies, such as in agriculture and water management. Additionally, with the population projected to continue scaling, it is essential that we consider space as a means to continue growing without destroying our home planet. The urgency to act is now, as the window for action is narrow and the consequences of inaction could be dire. Space exploration offers a way to learn how to scale sustainably and secure our sovereignty in an increasingly contested domain.

    • Exploring the Final Frontier: Making Space More Accessible and EfficientAdvancements in reusable rockets and satellite launches are making space more economically viable, opening up new opportunities and potential industries, and improving resource management on Earth.

      Our understanding and utilization of space have come a long way, and we are striving to increase our capabilities to make space more accessible and efficient, much like how advancements in ocean transportation revolutionized transcontinental trade. Currently, space transportation is slow, expensive, and unreliable, but with advancements like reusable rockets and increasing satellite launches, we are moving towards making space more economically viable and opening up new opportunities. Just a decade ago, we had never reused a rocket, but now, although we still have a long way to go, we are making progress towards making space travel more commonplace. The benefits of this expansion into space include better resource management on Earth, as well as the potential for new industries and economies in space.

    • Reusability of rocket stages for cost reduction and scaling in space industrySpaceX leads in reusing first stages, reducing costs and increasing flight frequency. Second stages, however, remain a challenge for reusability due to atmospheric re-entry. Daily reuse is a goal, but solving second stage return and reuse is necessary.

      The reusability of rocket stages, particularly the first and second stages, is a key factor in scaling the space industry and reducing costs. SpaceX has led the way in reusing first stages, which represent the largest cost component of rockets. However, the second stage, which gets the spacecraft to its final destination, remains a challenge for reusability due to the difficulty of returning it through the atmosphere without damage. This reusability not only helps amortize the cost of the vehicle but also increases flight frequency and reliability by using flight-proven hardware on every mission. Achieving daily reuse is a worthy and achievable goal, but it requires solving the challenges of returning and reusing the second stage.

    • Metallic actively cooled systems for rocket reusabilityBlue Origin develops metallic systems for rocket reuse, offering cost-effective and efficient solutions in the long run, shifting from traditional high-temperature materials

      The reusability of rockets is a significant engineering challenge that has traditionally been addressed through the use of high-temperature materials like ceramic tiles or those that burn away. However, these solutions require extensive inspections and refurbishments between flights, which is impractical for daily use. To overcome this, companies like Blue Origin are developing metallic actively cooled systems that don't require inspection and offer confidence in mission success. This is a shift from traditional solutions, and the cost of developing such technologies may be high upfront but could decrease exponentially over time. For instance, Falcon 9 has disrupted the market by offering lower payload to orbit costs compared to traditional rockets. However, Blue Origin's solution aims to make rocket reuse even more efficient and cost-effective in the long run.

    • Minimizing Time from Production to Revenue in the Satellite BusinessSpaceX's reusable rockets lead to cost savings and increased availability. Faster deployment of satellites through increased flight frequency and sharing costs can lead to even greater savings and competitiveness in the satellite economy.

      SpaceX's advancements in reusable rockets have led to significant cost reductions and increased availability, creating a buzz in the space industry. However, there's potential for even greater cost savings by increasing flight frequency and sharing the costs of the business across many revenue-generating events per year. Additionally, the satellite economy relies on frequent upgrades to stay competitive, making fast deployment essential. With Starship's large capacity, more satellites can be launched at once, reducing the time from factory to revenue. Overall, the goal is to minimize the time from production to revenue in the satellite business, which is expected to operate on a 3-5 year cycle.

    • The cost of launch has become a major concern due to the advent of cheaper, smaller satellitesThe cost of launch is now a significant factor due to the rise of smaller, cheaper satellites and the increasing importance of lower-cost, distributed assets in various industries

      The economics of space and launch have significantly shifted in the last decade. In the past, satellites were expensive, costing multiple billions of dollars, and their long lifetimes made the launch cost less significant. However, with the advent of cheaper, smaller satellites, the launch cost has become a major concern. Reusable rockets, like those developed by SpaceX, contribute to making space travel more efficient by reducing the time to orbit and allowing for smaller batches. Additionally, the increasing importance of lower-cost, distributed assets in areas like telecommunications, position navigation and timing (PNT), and Earth observation, has led to a greater focus on reducing launch costs. These changes have flipped the traditional dynamic, making the cost of launch a more significant factor than the cost of the satellite itself. Various entities, including telecom companies, governments, and universities, are purchasing these capabilities. While it is possible for individuals or organizations with sufficient resources to purchase and launch a satellite, it is important to note that the complexities and costs involved make it a significant undertaking.

    • From static to dynamic: The evolving satellite industryThe satellite industry is transitioning from government-funded, immobile assets to a privatized, dynamic economy, offering on-demand imagery and on-orbit asset mobility, unlocking new commercial opportunities and enhancing disaster response.

      The satellite industry is undergoing a significant shift from government-funded, static assets to a more privatized, dynamic economy. Individuals and businesses can now buy satellite imagery for various use cases, such as post-disaster assessment or environmental policy decisions. The government, as a large buyer, is looking to move from expensive, immobile assets to on-demand, dynamic space operations, including the ability to move assets between orbits and bring them back to Earth. This mobility triangle will enable the deployment of high-value assets for specific functions and their subsequent retrieval. Although the capability to bring things back down is not yet fully realized, the full reusability of satellites is unlocking this potential. The implications of these developments are vast, from enhancing disaster response to enabling new commercial opportunities.

    • Making deployment assets part of every mission for affordable and frequent space experimentsBy integrating deployment assets into every mission, we can reduce the need for separate vehicles and enable more frequent and affordable experiments in various fields, potentially leading to breakthroughs in material science, biopharma, and ocean research.

      Current methods for returning satellites to Earth involve the use of capsules and additional vehicles, which adds cost and complexity. A proposed solution is to make the deployment asset part of every mission, reducing the need for separate vehicles and enabling more frequent and affordable experiments in various fields. This could lead to significant innovations, particularly in areas where microgravity and the vacuum of space are beneficial, such as material science and biopharma. For instance, perfect crystal formation in alloies and the growth of biopharma proteins in microgravity are currently challenging due to Earth's gravity and temperature conditions. With more frequent and affordable access to space, researchers could conduct multiple experiments, leading to breakthroughs in these areas. Additionally, addressing issues like microplastics in the ocean through experimental sensors is another potential application. Overall, this approach could unlock a wide range of possibilities and accelerate innovation.

    • Exploring Space: Opportunities for IndustriesSpace exploration offers immense opportunities for various industries, including manufacturing, tourism, and resource extraction. Advancements in technology and transportation systems are crucial for realizing these opportunities.

      Space exploration and utilization offer immense opportunities for various industries, from manufacturing to tourism, and even resource extraction. Space-based manufacturing, such as growing replacement organs or perfect crystal fiber optics, could be more efficient than Earth-based production with the right mobility solutions. Tourism is another significant sector, with companies like SpaceX unlocking the potential for space travel. However, servicing space hotels and providing regular supplies for tourists will require advanced transportation systems like Starship. Long-term, resource development on the moon or asteroids could dominate the economic scope and be critical for humanity's off-planet existence. The next decade is expected to see significant progress in realizing these opportunities, with companies demonstrating the necessary cost economics to lead the way. STOKE, for instance, has made significant strides in developing a second-stage rocket engine and heat shield, paving the way for further advancements.

    • Overcoming challenges in starting a reusable rocket companyVertical integration during R&D, controlling dependencies, solving industry problems, and effective fundraising strategies are crucial for starting a successful reusable rocket company.

      Starting a reusable rocket company involves overcoming numerous challenges, both expected and unexpected. The founder emphasized the importance of vertical integration during the R&D phase and controlling dependencies to quickly iterate and keep costs in check. An unexpected challenge was fundraising, which proved to be more complex than anticipated. Additionally, identifying and addressing industry problems, such as the lack of effective software for hardware pedigree and tracking, can lead to innovative solutions and sustainable business opportunities. Overall, the founder's perspective as a problem solver and builder has led to the pursuit of essential solutions within the reusable rocket industry.

    • Collaboration between businesses and regulatory bodies in space industryBusinesses should adopt responsible practices and regulatory bodies need to keep up with industry's pace to ensure minimal harm and prevent space congestion in the growing space industry.

      As the space industry continues to grow and innovate, it's crucial for businesses and regulatory bodies to work together to ensure minimal harm and prevent space congestion. The industry is currently in its early stages, with decades of foundational work having been laid, but the real exponential growth is yet to come once the full reusability problem is solved. Businesses should consider responsible practices such as not leaving debris in orbit and developing plans for bringing old satellites down. Regulatory bodies need to keep up with the industry's pace and establish effective means of enforcing regulations. The space industry's future success relies on a collaborative effort between businesses and regulatory bodies to create a sustainable and orderly space environment.

    • Consolidation in Aviation and the Future of Space TechnologyThe consolidation of the aviation industry occurred through the invention of the jet engine and pressurized cabins. Similarly, mastering first and second stage reuse could be key to consolidating the space industry and making it economically viable.

      The development of commercial aviation in the 1930s and 1940s was marked by numerous companies experimenting with different designs, from triplanes to biplanes and even the Spruce Goose. However, it wasn't until the inventions of the jet engine and the pressurized cabin that consolidation occurred, leading to the formation of the aerospace industry as we know it today. We're currently in a similar stage with space technology, with various ideas being tested. The key to consolidation and a thriving economy, in my opinion, lies in mastering first and second stage reuse. Just as air travel has become a commonplace marvel of engineering, I hope we can achieve the same with space. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it with a friend and leave a review at rate this podcast dot com. Your support helps us continue the conversation.

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    43:48—Customers looking to launch constellations

    46:11—What happens if a Space Services customer goes belly up? 

    47:10—Do you and the team pay attention to your stock prices every day or phase it out?

    49:37—What’s the TAM of people, theoretically, of people trying to fly payloads on satellites? 

    52:42—Anything else before lightning round?

    54:07—Rapid fire questions + close of show 

    • Show notes •

    Spire — https://spire.com/

    Spire Twitter — https://twitter.com/spireglobal

    Recent earnings — https://payloadspace.com/spire-q4-2022/

    Space Services — https://payloadspace.com/spire-q4-2022/

    ADS-B data in leadup to Russia's invasion of Ukraine — https://payloadspace.com/six-months-ukraine-war/

    Ryan's socials — https://twitter.com/Ryandoofy / https://www.linkedin.com/in/rfduffy/

    Payload’s socials — https://twitter.com/payloadspace / https://www.linkedin.com/company/payloadspace

    Pathfinder archive — Watch: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_uY3GaNf67hP-i6TRWF2n06xMv1kdkZ6

    Listen: https://pod.payloadspace.com/episodes

    The Evolution of the Satellite Economy

    The Evolution of the Satellite Economy

    The cost of launching payloads to orbit has dramatically dropped, igniting a space renaissance. In 2022, a record 186 rocket launches (41 more than the previous year!) underscores this shift.

    In Part 1 of our satellite economy mini-series, we sit down with John Gedmark, co-founder of Astranis, to reflect on today's innovations, who’s on the other side of the satellite market, the capabilities they’re looking for, competition, and their mission to provide internet access to 4 billion underserved people.

    Look out for Part 2, where we tackle the challenges of rapidly reusable rockets with Andy Lapsa from Stoke Space.

     

    Resources: 

    Learn more about Astranis: https://www.astranis.com

    Find John on Twitter: https://x.com/Gedmark?s=20

     

    Stay Updated: 

    Find a16z on Twitter: https://twitter.com/a16z

    Find a16z on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/a16z

    Subscribe on your favorite podcast app: https://a16z.simplecast.com/

    Follow our host: https://twitter.com/stephsmithio

    Please note that the content here is for informational purposes only; should NOT be taken as legal, business, tax, or investment advice or be used to evaluate any investment or security; and is not directed at any investors or potential investors in any a16z fund. a16z and its affiliates may maintain investments in the companies discussed. For more details please see a16z.com/disclosures.

    CARTA: Humans: The Planet-Altering Apes with Rob Knight Alice Gorman and Asher Rosinger

    CARTA: Humans: The Planet-Altering Apes with Rob Knight Alice Gorman and Asher Rosinger
    As humans have evolved, so has our ability to drastically alter the planet we call home. In this collection of talks from the CARTA symposium, "Humans: The Planet-Altering Apes" you will learn about specific examples on how humans have changed Earth and what can be done to prevent its cataclysmic demise. Rob Knight will talk about how all microbiomes that have been studies are impacted by human activity. Alice Goramn discusses how accumulating space debris surrounding our planet that may prevent us from leaving the Earth in the future. Asher Rosinger addresses the global water challenges that humans may face as climate change begins to affect water supplies. Series: "CARTA - Center for Academic Research and Training in Anthropogeny" [Humanities] [Science] [Show ID: 38206]

    Areology (MARS) Part 2 with Jennifer Buz

    Areology (MARS) Part 2 with Jennifer Buz

    Last week we got a big thicc primer on ol' Mars, that dusty desert doomsday cabin millions of miles away. This week, Alie continues the conversation with areologist Dr. Jennifer Buz and asks your Patreon questions about whether we could landscape Mars to look like a golf course, what a water balloon fight on Mars would be like, and if people in Jennifer's lab quote science fiction. Plus we hear directly from Kim Staney Robinson on the moral quandaries of inhabiting the red planet and explore the question: "Why is Elon Musk so horny for Mars?"

    You're going to want to look at Dr. Jennifer Buz's website JNNFR.BZ

    Follow Jennifer on Instagram

    More episode sources & links

    Become a patron of Ologies for as little as a buck a month

    OlogiesMerch.com has hats, shirts, pins, totes!

    Follow @Ologies on Twitter and Instagram

    Follow @AlieWard on Twitter and Instagram

    Sound editing by Steven Ray Morris

    Theme song by Nick Thorburn
     

    Carcosa (Surreal Sci-Fi) - Story #2

    Carcosa (Surreal Sci-Fi) - Story #2

    In a distant future, intergalactic space-travel happens in the blink of an eye. One young astronaut has been tasked with finding a viable alternative to Earth, in order that humanity can be saved. Arriving on Terra-II, things at first seem promising. However, in the city of Carcosa, all is not what it seems...

    Stories from the Hearth is an experimental storytelling experience ft. truly original fiction and thoughtfully produced soundscapes. The aim of this podcast is to rekindle its listeners' love for the ancient art of storytelling (and story-listening), and to bring some small escapism to the frantic energies of the modern world. Stories from the Hearth is the brainchild of queer punk poet, environmentalist, and anarchist Cal Bannerman. Vive l'art!

    Episode #3 out Sunday 21st February 2021 (21.02.21)

    Links and Socials:

    Original Artwork by Anna Ferrara
    Anna's Instagram: @giallosardina
    Anna's Portfolio: https://annaferrara.carbonmade.com/

    "Supernova Choir 1" by In.Sintesi is licensed under an Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0) Creative Commons license. Read more about it here: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

    Thank you for listening. Please consider following, subscribing to, and sharing this episode, and please do tell your friends all about Stories from the Hearth.