This is question #40 in the Astral Codex Ten 2023 Prediction Contest. The contest rules and full list of questions are available here. Market will resolve according to Scott Alexander’s judgment, as given through future posts on Astral Codex Ten.
2nd FCC permit filed : https://twitter.com/TylerG1998/status/1658517134245257217
How much does Musk matter to SpaceX at this point? I'm totally willing to believe "a lot" but he's also been very distracted for years now, and they've made progress.
This is especially relevant since he (might) finally be getting un-distracted from Twitter
questions on elons Q n A on Twitter: https://twitter.com/thesheetztweetz/status/1652465498381066240
Musk: From a "pad standpoint, we are probably ready to launch in 6 to 8 weeks.'
@Blomfilter Which translated from Muskian to english means 60 to 80 weeks.
@NGK chopsticks are functional, digging trenches and pouring concrete arent a big deal https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evO4GedWfjs
@Blomfilter also, what is stopping them from just launching a starship directly off the a concrete pad without a boostser attached? Once a starship lands on moon/mars, it has to blast off directly from where its landed, so thats potentially a test candidate situation right there
@Blomfilter A lot of people have said that the water table at Boca Chica is so high a trench won't be possible. I'm not sure that's 'confirmed', but it is widely believed.
They can definitely launch Starship off the pad without the booster, but it wouldn't get to orbit. SSTO, or Single Stage To Orbit, has never been achieved.
(I have actually seen it suggested that a stripped-down Starship could do it, because it has vacuum optimised- as well as sea level- engines, but even if true, this would be at the cost of basically all the data you'd want from the flight, which would be lost due to removing* all re-entry equipment)
*blind assertion from me
@JoshuaWilkes The analysis I've seen suggests it could get to orbit as SSTO provided it has no payload: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=rbYuf23Q0NM
@Blomfilter Not necessarily true. Water table is extremely high at Boca Chica so that can cause issues. The tension steel between the piles has yielded and no longer provides tensioning force. They need to be cut, then new starter bars need to be epoxied in place then new steel can be put in. Not to say it can’t be done quickly but to then get FAA approval to fly again soon it seems like a tall order.
I’m betting big on Starship not launching this year again. Even more confident it doesn’t reach orbit at this point as well.
@NGK It does, just based on photos, look like the launch infrastructure is a bit more damaged than I originally thought, so I could easily see it taking a year to repair/reconstruct to better standards. (But I'm also hesitant to declare that definitively because I think we've seen things that looked terrible that ended up being ready to go again much faster than anyone thought.) I probably wouldn't bet yes at this point, but I don't know if I'm ready to all-out bet no, either.
@NGK Elon says ready in 1-2 months. Whilst this is likely wildly optimistic (what's the best estimate of the Elon time dilation factor?), makes me not want to bet against another launch this year.
@chrisjbillington Yea I mean I don't believe much of what Musk says anymore. lol. FSD is coming next year guys I promise!
@NGK About the timeline sure, but it seems the steel plate exists and others are estimating timelines that would still put it this year. The next launch may not reach orbit still, but I think the chances of an attempt are decent.
Best estimate of the Elon time dilation factor is 3.8, so 1–2 months translates to 3.8–7.6 months, or Aug 15th–Dec 8th.
@chrisjbillington What about the ones that are yet to be fulfilled like Starship cargo to Mars by 2024 etc lmao
I believe in 2020 he predicted a crewed 2024 mission, if that's what you're referring to. So he has until 2035 or so to achieve that before It's wrong by a factor of 3.8.
We know his timelines are almost always too short, that just means this error should be measured and corrected for when using his predictions to estimate more realistic timelines.
@Berg Also I don’t think all the important structures are intact. All that steel has yielded and will need to be replaced. It looks like tension steel required when you have raking columns above. Who knows if the structure is actually capable of handling the loads from another launch.
Today's integrated flight test was a good test and no doubt provided lots of data for the SpaceX teams, but there were issues before spacecraft separation and it did not reach any kind of orbit. My initial thoughts are that we won't see another test for 3-6 months depending on exactly how much work there is to do (or repair) on the launch infrastructure. Public documents indicate the next two flights will probably also be of the "borderline orbital" variety (with perigees in the atmosphere), so the question of "what counts as orbit" may unfortunately loom large by the end of the year. In theory, they could launch 4 more times this year, but 2 seems more likely from my view. (However, SpaceX has a way of defying my expectations sometimes.) There are additional vehicles in the pipeline and I don't think vehicle readiness is the long pole right now. Given all these factors, I'm trending toward more of a 60% chance of this resolving yes, but my confidence interval is very wide.
SpaceX's Starship, oh so grand,
Will it reach orbit, as planned?
Elon Musk's vision, bold and bright,
2023 may be its flight.
My biggest actual concern for this market might actually be what constitutes "orbit" in Scott Alexander's judgment. That is, the current publicly available information (which could be outdated, of course) made it very possible that the trajectory for the upcoming orbital flight test will have a perigee within the atmosphere to eliminate the need for a deorbit burn and ensure the ship will quickly deorbit even if there is a failure to restart the engines. I could see people arguing that such a flight wouldn't count as orbital, and if it ends up being the sole flight this year, there could be questions. (That said, if that flight is successful enough to even potentially count, I think a second flight this year is almost a certainty, barring catastrophic damage to the launch infrastructure at Starbase.)
I know nothing here on a technical level, except that there was high confidence this would happen last year and it didn’t, and also one has to be a little less on the ‘Elon’s physical projects are totally going to work’ than one was last year, I’d think? So I’m buying M20 of NO on general principles, but not getting further involved.
Did SpaceX ever fix that problem with the Raptor & Raptor 2 engines where they burn themselves up? The SpaceX fanboys don't like to talk about that so much, so maybe there are some problems yet to overcome (might be more important for landing than getting to orbit though)
@Isaac228c They keep burning the engines (back when they actually tried to fly the thing) and it seems like every time they do static burn, they end up replacing a bunch of them afterwards
@Isaac228c so a bunch of the raptor engines failed today (thought not the decisive problem)