All posts by Callum Tyndall

What will Elon Musk announce at the International Astronautical Congress?

Later today, Elon Musk will be giving a talk at the International Astronautical Congress entitled Making Humans a Multiplanetary Species, discussing the challenges involved in getting to and colonising Mars.

It is expected that during the talk he will reveal the next stage of SpaceX’s involvement in this mission. We don’t yet know however, just what this involvement will stretch to, whether it will just be on the transport side or whether Musk and his company will be involved in colonisation itself.

Below are some of the possibilities and how likely we think they are as announcements.

The first successful firing of the Raptor engine, which was tweeted by Elon Musk

The first successful firing of the Raptor engine, which was tweeted by Elon Musk

Expanded information on Interplanetary Transport System

Yesterday, Musk revealed that SpaceX had completed the first successful firing test of their Raptor engine. He also unveiled a few specs for the engine, including a chamber pressure almost three times greater than the Merlin engine SpaceX uses in the Falcon 9 rocket, and announced a certain change brought on by the power of the engine.

Initially, the Raptor was planned to be the power behind the Mars Colonial Transporter, the ship Musk intends to carry people and supplies to the Red Planet. After tweeting that, “Turns out MCT can go well beyond Mars, so will need a new name…”, however, the craft has now been renamed to the Interplanetary Transport System.

A successful firing test is a good start but still a far cry from a completed craft and launch system, it is highly likely however that Musk will expand on the specs he previously revealed to announce the full craft and just how the Raptor is going to play into getting people to Mars.

Probability: High

Image courtesy of SpaceX. Featured image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of SpaceX. Featured image courtesy of NASA

Elon Musk will lead colonisation of the planet

Musk has previously said he believes that humans must become a multiplanetary species if we are to continue long-term and it does not seem beyond the realm of possibility that he would want to be leading the charge not just on getting us to Mars but actually settling there.

While at the moment any such announcement is likely to be mostly hypothetical – just being able to get there being a big first step – the work Elon Musk is doing with his other companies, Tesla and SolarCity, has showed he is not adverse to grand plans uniting his various endeavours.

If he is involved with colonisation, don’t be too shocked if Musk announces the Tesla settlement as a pilot test, powered by his solar efforts and running on clean electricity with all the parts and settlers carried there by SpaceX rockets. A longer term plan than the Interplanetary Transport System certainly, but one that is not beyond the reach of Musk’s ambition.

Probability: Medium

Image courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute.

Image courtesy of NASA / JPL-Caltech / SETI Institute.

Immediate plans to colonise beyond Mars

We are still several years from even reaching Mars with manned missions, let alone colonising the planet, but the renaming of the Mars Colonial Transporter seems to tease that SpaceX may have plans beyond the Red Planet.

Jupiter’s moon Europa has previously been discussed as a possibility for life elsewhere in the solar system, the idea of floating cities on Venus being another consideration. Any announcement of plans to immediately start working towards colonising beyond Mars would have to acknowledge it as a very long-term goa,l but given Musk’s belief in the multiplanetary species, the idea of limiting ourselves to just the two planets maybe isn’t quite enough.

Probability: Low

Elon Musk’s talk will begin at 6:30pm GMT today, and will be viewable in the embedded video below:

Palmer Luckey and the Perils of Social Media

At some point in the last few days, someone has had to have an interesting conversation with Mark Zuckerberg about Palmer Luckey. The 24 year old founder of Oculus has already built himself somewhat of a reputation; anyone who tries to argue with their customers on Reddit is unlikely to come off well,  but recent news coming from The Daily Beast and Motherboard has cast an uglier light on the tech entrepreneur.

According to the reports, Luckey is not only a pro-Trump supporter but also supports Gamergaters. Luckey admitted to donating $10,000 dollars to Nimble America, a group that essentially trolls on behalf of Donald Trump, but claims in a Facebook post it was because “I thought the organisation had fresh ideas on how to communicate with young voters through the use of several billboards.”

Having favourited several tweets from Trump, as well as several mocking SJWs, Luckey’s social media profile is starting to look questionable.

Image and featured image courtesy of eVRydayVR

Image and featured image courtesy of eVRydayVR

Although he doesn’t tweet in support of GamerGate himself, and there is only so much we can read into passively favouriting others’ commentary, the image generated by the opinions he chooses to support isn’t one that we particularly like to see on a man who is one of the leaders of the VR movement.

Luckey is at the forefront of technological innovation and you would hope that he would be reasonably progressive in other areas, particularly given the money invested in him and the mass of attention currently resting on his company.

Virtual reality is not a guaranteed consumer success at this point and given that a fairly significant chunk of consumers interested in the Oculus are also young and progressive, coming out as a far-right supporter of several bigoted movements is unlikely to win much approval for you or your company.

Unsurprisingly, following the news, several VR developers have dropped their support for Oculus.

Image courtesy of Web Summit

Image courtesy of Web Summit

Luckey is now distancing himself from Nimble America, describing himself as a Libertarian who plans to vote for Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party candidate. There has been no comment on the GamerGate affiliation and both Facebook, and Oculus have simply pointed to Luckey’s personal statement when asked for comment.

Palmer Luckey and Oculus are most likely going to come out of this just fine.

However it sets a worrying precedent for a man who really needs to be seen in a positive light if people are going to follow him down the path of VR. And considering Mark Zuckerberg pretty much directly criticised Trump in his F8 keynote earlier this year, it would maybe serve Luckey well to remember who owns his company now, and present a stronger public front.

True sympathy of course lies with whoever had to deliver the – imagined – message below to Zuckerberg:

“Hey Mark, remember how you bashed Trump’s campaign and want to present a progressive front to the world? Remember how you spent $2bn on Oculus? Well, you might want to take a seat for this.”