Tesla Roadster

Some long number of years ago I attended a Tesla presentation (to the IEEE IIRC) in Palo Alto. At that presentation, which was mostly about the technical aspects of the car, there were test drives of the Tesla Roadster prototype.

Now I’m trying to remember if Elon Musk was there, or not. And I’m wondering if THAT roadster was HIS roadster was THE roadster that went to space?


Despite the hype about “a billion years in orbit”:


According to Musk, the car could stay drifting in space for a billion years. Over time, it is expected that the Roadster will steadily sustain structural damage from solar radiation, cosmic radiation, and micrometeorite impacts. Organic material, i.e. any material with a carbon bond, including carbon fiber parts, will eventually break apart due to radiation. Tires, paint, plastic and leather might last only about a year. The carbon fiber parts will last considerably longer. Eventually only the aluminum frame and glass not shattered by meteors will remain.

As I remember it, the roadster at the IEEE event was cherry red…though some panels were off so you could see the motor and mechanicals… so was that the same one, or not?

Now, keep in mind that Elon is driven by only ONE vision. Colonizing Mars. His “Boring Company” and vacuum trains is about transit between Mars modules and making habitats under the Marian surface via automated boring of large tunnels. The Solar Power company (now folded into Tesla) is about electrical power on Mars. The Tesla is about personal electric vehicles on the surface. SpaceX is about getting to Mars.

So I have to wonder: What is the purpose of the Tesla on orbit? Aside from the marketing hype / show, it also does 2 other things. It tests the SpaceX space suit, that will be needed on Mars. And, more speculative: Think after a couple of years on orbit SpaceX will pay a visit to the car and see what needs improving to survive on Mars? How did the mechanical bits and the battery pack stand up to vacuum and radiation? So that’s my thesis. It’s a long duration exposure test of the surface vehicle design for the Mars colony effort.

I can’t imagine that they would send things to Mars without some kind of test first. It’s a 2 year effort to send replacements or spares so you need things to last at least that long. Some of it can be guessed from known practices on orbit, but how many electric cars have done 2 year runs in space? Um, zero… (Well, they have been in space that long on the Moon, but nobody has gone back to assess them yet and the materials were way different).

Well, that’s my thesis. Go ahead and make fun of me ;-)

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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21 Responses to Tesla Roadster

  1. Tregonsee says:

    Musk has mentioned that it was his personal car. As for it being a test, how would be know the results? More likely, it is just the mother of all advertising stunts for Tesla, which is hemorrhaging money.

  2. philjourdan says:

    Make fun of you? nah, it is a good one. I thought it was just ego. But Musk (while he does have a big one) always has an eye on his master plan. And durability sounds like a good test for virtually no cost. The test was the rockets. So the payload had a free ride.

  3. Larry Ledwick says:

    It also proves that Falcon Heavy can loft things like an electric car to Mars where it could be de-orbited to the surface for transportation use by follow on explorers.

    Mark Zubrin Mars Society among others has advocated launching automated equipment to Mars and let it build up fuel supplies etc. for future explorers to use.

    It appears to me that both are pretty much on the same page regarding Mars and their two approaches will probably converge over time as the capabilities and hardware flesh out into functional operational capacities.


  4. Larry Ledwick says:

    The test was the rockets. So the payload had a free ride.

    And we don’t know what other items piggy backed on the car. He could have put test coupons in the undercarriage, or stuff in the trunk. Each of the 4 tires could have been of different composition. He will get a good test of the tolerance to space of the materials in the electric motors (does the insulation turn to dust after 2 years?)

    It was obviously an eye catching publicity move but also good sales effort to make space exciting for a new generation. I know here at work several of the staff thanked me for putting out the word that the launch was about to happen, and some of the older folks of my generation got excited again and recalled their experiences watching the first Saturn V launch etc.

    He has made it “cool” to go to space for a lot of folks on the edge of the geek culture who were not space junkies, and provided a talking point to open conversations.

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    Come-on Larry, don’t be shy, it’s the:

    Big Fucking Rocket!!!! not the BFR…

  6. E.M.Smith says:

    Oh, yeah, um “Trigger Alert!” (is that the right name?)

    I’m using “strong language” or something that might make you think or have feelings or something….

  7. Larry Ledwick says:

    It is translated inside the link and it is the public name used for marketing – I was not being shy just in a hurry (and I am posting from a company machine).

  8. @Larry Ledwick,
    ” He will get a good test of the tolerance to space of the materials in the electric motors (does the insulation turn to dust after 2 years?”

    Ionizing radiation has a way of springing surprises. For example I used to think of Teflon tubes and insulation as very durable and they are when stressed by chemicals or heat. However, Teflon insulation subjected to gamma radiation turns to powder in short order while humble PVC insulation lasts for many years. Motor windings wrapped with glass insulation and then heat cured with high performance epoxy resist ionization radiation even better than PVC. That is why our accelerator magnets used glass/epoxy insulation.

    From personal experience glass filled epoxy is at least six orders of magnitude more radiation resistant than Teflon and NASA seems to agree with me. See page 15 in the .pdf linked below:

    Click to access NASA-SP-8053.pdf

    The MK. III Free Electron Laser could produce a gamma ray flux of up to 10,000 RAD but the PVC insulated wires in it probably saw ~1% of that for up to 12 hours per day. I would have been happy to carry out an accelerated radiation test on Musk’s car for a lot less than it cost to launch it to who know where.

  9. @Larry,
    Some of the magnets in the Duke FEL have been subjected to very high X-ray and gamma flux since 1995 without any signs of deterioration. They are seeing much higher levels of radiation than can be found even in the van Allen belt so I would expect them to remain functional for millenia in Earth orbit.

  10. E.M.Smith says:

    Thank you, Galloping Camel, for providing technical insight most of us can not even hope to approach.

  11. If Elon Musk is a genius so was John DeLorean. Both of them were brilliant enough to con governments out of huge amounts of tax payer money.

    I will concede that Elon Musk is better than Andrea Rossi. While both are con men, Musk does deliver some toys that work as advertised.

  12. Graeme No.3 says:

    Is it as Tregonsee claims? That is intended to generate publicity, much as a nearly bankrupt operator lights a cigar with a banknote? Musk needs an on-going flow of money, and this will impress the gullible – SPACE! Cool! (3 degrees Kelvin). As most of the gullible also believe in Global Warming this puts a little pressure on politicians to dole out more. And as they are wary of handing out money to compaies that go broke the next week, this chrade might reassure them.

    As for deterioration it depends on how long Musk wants to continue. A thorough waxing with Amor All may prolong life until the first inspection.

  13. Richard Ilfeld says:

    I’m trying to think of con men who also got things done, and came out smelling like roses. The plain fact is that for most of our technical history the level of government largesse hasn’t been available. But most con men haven’t managed as much tangible success, either. HE is building cars and batteries and rockets and digging holes, and there are actually some noteworthy achievements. Is the mechanism really that different that touting that Tang cam from the billion dollar Space program, along with a bunch of other spinoffs. If the pyramid scheme collapses, the residual would seem to have some real value….perhaps Elon is the first of a new breed, or a one-off. But the pure “con-man” title doesn’t quite fit, for me.

  14. R. de Haan says:

    Tesla orbiting the sun, great advertisement for the Tesla company, Elon Musk and the SpaceX organization. Wonder why they organize the first rendez vous in space with paying tourists to make pictures of the car. In the mean time from the Netherlands and recently here in the news: Hesla, the 1.000 km range Tesla. http://www.thedrive.com/sheetmetal/15797/meet-project-hesla-the-first-hydrogen-powered-tesla-model-s Fuel cell to power charge the battery and Hydrogen gas to power the fuel cell. The company behind the Hesla wants to use the existing distribution grid for the Dutch natural gas that is now closed down by the Government because of damaging earth quakes. Of course they need a massive expansion is off shore wind power but they have never explained how they are going to achieve an annual output acquivelent of 40 million m3 of natural gas per annum. Neither has the Dutch Government. The last two januari storms that hit Europe have toppled the latest series of mega mills and we know what an ice storm can do to these useless constructions. Except for hyping the price of electricity which is now rising 6 times faster than our salaries. Today you can become rich if you come up with a scheme to make the population poorer.

    Solar is a crock, wind is a crock, the hydrogen economy is a crock, the bio fuel economy is a crock, global warming is a crock, Tesla is a crock and so is Musk who can only have a small chance to save his car company if he is going to build cars with a conventional combustion engine. That untill we come up with real “alternative” solutions. At this moment in time their major effort to keel Tesla alive is to lure governments into big fat subsidy programs that enables them to sell the electric Tesla’s. Without those subsidies they are doomend.

    The Dutch Government just bought new BMW`s simply because the Tesla lacked range and flexibility. End of story.

  15. D. J. Hawkins says:

    Well, testing the battery pack will have to wait. It, the drive train, and all the window glass were removed before the car was installed in the payload module.


  16. Dodgy Geezer says:

    For a test launch, you normally use a concrete weight. You don’t put anything expensive in there that you intend to use – because it’s a TEST. For a start, you wouldn’t get insurance for any operational payload. So there will be NO plans for whatever was launched.

    If you have a spare car which will fit in, that will save you the cost of casting some concrete. And the marketing men will lap it up – it’ll be good for a lot more headlines than a normal test. That’s what the car is for. Headlines…

  17. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, with no battery pack or drive train, that does kind of shoot down the “testing” thesis. Those are THE parts most important to desk for vacuum and radiation exposure. Tin and paint not so much. Rubbers and plastics we already know will degrade rapidly.

    OK, y’all have convinced me. It’s just a publicity stunt.

  18. E.M.Smith says:

    Ooops! Wrong orbit!


    What did we say about Tesla’s self-driving tech? SpaceX Roadster skips Mars, steers to asteroids
    Where’s a sat-nav when you need one?
    By Iain Thomson in San Francisco 7 Feb 2018 at 21:38

    Pic The final rocket burn of the SpaceX craft carrying Elon Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster into the cosmos pushed the billionaire’s flash jalopy much further than anticipated. It’s now heading out toward the Solar System’s asteroid belt rather than swinging close by Mars as planned.

    Yesterday, SpaceX launched its powerful Falcon Heavy, with the boss’s ride strapped on top. The rocket was made up of three reusable boosters – each powered by nine Merlin engines – which fell back to Earth a few minutes after blastoff. While two of those Falcon rockets – the Heavy’s side boosters – landed safe, the central booster didn’t. More on that later.

    Once those rockets were away, a second-stage engine attached to the Roadster fired up and pushed the unconventional cargo off into the universe’s inky depths. And it was more shove than push, it seems.

    Wonder if someone forgot to tell the folks calculating the burn that the batteries and drive train were gone and the weight was a lot lighter…

    Well, at least they know they can send something small past Mars…

  19. Larry Geiger says:

    It was a nice launch. Pretty day. Not nearly as loud as a Saturn V. I think that’s because of the difference between the 5 F1 engines and the 27 little Merlin engines. Didn’t rumble quite right. The Saturn V and the Shuttle would sometimes pop. You would hear and feel the rumble then it would sort of pop or explode. The Merlin engines don’t seem to do that. Too smooth I suppose. I always forget about the returning booster/boosters sonic boom. I was always prepared for the Shuttle one but the booster boom always startles me.

  20. Larry Ledwick says:

    Looks like useful ranges are moderate 7 meters or so, but this technique improves camera viewing range by factor of x2 – x3 which is a useful improvement in turbid waters and for things like drone survey of oil rigs or recovery from the sea floor operations.

    Click to access UTOFIA_Newsletter_Apr16.pdf

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