Why is Elon Musk considered a genius and a fraud? He regularly tweets about SpaceX’s successes, but in reality Musk could have made his fortune by stealing domestic technology.
Why is Elon Musk a genius?
SpaceX is often cited as a corporation where everything runs like clockwork. In February 2021, SpaceX had 9,500 employees – 10 times less than Lockheed Martin and almost half of NASA. The two main products of the company, with the help of which Elon Musk made his fortune and regularly makes world news, are the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. In the near future, a test launch of the Super Heavy rocket will take place. With the help of the heaviest launch vehicle in history, Elon Musk will be able to finally complete the project to create the Starlink satellite orbital group and bring NASA closer to a flight to the moon. It is believed that all SpaceX technologies, like Tesla, were developed by Elon Musk and a group of engineers from scratch. But in fact, this is not so – from his own, Elon Musk still has a love for the Dogecoin cryptocurrency and the ability to influence the exchange rates of other currencies via Twitter.
Rocket like a bomb
On the official SpaceX YouTube channel there is a video called “How not to build an orbital accelerator.” For several minutes, rockets explode in the frame, showing the difficult path of Elon Musk and SpaceX, whose popularity skyrocketed along with the first successful launches. The Falcon 9 rocket is positioned as its own invention, but back in 2001 at MAKS, Russian rocket designers showed the Baikal reusable rocket booster.
The device developed by the creators of “Buran” – NPO “Molniya” – by order of the State Research and Development Center named after M.V. Khrunichev, remained at the prototype stage. Work on it was continued only in 2019 – a new rocket booster is being created as part of the Wing-SV project. This prototype was presented a year before SpaceX appeared, but after a few years and a couple of visits to Russia, Elon Musk’s company began working exclusively on reusable technologies.
Special rudder for the rocket
One of the decisions, for which Elon Musk was lifted to the skies and raised to the rank of a brilliant engineer, was the use of lattice rudders in the design of the return steps. For the Falcon 9, Elon Musk and his engineering team are believed to have created lattice rudders from scratch. In fact, this statement is far from the truth – lattice rudders were created back in the 50s of the last century. The honeycomb-like control surfaces were developed by specialists from the Central Aerohydrodynamic Institute (TsAGI). And in their free time from work.
Lattice stabilizers (also called wings) were used even under Sergei Korolev and are still used on Russian missiles. If you look at the photographs of the Russian Soyuz-FG missile, you can see that they are there. Therefore, it is at least strange to consider lattice rudders an invention of Elon Musk.
Planting in a cornfield
Last October we recorded an interview with “Russian Elon Musk”. Nikolai Bryukhanov, general designer of the Russian company Reusable Transport Space Systems (MTKS) and the creator of the Argo spacecraft, in addition to details about the new spacecraft, shared his opinion that Elon Musk could have spied on the vertical landing pattern of accelerators from the Russian corporation Energia.
At the end of the 2000s, RSC Energia’s specialists published a vertical landing scheme for the accelerator, and just six months later, Elon Musk got a jet landing stage for the first stage – the same “arc” along which Falcon 9 returns to Earth with its engines running. A little later, it became known about the reusable Korona rocket, which had been developed since 1992. Its tests never took place due to lack of funding, but Musk studied the concept of these missiles and put it into practice.
Elon Musk may launch the first naval spaceport for reusable Falcon 9 and Super Heavy rockets (the heaviest version of SpaceX’s rockets) as early as 2022. However, the idea itself is not new – at the dawn of the space race, European companies tried to use sea launch sites in the last century. But then they did not see the benefit when launching from the sea, and they refused such exotic things. Russia also had its own Sea Launch. At first, it was a joint project with the United States and Ukraine, but in the mid-2010s, cooperation came to naught and the floating spaceport was bought back. Now it is not used – there are no orders for it, no reusable rocket.
While Elon Musk continues to be considered a rogue, SpaceX is building its first spaceport on the basis of a former oil production platform. Elon Musk bought several such structures at once, and in the future he will be able to abandon the use of spaceports on land.
Rocket engine Raptor
It is impossible to create a perfect rocket without a perfect engine. After SpaceX showed the first images of the Super Heavy rocket, accusations fell on Elon Musk that he could copy the Russian RD-180 engines that have been supplied to the United States for many years. Then Elon Musk said that in terms of the pressure level in the internal combustion chamber, the Raptor engine broke the record of the Russian RD-180, reaching 268.9 bar.
The chief designer of NPO Energomash, Pyotr Lyovochkin, replied that Musk does not take into account that the RD-180 engine for the Atlas launch vehicle uses a completely different fuel scheme – oxygen-kerosene, in which the engine operates with completely different parameters. The controversy over whether Elon Musk stole the idea of constructing the Russian RD-180 engine or not, after that ceased.