Long Term Fate of Starman
I believe that in an upcoming close approach to Earth, maybe in 30 years or so, Starman and the Roadster will be visited by a spacecraft, perhaps the BFR or a related spacecraft, and will be brought to a museum. If you want to see the science, see this paper.
Why didn’t they put solar panels on Starman to make it last longer?
Building a spacecraft is hard. Even the absolute cheapest of them can cost tens of millions, except for truly tiny satellites. Adding solar panels seems easy enough, but then you need to manage the attitude to point them in the right direction, have a power controller for the battery, add sensors to determine the attitude, add a better antenna to be able to receive signals from further away, and before too long you essentially have a functioning satellite with the frame of a car. That would be considerably more expensive, and not look as cool. The purpose of this mission was to do something inexpensive, and inspiring. While a Tesla Roadster may cost $100,000 or more, it still is a relatively cheap payload compared to tens of millions. I estimate that SpaceX spend at most $2 million more than it would have cost to launch a concrete block in launching Starman. Unofficially, I think Elon just needed to clear his garage of a Tesla Roadster so he has room for the new version of it coming soon.
The Roadster is approaching Mars much faster then it is leaving Earth. Why the difference?
The answer is simple, Mars and Earth are actually getting closer to each other. As of writing this, Mars is ahead of its orbit compared to Earth. Per Kepler’s Third Law of Planetary Motion, objects that are further away from the host body move slower. As Mars is further away, it orbits slower than Earth does. Thus, Earth is catching up on Mars. If you want to see this, please look at the Chart’s page, and see how Earth and Mars get closer to each other.
Did SpaceX miss its intended target?
Not really. SpaceX intended to demonstrate it could send a spacecraft to Mars. To actually send a spacecraft close to Mars, it would have to have launched in June. The timeline of a test launch doesn’t allow for such a specific date to be selected. Thus, they did what they could. The rocket spent 6 hours in an elliptical orbit, going through the Van Allen belts to demonstrate it could perform a direct to Geostationary orbit. In the final maneuver, it appears that they goal was to see how much thrust could be used on the spacecraft to get it as far as possible. Cryogenic fuels, like most rockets use, evaporate in space. With the 6 hour wait time, some of the fuel evaporated and had to be vented to space, like any rocket would in such a situation. Consequently, the amount of fuel wasn’t known. SpaceX apparently decided to let the rocket use all of the fuel, a burn to completion maneuver. The initial tweet from Elon after the launch. It was decided that the C3 was accurate, but the graph was not. I suspect that the graph was the best case scenario, but the C3 was accurate, but I have no real way of knowing that. The goal was to have it go at least as far as the Martian orbit. It succeeded in doing that, and thus met all primary and secondary objectives (Except landing the middle core). Note that it will take many months for it to actually move out as far as Mars, due to orbital mechanics, but it will make it out that far.
Why does the Roadster and Earth icons appear so close?
Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space.
As of writing this, the Roadster is about 0.025 AU away from Earth. That equates to about 3 pixels, depending on the size of your monitor. Not very much. They will separate with time, however.
See the Chart’s page
How accurate is the data on this site?
The data on this site is purely for personal purposes, and shouldn’t be relied on for any real work, like astronomy or space navigation. While I do try to be realistic, I have accepted certain inaccuracies in the data set to make some of the calculations easier. For instance, I only actually get the data from JPL at one day intervals. I interpolate between the points on the site, which is how I am able to continually update the values on your browser. The data will eventually become more cloudy, as we are unable to see Starman. From an email I received from the JPL Horizons team, they expect to track Starman until at least April through survey telescopes. Beyond that, it would requite one of the most powerful telescopes in the world (Or Hubble) to track. The team member suspected, and I agree, that people will not find that valuable enough to use a dedicated observation. Even with these powerful telescopes, in June we will almost certainly not be able to see the spacecraft at all.
Why do some tracking sites report Starman close to Earth?
Starman orbited the Earth twice before it left to deep space. It did this to prove a new capability, that of being able to directly inject a satellite in to Geostationary Orbit. During those two orbits, it orbited the Earth enough to be tracked by the Joint Space Operations Center (JSpOC) It was assigned a tracking id of 2018-017A. They note in the database that it is in Heliocentric orbit, but they did provide a set of tracking elements, known as TLEs, for when it was orbiting Earth. TLEs assume that one is orbiting Earth, they do not function otherwise. Some website are just using the one set of TLEs and propagating them forward to today, as if the third burn did not happen.
Why does the Earth appear about the same size in the Live View, despite being much further away?
There are streams that are re-broadcasting SpaceX’s Starman feed and claiming it is Live. It is not. The batteries died about 12 hours after launch, according to Elon Musk in a post-flight press briefing. The last image taken by the spacecraft can be found here. I am working on a simulated view of what Starman might look like now. Hint, Earth is only a pale blue dot. See 3-D Views for the latest on that effort. Note that sometimes I stream simulated streams on my YouTube channel.
Where did I learn programming?
Do I work for Tesla or SpaceX?
No. I have been a fan of both companies since 2008 or earlier, but I have never worked for either. I have no desire to live in Florida or California, which largely excludes me from working at either company. I might consider it some day, but for now, it isn’t in the cards.