Josh Wolfe of Lux Capital is a very successful and innovative venture capitalist. Maxwell Strachan interviewed him for The ‘To the Moon’ Crash Is Coming. I think Wolfe captures the essence of the problem:
I think a lot of people took the Elon playbook and basically said, If I just promised the moon, I can get too big to fail, I can just keep raising money as I raise expectations. And if I raise expectations, fundamentals don't matter. The only thing that matters is expectations. And if I can keep leading people—or in some cases misleading them—then it'll keep working if I don't get caught. And if I do get caught, in the case of Theranos or in the case of Nikola [Editor’s note: the electric-truck maker that paid a $125 million after the SEC charged the company’s founder with misleading investors over social media], maybe you pay a fine or you have your day in court, and maybe Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes is found guilty or maybe the zeitgeist of the day surprises and she's not. But so far, there has been really no great penalty for people whose relationship with the truth is less than ideal.Musk doesn't care about the truth of his statements, or the impact of his companies' policies, because his wealth insulates him from consequences. If regulators or victims come after him he can tie them up in courts until their resources are exhausted or his fan-bois can make them irrelevant. Since Autonowashing I've been collecting illustrations of this attitude, and the time has come to lay out a sample of them below the fold.
There are a lot of examples, so I've organized them as follows:
- His irresponsible behavior affecting the Stock Market.
- Tesla's irresponsible behavior around its autonomy technology
- SpaceX's irresposible behavior around its Starlink satellites, development of its Boca Chica base, and the idea of a Mars colony.
- The Boring Company's irresponsible marketing of tunnels that simple math shows cannot deliver their claimed benefits.
As with Musk's interventions in the cryptocurrency market, pumping his HODL-ings of Dogecoin by tweeting, much of this run-up and subsequent volatility is clearly due to rampant speculation driven by Musk's tweets. In The “Tesla Financial Complex”: Financial Times Details Wildly Outsized Speculation in Tesla Options Yves Smith takes off from an article in the Financial Times by Robin Wrigglesworth entitled The ‘Tesla-financial complex’: how carmaker gained influence over the markets. Wrigglesworth starts:
One of Tesla’s oddest quirks is the fuel that has helped power its rocketing stock market value. Although its stock is wildly popular with many ordinary retail investors, the swelling size and hyperactivity of Tesla “options” — popular derivatives contracts that allow investors to bet both on and against a stock and magnify any gains and losses — has also flabbergasted many market veterans.In other words, TSLA options trading is half of options trading in the S&P500. Some days it is much more:
The nominal trading value of Tesla options has averaged $241bn a day in recent weeks, according to Goldman Sachs. That compares with $138bn a day for Amazon, the second most active single-stock option market, and $112bn a day for the rest of the S&P 500 index combined. This makes Tesla’s stock more prone to whipsaw movements, because of the “leverage” inherent in using options to trade.
Golding estimates that historically the combined trading activity in US equity options has been between 10 and 20 times larger than activity in the biggest individual equity options market. However, there have been days recently where Tesla’s option trading activity has been five-to-six times the rest of the S&P 500 options ecosystem combined.Yves Smith explains:
Reader HighlySuspect explained how the options trading gooses the stock price:Given this level of influence on the market, Musk's shoot-from-the-hip tweeting is unnacceptable to the SEC.Market makers gladly sell call options to retail and make a huge profit doing so – it’s complicated but essentially the busy options market means call options are intrinsically overvalued and expensive, so market makers will sell these expensive options, hedge their position by actually buying Tesla stock, pocket the options premium, then sell the Tesla stock when the options position is closed. The market makers hedging by buying Tesla stock is actually one of the biggest factors behind the fast and enormous Tesla rallies – it’s an enormous source of buying.Pink paper readers disputed a claim in the article, “Ordinary retail investors have been the primary power behind the Tesla options boom.” There is a whale in Tesla, billionaire Leo KoGuan who claimed he had bought nearly 7.2 million shares by early November, mainly though exercising call options. That makes him the third largest Tesla investor after Elon Musk and Larry Ellison.
Mr Musk agreed a settlement with the SEC last year after the agency sued him for a tweet in which he claimed to have “funding secured” for a buyout of Tesla. The tweet was false, according to the SEC.Did the settlement change anything?
In February the SEC claimed he violated the settlement, which required Mr Musk to get preapproval for any tweets containing material information about Tesla from an in-house lawyer. The claim followed a tweet by Mr Musk on February 19 about the number of cars Tesla would make in 2019, which he subsequently had to correct.Clearly the market wouldn't be interested in "the number of cars Tesla would make in 2019". The SEC disagreed:
Last week Mr Musk’s attorneys revealed that none of the tweets about Tesla he had sent between the approval of the settlement and the SEC’s contempt motion had been preapproved.
The Tesla chief executive’s legal team argued that he had decided the tweets did not contain material information, and therefore did not need to be reviewed before publication.
The agency claimed that Mr Musk had shown “a brazen disregard” for the settlement and said his assertion that his February 19 tweet was immaterial “borders on the ridiculous”.Musk has continued to tweet obviously market-moving information, such as this tweet from May 2020.
“[Mr] Musk’s shifting justifications suggest that there was never any good faith effort to comply with the court’s order and the Tesla policy,” said the SEC, referencing the settlement and the internal Tesla communications policy it required.
“Rather, [Mr] Musk has simply elected to ignore them,” the SEC said.
Chris Isidore's Musk's tweet raises doubt about Hertz's order for 100,000 Teslas is an example:
Tesla stock price is too high imo— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 1, 2020
When Hertz announced plans to buy 100,000 Teslas last week — the largest-ever single order for electric vehicles — it was hailed as a breakthrough moment for the shift to EVs.In November, Musk did it again:
The "order" was thrown into doubt late Monday by — you guessed it — a tweet from Tesla CEO Elon Musk, who appeared to question the certainty of the deal. "If any of this is based on Hertz, I'd like to emphasize that no contract has been signed yet," Musk tweeted, referring to the recent surge in Tesla shares following the rental car company's announcement.
Shares of Tesla fell around 2% Tuesday morning, improving on a drop of as much as 5% earlier in the day, but still well above where the stock was trading before Hertz announced its purchase plans.
Jamie Powell was skeptical in Elon tells us nothing new, but the market moves anyway:
Much is made lately of unrealized gains being a means of tax avoidance, so I propose selling 10% of my Tesla stock.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 6, 2021
Do you support this?
The winner, with 57.9 per cent, is “Yes”. Suggesting Elon is set to dump circa 17m shares, some $21bn of stock, in the coming days, weeks or months. Simply because Twitter said he should. Well, that’s the line anyway.It could be argued that this wasn't news. Powell writes:
Elon said as much in an interview with Silicon Valley frenemy Kara Swisher back in September. Here’s the key line (around 39 minutes):Powell asks some good questions:
Just before my stock options expire I’m forced to exercise, and the top marginal tax rate is 53 per cent. I have a bunch of options that are expiring early next year, so a huge block of options will sell in Q4 because I have to or they expire.So was Elon’s tweet just a smokescreen for an inevitable stock sale? If so the media doesn’t seem to have been able to see through the Musk miasma. Google “Tesla” and you’ll find hundreds of articles repeating the line that Elon is going to sell shares because Twitter told him to. Which is probably a lot more manageable a story for shareholders than the sudden appearance of a SEC Form 4 on its website detailing the sales. The early trading suggests as much, with Tesla’s shares only off 5.4 per cent in pre-market, to $1,157.
Was this market moving tweet approved by the SEC mandated “Twitter sitter” that is meant to oversee his communications related to Tesla? What does it say about the state of markets that a tweet with arguably no new information moves the market capitalisation of a company some $60bn? And, in perhaps a wider point, should major shareholders of the world’s largest companies conduct polls about stock sales on a website that is rife with bots, fake accounts and other chicanery?Senators Ron Wyden and Elizabeth Warren think the answers are "no". Some class action lawyers agree with them, as Mike Leonard's Tesla Hit With Investor Lawsuit Over Musk’s Market-Moving Tweets makes clear:
Elon Musk, fresh off his coronation as Time Magazine’s “person of the year,” is facing more investor scrutiny over his tweets, this time with a Delaware lawsuit filed against Tesla Inc. on Thursday taking aim at a Twitter poll that asked if he should sell millions worth of stock.This isn't the only lawsuit caused by Musk's irresponsible tweeting. Matt Levine's JPMorgan Fights Tesla Over Warrants describes an extremely complex lawsuit centered on warrants hedging Tesla's convertible bonds. The key issue is:
The lawsuit, filed in Delaware Chancery Court, accuses Musk of continuing to tweet impulsively and recklessly, in violation of a 2019 agreement with securities regulators that required the company to adopt strict new internal oversight procedures for monitoring his online statements.
“It is unclear who at Tesla, if anyone, is currently reviewing Musk’s tweets” after its last full-time general counsel left in December 2019 and the most recent acting general counsel stepped down in April, the suit says.
Tesla didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. The suit doesn’t name Musk as a defendant.
In addition to the poll and related tweets—which allegedly sent Tesla shares tumbling 5% on Nov. 5 and another 12% on Nov. 6—the investor suit targets Musk’s recent “Twitter feud with Sen. Elizabeth Warren,” the Massachusetts Democrat, which allegedly drove the stock price down another 9.6% between Dec. 13 and Wednesday.
Elon Musk, the chief executive officer and major shareholder and memelord of Tesla, spent a couple of weeks pretending on Twitter that he was going to take Tesla private at $420 per share. If he had taken Tesla private, JPMorgan (and Tesla’s other banks) would definitely have adjusted their warrants and demanded a big payday. He did not do that; it was all pretend. But he did say he would.And JP Morgan had good reasons to do so. For example:
And when he said that, in August 2018, JPMorgan said, well, okay, that's an announcement of a merger, we get to adjust the warrants.
At the time, Mr. Musk was not only Tesla’s CEO, but also the chair of its board of directors and its largest shareholder. In a Form 8-K filed on November 5, 2013, Tesla had identified Mr. Musk’s personal Twitter account as a source of material public information about the company and encouraged investors to review that account. Because the tweet violated Nasdaq rules requiring at least 10 minutes’ advance notice before a listed corporation publicly disclosed a going-private transaction, Nasdaq temporarily halted trading in Tesla’s stock following Mr. Musk’s tweet, evidencing that the exchange considered the tweet to constitute an announcement by the company itself.
TeslaIt is a sad fact about American capitalism that it cares more about the financial integrity of the stock market that the bodily integrity of the citizens who are at risk from Tesla's fan-bois debugging their cars' software. I wrote Elon Musk: Threat or Menace?" after reading Mack Hogan's article for Road and Track entitled Tesla's "Full Self Driving" Beta Is Just Laughably Bad and Potentially Dangerous:
In short, every Tesla owner who purchases "Full Self-Driving" is serving as an unpaid safety supervisor, conducting research on Tesla's behalf. Perhaps more damning, the company takes no responsibility for its actions and leaves it up to driver discretion to decide when and where to test it out.
That leads to videos like this, where early adopters carry out uncontrolled tests on city streets, with pedestrians, cyclists, and other drivers unaware that they're part of the experiment. If even one of those Tesla drivers slips up, the consequences can be deadly.
11 crashes since 2018 in which Teslas on Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control have hit vehicles at scenes where first responders have used flashing lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board or cones warning of hazards.Since then, the drumbeat has continued. Matt McFarland's We tried Tesla's 'full self-driving.' Here's what happened is scary:
The agency has sent investigative teams to 31 crashes involving partially automated driver assist systems since June of 2016. Such systems can keep a vehicle centered in its lane and a safe distance from vehicles in front of it. Of those crashes, 25 involved Tesla Autopilot in which 10 deaths were reported, according to data released by the agency.
I'd spent my morning so far in the backseat of the Model 3 using "full self-driving," the system that Tesla says will change the world by enabling safe and reliable autonomous vehicles. I'd watched the software nearly crash into a construction site, try to turn into a stopped truck and attempt to drive down the wrong side of the road. Angry drivers blared their horns as the system hesitated, sometimes right in the middle of an intersection.Elon Musk's response was, as usual, denial:
I suspect that article was written before the drive even took place,The cult members response was that "Full Self-Driving" wasn't working well because the driver in the front seat was "inexperienced". According to video demos from Tesla and many examples from fan-bois, "full self-driving" doesn't need a driver, experienced or not — Oh Great, They’re Filming Porn Inside Teslas on Autopilot:
videos like “Tinder Date Cums In Me In A Tesla On Autopilot” and “Sexy Brunette Fucking While The Car is Driving,” where performers squirm and moan in a sticky front seat while whoever’s filming periodically glances at the road, watching other drivers drift by while presumably not also humping.Tim Stevens isn't impressed with Autopilot. In 2021 Tesla Model Y review: Nearly great, critically flawed he writes:
I can't conclusively say that it's because of the missing radar, but I can say that our Model Y is bad at detecting obstructions ahead. Really, really bad. The big issue is false positives, a problem that has become known as "phantom braking" among Tesla owners. Basically, the car often gets confused and thinks there's an obstacle ahead and engages the automatic emergency braking system. You get an instant, unwanted and often strong application of the brakes. This is not a problem unique to Teslas. I've experienced it on other cars, but very, very rarely. On our Model Y this happens constantly, at least once an hour and sometimes much more often than that. In a single hour of driving I caught five phantom braking incidents on camera, two hard enough to sound the automatic emergency braking chime.Tesla vehicle in ‘Full Self-Driving’ beta mode ‘severely damaged’ after crash in California by Andrew J. Hawkins quotes the owners report to the NTHSA:
The Vehicle was in FSD Beta mode and while taking a left turn the car went into the wrong lane and I was hit by another driver in the lane next to my lane. the car gave an alert 1/2 way through the turn so I tried to turn the wheel to avoid it from going into the wrong lane but the car by itself took control and forced itself into the incorrect lane creating an unsafe maneuver putting everyone involved at risk. car is severely damaged on the driver side.Taylor Ogan tweets a video showing another case of "full self-driving" taking the name too literally and refusing to yield control.
Jonathan M. Gitlin reports that Manslaughter charges follow Tesla driver’s Autopilot red light run:
Prosecutors in California have charged a Tesla driver with two counts of manslaughter as a result of a fatal crash in December 2019. According to the Associated Press, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration confirmed that the Autopilot driver-assistance feature was active at the time of the crash. That makes this case notable in that these are the first felony charges to result from a fatal crash involving a partially automated driving system.Even Tesla acknowledges that "Full Self-Driving" has problems. Keith Laing's Tesla Recalls Full Self-Driving Software After Fixing Bug reports that:
The fatal crash took place in Gardena, California, on December 29, 2019. According to reports, the Tesla Model S owned by Kevin Riad exited I-91, failed to stop at a red light, and then collided with a Honda Civic, killing both of that car's occupants, Gilberto Alcazar Lopez and Maria Guadalupe Nieves-Lopez.
Tesla Inc. recalled more than 11,700 cars after a software update was found to increase the risk its so-called Full Self-Driving system could cause rear-end collisions.Faiz Siddiqui reports that Tesla gives ‘Full Self-Driving’ to a new crop of users, then takes it away after apparent software bugs:
NHTSA said in a statement that Tesla uninstalled the faulty version of the Full Self-Driving software “after receiving reports of inadvertent activation of the automatic emergency braking system.” The company informed NHTSA that it has updated and reinstalled the software on the cars, part of a beta release of a feature it hopes will one day enable its vehicles to be self-driving.
In September, Tesla drew criticism after it beamed an over-the-air software update to its vehicles aimed at improving how its driver-assistance system Autopilot handles crash scenes without initiating a recall.
The company had rolled out a new version of its driver-assistance software to an expanded group of users over the weekend, but Musk said that it proved problematic and that the company was working on fixes.Unlike in September, Tesla actually did notify the NHTSA. Notice the explicit acknowledgement that "Full Self-Driving Beta" is a test program. In California, companies running autonomous driving test programs are required to report to the DMV, but Tesla doesn't. As Russ Mitchell reports in DMV ‘revisiting’ its approach to regulating Tesla’s public self-driving test, California State Senator Lena Gonzalez has understood the dangers to the public of Tesla's fan-bois using the laughably named "Full Self Driving" option on public streets:“Seeing some issues with [version] 10.3, so rolling back to 10.2 temporarily,” he wrote in a tweet. “Please note, this is to be expected with beta software. It is impossible to test all hardware configs in all conditions with internal [quality assurance], hence public beta.”
Concerned about public safety, Gonzalez asked the DMV in December for its take on Tesla’s Full Self-Driving beta program, under which Tesla owners supervise the operation of cars programmed to autonomously navigate highways, city streets and neighborhood roads, stopping at traffic lights and stop signs as well as making left and right turns into traffic. Those are the same features being tested by other robot car developers that report crashes and disengagements to the DMV, a group that includes Waymo, Cruise, Argo and Zoox. Although their cars occasionally crash, there are few YouTube videos that show them behaving dangerously.Tesla tells regulators that Autopilot and "Full Self-Driving" are Level 2 driver assistance systems that require the driver to be ready at all times to take over control. Since they are not testing an autonomous driving system, they don't need to file reports. But that's not what Tesla tells the fan-bois taking part in their beta test program, let alone the porn film producers.
For years, Tesla has tested autonomous vehicle technology on public roads without reporting crashes and system failures to the California Department of Motor Vehicles, as other robot car developers are required to do under DMV regulations. But confronted with dozens of viral videos showing Tesla’s Full Self-Driving beta technology driving the car into dangerous situations, and a letter of concern from a key state legislator, the DMV now says it’s reviewing Tesla’s behavior and reassessing its own policies. The agency informed Tesla on Jan. 5 that it is “revisiting” its opinion that the company’s test program doesn’t fall under the department’s autonomous vehicle regulations because it requires a human driver. “Recent software updates, videos showing dangerous use of that technology, open investigations by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the opinions of other experts in this space” prompted the reevaluation
Alissa Walker reports from CES in Two of Elon Musk’s Terrible Ideas Both Flopped in Las Vegas This Week:
part of the convention center’s parking lot has been blocked off for an autonomous-vehicle demonstration to show how well various automakers’ pedestrian-detection systems work. A small figure meant to represent a child crossing the street is placed in front of the vehicles, which navigate toward the figure, detect something in the road using their onboard LIDAR systems, and stop. Except the Tesla vehicles, that is, which are not equipped with LIDAR and repeatedly run the kid over. This is a demonstration set up by a LIDAR company, of course, but the sentiment that automated cars should have multiple, redundant detection systems is widely shared by industry safety experts.Why don't Teslas have "multiple, redundant detection systems" such as LIDAR? In Inside Tesla as Elon Musk Pushed an Unflinching Vision for Self-Driving Cars Cade Metz and Neal E. Boudette explain:
Unlike technologists at almost every other company working on self-driving vehicles, Mr. Musk insisted that autonomy could be achieved solely with cameras tracking their surroundings. But many Tesla engineers questioned whether it was safe enough to rely on cameras without the benefit of other sensing devices — and whether Mr. Musk was promising drivers too much about Autopilot’s capabilities.Musk's response to all these safety concerns is to attack the regulator on Twitter. Aria Alamalhodaei's Buttigieg defends safety agency appointment after Musk claims ‘bias’ reports:
Musk has taken umbrage with the appointment of Duke University engineering and computer science professor Missy Cummings as a safety adviser at the National Traffic Highway Safety Administration (NHTSA). “Objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla,” he said Tuesday.Musk using Twitter to rile up his fan-bois to attack critics is a long-standing pattern. The Anger of Tesla Fans Is Becoming a Problem by David Zipper describes it:
Tesla supporters, under the banner “Autopilot Users for Progress,” have started a Change.org petition urging President Joe Biden and NHTSA staff to review the appointment for concerns regarding conflict of interest and bias.
A couple of hours after the news broke, Omar Qazi, a Tesla booster with a large online following, tweeted, “If they try and take Autopilot away from us we will riot so hard January 6 will look like a day at Disneyland,” concluding with a laughing emoji. Qazi later deleted the tweet, issuing an apology and claiming it was a joke.Two "WTF were they thinking" things illustrate Musk's attitude to the legal and safety requirements of a Level 2 driver assistance system, which as Tesla's documentation says:
That may be true, but much of the online Tesla community seemed to be having a meltdown (including more than a few people who employed disturbing and misogynistic language). ... Elon Musk himself tweeted, “Objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla,” and then jokingly responded to a fake account created in Cummings’ name. On Thursday evening, after enduring two days of online harassment, Cummings seemingly deleted her Twitter account.
If there was ever any doubt, the online firestorm over Cummings’ appointment shows that a federal crackdown on Tesla will meet fierce opposition—much of it coming from the hundreds of thousands of Americans who own one of the company’s vehicles (all Teslas purchased after October 2016 come equipped with Autopilot). And that pushback is likely to be inevitable, despite ample evidence that Tesla’s deployment of Autopilot and Full Self-Driving is endangering road users.
If NHTSA ultimately forces Tesla to remove or constrain the use of Autopilot, thousands of Tesla owners will rebel against being deprived of something they thought they owned. Even though they never should have had access to that something in the first place.
Autopilot and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.First, A New Tesla Safety Concern: Drivers Can Play Video Games in Moving Cars by Neal Boudette reveals that the "fully attentive driver" can be playing video games on the car's screen:
The automaker added the games in an over-the-air software update that was sent to most of its cars this summer. They can be played by a driver or by a passenger in full view of the driver, raising fresh questions about whether Tesla is compromising safety as it rushes to add new technologies and features in its cars.Second, Emma Roth's Tesla’s ‘Full Self-Driving’ beta has an ‘assertive’ driving mode that ‘may perform rolling stops’ reveals that the cars are programmed to break the law:
The feature was included in the October 2021 version 10.3 update, which was pulled two days after it started rolling out due to an issue with left turns at traffic lights. Tesla issued version 10.3.1 one day later, which still includes FSD profiles, as shown on the release notes posted on Not a Tesla App. Based on these notes, FSD profiles are described as a way “to control behaviors like rolling stops, speed-based lane changes, following distance and yellow light headway.”
Musk is basically trolling the regulators for laughs, never mind the risks.
I guess "Road Rage Mode" didn't fit on the screen pic.twitter.com/6pJNFvrJXA— David Zipper (@DavidZipper) January 9, 2022
“`Space,' it says, `is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.'”Elon Musk agrees with the Guide:Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
“Space is just extremely enormous, and satellites are very tiny,” Musk said. “This is not some situation where we’re effectively blocking others in any way. We’ve not blocked anyone from doing anything, nor do we expect to.”Near-Earth space isn't that big. CNBC reports that Elon Musk, SpaceX face online backlash in China after space station near-misses:
Elon Musk and SpaceX faced an online backlash in China this week after a note sent to the United Nations revealed that some of the company's satellites nearly collided with China's space station on two separate occasions in 2021.In ESA head says Europe needs to stop facilitating Elon Musk’s ambitions in space, Peggy Hollinger and Clive Cookson report:
NASA was forced to abruptly call off a spacewalk at the end of November, citing risks posed by space debris. Musk tweeted in response that some Starlink satellite orbits had been adjusted to reduce the possibility of collisions.
Aschbacher said Musk’s Starlink was already so big that it was difficult for regulators or rivals to catch up. “You have one person owning half of the active satellites in the world. That’s quite amazing. De facto, he is making the rules. The rest of the world including Europe... is just not responding quick enough.”Richard Waters' Elon Musk rejects claims his satellites are squeezing out rivals in space describes the response:
The rush to tap the potential of commercial space—made possible by falling launch costs and cheaper, smaller satellites—has fueled concern over the absence of a global space-traffic management system for low Earth orbit, a region of up to 2,000 km above the Earth where most new commercial services are targeted.
Elon Musk has hit back at criticism that his company’s Starlink satellites are hogging too much room in space, and has instead argued there could be room for “tens of billions” of spacecraft in orbits close to Earth.There are a number of problems with flooding near-Earth space with "tens of billions" of satellites. John Timmer discusses the first in Astronomers find growing number of Starlink satellite tracks:
His comments, made in an interview with the Financial Times, came in response to a claim from Josef Aschbacher, head of the European Space Agency, that Musk was “making the rules” for the new commercial space economy. Speaking to the FT earlier this month, Aschbacher warned that Musk’s rush to launch thousands of communications satellites would leave fewer radio frequencies and orbital slots available for everyone else.
How bad is the problem? A team of astronomers has used archival images from a survey telescope to look for Starlink tracks over the past two years. Over that time, the number of images affected rose by a factor of 35, and the researchers estimate that by the time the planned Starlink constellation is complete, pretty much every image from their hardware will have at least one track in it.The more serious one is the Kessler Syndrome:
a scenario in which the density of objects in low Earth orbit (LEO) due to space pollution is high enough that collisions between objects could cause a cascade in which each collision generates space debris that increases the likelihood of further collisions.In 2009 Kessler wrote that modeling results had concluded that the debris environment was already unstable, "such that any attempt to achieve a growth-free small debris environment by eliminating sources of past debris will likely fail because fragments from future collisions will be generated faster than atmospheric drag will remove them". One implication is that the distribution of debris in orbit could render space activities and the use of satellites in specific orbital ranges difficult for many generations.Anton Petrov discusses the current situation in this video. In essence, humanity's future access to space depends upon SpaceX flawlessly managing a fleet of satellites vastly bigger than anyone else ever has, indefinitely into the future.
Musk isn't just playing fast and loose with Starlink's regulators. Mark Harris' The mystery of Elon Musk’s missing gas provides another example:
The draft programmatic environmental assessment (PEA) for SpaceX’s Starship and Super Heavy launch vehicles, which Elon Musk hopes will soon be shooting into orbit and then on to Mars, was issued last month by the FAA for public comment. The 142-page document covers construction and daily operations at SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas, which Musk is hoping to incorporate as a city called Starbase. These include pre-flight operations, rocket tests, launches and landings, as well as fuel, water and electricity supplies.Starship and Super Heavy are parts of Musk's plan to colonize Mars to escape from the climate and other dooms facing Earth. George Steer's Do the sums behind Musk’s space colony mission add up? looks at the math. First, Musk's math:
A new pre-treatment system will purify and cool natural gas into liquid methane fuel for the Starship and Super Heavy rockets. Much more gas will be needed for a new 250-megawatt gas-fired power station. A power plant this big typically serves over 100,000 homes and can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. But while rocket launches get a lot of coverage in the PEA, the new power plant receives only a cursory mention. In particular, it is unclear how the tens of millions of cubic feet of gas required daily will get to SpaceX’s remote facility near the Mexican border.
Failing to mention this in the PEA is unusual, and possibly contravenes the federal National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), says Pat Parenteau, professor of law and senior counsel in the Environmental Advocacy Clinic at Vermont Law School.
Elon Musk told US podcaster Lex Fridman in December that establishing a “self-sustaining civilisation” on Mars will remain science fiction until the cost of flying goods there falls by a factor of 1,000 from its current level of $1bn to around $1m per ton, or “ideally much less”. A cool million is still pretty expensive, even when the recent surge in the cost of boring old earthbound trade is taken into account. Musk thinks 1m tons of materials would be needed to build the necessary infrastructure on what he admits is “a doer-upper” of a planet. So that adds up to $1tn; a pretty hefty price tag.
Starship, designed by Musk’s SpaceX to one day carry 100 tons of cargo, consists of a spacecraft fixed atop a reusable rocket. Once in orbit, the spacecraft needs ten rocket trips to refuel. In order for Musk’s sums to work, to carry 1m tons of material to Mars, the rocket would need to launch 100,000 times at an average cost of no more than $10m each trip.This is a "fake it until you make it" strategy. Handmer's chart:
And while a $1tn sounds a lot, it’s not too much more than the annual budget for the US military. “Musk has enough money to send a couple of ships and a few people, enough to make a start,” says Handmer.
plots the fraction of goods by mass that are locally manufactured against the number of people necessary. His best guess is that it would take 100,000 Martian colonisers, to even get to a level where they could manufacture relatively uncomplicated industrial goods.But the colony would need over a million population to stand a good chance of surviving a supply chain interruption. A world struggling to survive climate change isn't a good basis for the kind of enormously costly sustained supply chain that Musk's vision requires.
Boring CompanyAlissa Walker's Two of Elon Musk’s Terrible Ideas Both Flopped in Las Vegas This Week reports:
In 2019, the Las Vegas Convention Center became the first paying customer of Musk’s tunnel-digging operation, the Boring Company. The city’s tourism agency paid him $50 million to build a pair of one-mile tunnels beneath the recently expanded convention halls, promising to turn a 20-minute walk into a one-minute ride. This week, a one-minute video showed the vehicle stuck in traffic for at least that long, as the driver — a human; more on that in a minute — merges into an underground parking garage, where dozens of people are getting into seemingly ordinary cars, all of them also about to get stuck in seemingly ordinary traffic, except they’re trapped inside what looks like the world’s longest MRI machine.Walker continues:
Remember that in this particular transportation system of the future, Musk was contractually obligated to deliver a specific daily ridership to the convention center: 4,000 people per hour for 13 hours per day during major trade shows. (The contract also has penalties for failure to meet these numbers: $300,000 per trade show for a maximum of $4.5 million.) ... But it’s plain to any observer that there are not 4,000 people moving through this tunnel per hour, and recent data showed it’s more like 1,300 people per hour — about the capacity of standard (and, often, autonomous) people-movers all over Vegas — meaning the Boring Company has massively shortchanged its client.
CodaIn Dick Moves, Linsey McGoey writes:
Musk whined that Sanders is a ‘taker, not a maker’, delighting the hard-right libertarians who love it when billionaires attack governments. Which is something that Musk does a lot, but he needs the US government too, not least to further his own wealth. For one thing, SpaceX and Tesla have both benefited from government subsidies. But there’s more to it than that. ‘We will coup whoever we want!’ Musk tweeted and deleted in 2020. ‘Deal with it.’
He was responding to criticism of US involvement in the 2019 overthrow of Evo Morales’s government in Bolivia, a country with major reserves of lithium, which is used in the batteries of smartphones and electric cars. After a right-wing, US-backed government assumed office (later jettisoned at the ballot box), Tesla’s stock soared.