Step by Step, Ferociously


  1. Discovery by a seismic Martian mole
  2. Gradatim Ferociter - the quest to dethrone SpaceX

Current events

If you recall, NASA's Insight lander arrived at Mars last November with the objective of studying the Martian interior. Its two main instruments are a surface seismometer and a heat probe that's supposed to drill 16 feet below the surface. Well, just this week scientists announced the detection of a Marsquake for the first time!

Illustration of Insight. The burrowing heat probe (known as HP$^3$) can be seen on the left
while the seismometer (known as SEIS) is the little dome on the right

Scientists never expected Mars to be as seismically active as Earth because it lacks tectonic plates, but they hypothesized the gradual cooling of the planet's core might still cause detectable stresses in the crust. Designing the seismometer was tricky - it has to distinguish actual Marsquakes from other vibrations like Martian wind, hence the need for a protective dome. See below for the video released by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Clearly I'm not the only fan of Insight - check out this hilarious comic released by one of my favorite artists, the Oatmeal, when Insight was about to land on Mars! 

Today I learned

Seems like my space obsession has become quite well known among my investment banking colleagues! Last week an analyst in my division sent me this WSJ article, and honestly it's the best piece I've read on Blue Origin. In case you're not familiar, Blue Origin is Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' rocket company, a less flashy yet similarly pioneering parallel to Elon Musk's SpaceX.

So why don't we hear about them more often? Blue Origin's motto is Gradatim Ferociter, Latin for "step by step, ferociously." They've been much more deliberate in the testing of their New Shepard suborbital rocket (which is minuscule compared to SpaceX's rockets), but now that it's nearing operational status, Blue Origin has drastically beefed up its operations as it turns to its next rocket, the monstrous New Glenn capable of rivaling the Falcon Heavy, to be launched in 2021

With New Glenn, Blue Origin is clearly flexing its muscles as it starts to compete with SpaceX for everything from satellite constellations to military payloads. I liked the WSJ article so much because it's my hope that a second space race, this time between private companies, will be the impetus we need to reach for the stars again. And as a finance guy, I enjoy learning about the business operations behind space companies just as much as I enjoy attempting to learn actual astrophysics or rocket science

My next project for Astronomical Returns is to compile business profiles on major space companies. Definitely still a work in progress, but my pages on SpaceX and Blue Origin are ready! Check them out below

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