2021-12-27 7 min read


Notes, 2021-12-27.

I find solace, once in a while, in the insignificance of my own individuality. I am a unique snowflake, sure, but I’m also a vessel - for technical knowledge; for a set of cultural values; for good intentions, acted upon with varying degrees of wisdom and accuracy.

This perspective is particularly calming when I consider my station within the arc of western society. I live in a row home that is about a hundred and twenty years old; it was built speculatively, along with all the other buildings on our block, as upper-middle class New Yorkers moved out to the suburbs of Brooklyn when it was annexed in 1898. It’s likely that the house is more fashionable today than when it was built. I’m also aware that every one of my home improvement projects makes it accumulate technical debt, and I like to imagine that as it has leaned into history, the building has become increasingly stubborn towards the humans who’ve inhabited (and hacked on) it. As Stewart Brand writes in How Buildings Learn:

When we deal with buildings we deal with decisions taken long ago for remote reasons. We argue with anonymous predecessors and lose. The best we can hope for is compromise with the fait accompli of the building.

It was not my intention to become a steward for the values of wealthy turn-of-the-twentieth-century New Yorkers, but neither do I want to argue with them. One might think that my home should be a vessel for my cultural identity and technological prowess. But the building really is stubborn, and when we disagree I find it’s usually easier to concede the argument and become the vessel myself.

-Spencer Wright

The most clicked link from last week's issue (~11% of opens) was a Tweet encouraging you to think of household clutter as a lovingly rendered Miyazaki background. In the Members' Slack, we're hosting our second annual book exchange and there are some great titles popping up. While it’s fun to receive a book as a gift, the whole channel has become an excellent book recommendations list.

Planning & Strategy.

Making & Manufacturing.

Maintenance, Repair & Operations.

Distribution & Logistics.

The eventual launch vehicle will have a small first and second stage that will be able to propel a 200 kg payload to orbit after having cleared the majority of the atmosphere—it will coast to an altitude and velocity similar to the first stage separation of a Falcon 9. However, the forces on the orbital launch system and payload will be huge, with a sustained 10,000 g during spin up and the shock of the vehicle hitting the atmosphere at > Mach 6 (~2.2 km/s). The accelerator’s bearings also have to absorb the sudden release of an 11-ton vehicle (multiplied by 10,000 gs), meaning the system will likely have to simultaneously release a counterweight with ~1 ms precision—how they’ll manage an 11-ton counterweight moving at 2.2 km/s… will be interesting. SpinLaunch’s progress is impressive—their ¼ scale system is already the largest diameter vacuum chamber ever built—but, they still have a long road ahead of them. Lucky for them, their fundraising has also been impressive, with $110 M raised to date. While it may eventually work on Earth, systems like this could have significantly better applications on the Moon or Mars where the atmosphere is thin or non-existent and the gravity wells are much smaller.

Anyway, my updated take on SpinLaunch: It’s still crazy! But not as boneheaded as burning a bunch of fossil fuels every time we want to put a piece of hardware into orbit.

Inspection, Testing & Analysis.


The root structure of Picea abies, and 1179 other plants and trees.

Read the full story

The rest of this post is for SOW Subscribers (free or paid) only. Sign up now to read the full story and get access to all subscriber-only posts.

Sign up now
Already have an account? Sign in
Great! You’ve successfully signed up.
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in.
You've successfully subscribed to Scope of Work.
Your link has expired.
Success! Check your email for magic link to sign-in.
Success! Your billing info has been updated.
Your billing was not updated.