Spaceflight enthusiast Tim Dodd got a look at SpaceX designs, and his questions have sparked the possibility of brand new rocket tech
Tim Dodd, who goes by the handle ‘Everyday Astronaut’ on YouTube, is a relatively simple man. He lacks the required education or a work background in the burgeoning world of spaceflight, but he’s armed with a whole lot of passion.
Over a period of five years, Tim has managed to capture an audience of over 155 million viewers with his videos. While his initial forays were pretty straightforward — enthusing about space exploration while streaming Kerbal Space Program — he’s now become an accidental advisor to the head honcho of modern aerospace projects — Elon Musk.
Long before SpaceX achieved mainstream appeal, Tim Dodd was busy working as a motorcycle mechanic, and then a wedding photographer. His move to photography allowed him the time and freedom to pursue one of his deepest passions — astrophotography.
By mid 2017, Tim realized that his following on YouTube was on the rise and he worked towards becoming something of expert among online space enthusiasts. While he would go on to interview and discuss grand new developments with several key space engineers and scientists on podcast-style segments, his first foot-in-the-door for SpaceX came in 2018, when website Spaceflight Now hired Tim to photograph the launch of the Falcon 9 rocket.
This skyrocketed (pun intended) Tim’s reputation, and he soon was photographing key launches from NASA as well as the US Air Force. He expanded his channel to create merch for fans, and it turns out that one very popular billionaire had his eye on Tim’s content and even purchased some of his merchandise.
“It’s been a lot of fun to see Elon Musk wearing our shirts often, and his girlfriend Grimes saying on Twitter that their baby seems to only wear our merchandise too, which is awesome,” he divulged in a 2021 interview with TubeFilter. At the time, with a truly insightful 2-hour Soviet rocket documentary in the pipeline, Tim was already aiming pretty damn high.
It wasn’t too surprising, therefore, that in the summer of 2021, Tim found himself touring the Boca Chica Starbase facility in Texas, with Elon as his guide.
While the 5.5-million-times viewed video’s highlight is the presence of Elon Musk, it’s also one of the most insightful videos in which we hear the entrepreneur speak. Given the much broader and deeper understanding of space engineering shared by Tim and his audience, Elon seems to have abandoned the more ‘consumer-friendly’ language he uses in most public events and interviews.
Instead, he treated viewers to a serious behind-the-scenes explainer, diving into battery tech, industrial design elements, and even deep economic challenges associated with the quest of bringing humankind to Mars.
This month, Tim was invited yet again to the facility for a new, updated look at things, and there’s a chunky 45-minute video released last Saturday for all you SpaceX fans out there.
This time, Elon and Tim take a closer look at SpaceX’s ongoing designs for thrusters, which is possibly the most important element of basic rocket design. It’s here where Elon revealed that a seemingly innocuous question from Tim’s last visit led to an actual spark of genius, further improving the team’s efforts.
To simplify a great deal of rocket science, the basic idea here surrounds the existing design for maneuvering thrusters. According to SpaceX:
“The Falcon 9 is equipped with a total of 8 nitrogen cold gas thrusters that are mounted towards the top of the first stage. There is one pod on each side of the rocket, each containing 4 thrusters. Like the gimbaled main engines, the cold gas thrusters are used to control the orientation of the rocket.”
You can actually see these in action in the following video, back when SpaceX conducted tests on the Falcon 9 platform in 2017:
Tim’s question to Elon essentially was about the need for cold gas thrusters. Instead of using burdensome nitrogen-laden propellant tanks, why wasn’t SpaceX instead simply redirecting rocket fumes from the main engine?
During this month’s visit, Elon recalls the question throwing him off course. “It occurred to me while I was explaining it to you,” the billionaire said in the YouTube video, adding, “I was like ‘Wait, what are we doing?'”
Elon Musk has now confirmed that Tim’s curiosity has indeed led to ‘one of the biggest improvements’ in their latest rocket designs.
For Tim, who we’re sure will cross paths with Elon Musk again, this is a dream come true. The 37-year-old space enthusiast’s life has come a full circle now, having made an actual engineering contribution to the world of modern spaceflight.
(Featured Image Credits: SpaceX, Everyday Astronaut)