Flying Sky Car: The Skylon Explainer Inspired by xkcd

Just about everyone can claim to being inspired by the xkcd webcomic — or at least enjoying a shared nerd moment. A favorite comic of many space fans is the Up Goer Five poster, which explains the Saturn V rocket in the “10 hundred” (i.e. 1,000) English words that are used most frequently.

Now, one fan of xkcd, celerycoloured on reddit has created a poster of the single-stage-to-orbit Skylon spaceplane being built by the British company Reaction Engines Limited (REL). With some great hand-drawn graphics, this homage poster uses — again — the most commonly used words in the English language to explain Skylon:

“The first space car that may go to space without parts falling off” describes the single stage to orbit idea, and “this space car can burn the air outside so it doesn’t have to take so much breathing type air or drop parts” explains the air-breathing SABRE engines.

“I’d just like people to know more about REL,” celerycoloured told Universe Today. “Their efforts towards reusable SSTO spacecraft is one of the coolest things I’ve seen!”

Read about Skylon in more complex terms here.

In other space plane news today, ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle IXV successfully launched on a Vega rocket from the Kourou space center for a one hour forty minute test flight. This is a lifting body vehicle similar to the X37B, however the IXV splashed down in the ocean for this first flight.

Artist impression of ESA's Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV). Credit: ESA - J. Huart.
Artist impression of ESA’s Intermediate eXperimental Vehicle (IXV). Credit: ESA – J. Huart.

SpaceX’s Rocket Explained So Simply A Kid Could Understand

Rocket science is difficult stuff, but we don’t always necessarily have to explain it that way. It’s important at times to break science down as simply as we can, for purposes ranging from simple understanding to making it accessible to children.

A couple of days ago, SpaceX posted a brilliant parody of a famous xkcd cartoon to describe the organization’s Falcon 9 rocket. Called “Bird 9”, it describes the components of the rocket using only the words that are used most often in speech.

The result is brilliant, with the top of the rocket called “stuff going into space” and the rocket stage aiming for a drone landing soon nicknamed “part that folds out when the first part is just above the big boat”. We won’t spoil any more for you; click on the infographic below so you can see it in its full glory. We’ve also included the original xkcd cartoon for reference.

Full SpaceX infographic of Falcon 9 called "Bird 9", a parody of the xkcd cartoon "Up Goer Five." Click for full image. Credit: SpaceX/Twitter/Imgur
Full SpaceX infographic of Falcon 9 called “Bird 9”, a parody of the xkcd cartoon “Up Goer Five.” Click for full image. Credit: SpaceX/Twitter/Imgur
xkcd’s “Up Goer Five.” Credit: xkcd

How Many Horses Can A Rocket Carry? Cool Comic Comparison

The challenge with thinking about space is putting it into terms that we can understand. How far is a light-year? Just how powerful is NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System, which the agency hopes will bring astronauts out into the solar system?

Luckily for us, the comic xkcd is a regular contributor to making space understandable, and the latest comic from Randall Munroe is a gem — explaining launch vehicle capacity and spacecraft mass in terms of horses.

So now comparisons are fairly easy. At the left of the diagram, for example, you can see the Saturn V — that rocket that was the first stage of bringing astronauts to the moon in the 1960s — carried the equivalent of 262 horses. The SLS Block 2, if it is ever developed, will have a slightly larger capacity of 289 horses.

Blastoff of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew vehicle from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida.   Credit: NASA/MSFC
Blastoff of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion crew vehicle from the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: NASA/MSFC

Meanwhile, the spacecraft mass of the International Space Station is an astounding 932 horses, the total shuttle mass was 206 horses, and Apollo was 67 horses. There also are a few robotic spacecraft in there, such as Voyager, Vanguard 1, the Keyhole 3 spy satellite, and the upcoming James Webb Space Telescope.

Check out the entire diagram in large here, and the original comic here. (For those unfamiliar with xkcd, make sure to mouse over the comic for an extra joke.)

This is Awesome: U.S. Space Team’s “Up Goer Five”

xkcd presents a Saturn V schematic using the 1,000 most used English words (

Randall Munroe at xkcd did it again, this time with an illustration of a Saturn V described using only the 1,000 — er, ten hundred — words people use most often. The result is amusing, insightful and, as always, undeniably awesome.

Check out the Saturn-sized full frame comic below.

(And remember, if the end where the fire comes out of  “starts pointing toward space you are having a bad problem and will not go to space today.”)