Elon Musk conceded that the space business world is an extraordinarily difficult place to make money. But that isn’t his main priority anyway.
“The reason I’m doing SpaceX,” Musk said during the Falcon 9/Dragon post-flight press conference, “is that I just happen to have a very strong passion for space and I want us to become true spacefaring civilization and even a multi-planetary civilization. That is my goal for SpaceX.”
“Other companies have profit goals and such, but for SpaceX it is really about furthering the cause of space,” Musk continued. “We must bring in more money that we spend, but maximizing profitability is not really what it is about.”
Musk said he has been upfront with investors in SpaceX that a high profit margin is not his priority, “and so they can’t be mad when that doesn’t happen.”
He added that he wants to make science fiction –“what you read about the future,” — to become reality.
The discussion of profit started when Musk revealed that the Falcon 9 second stage was restarted and flew to 11,000 km (6,800 miles) to release some secondary satellite payloads, including a U.S. Army nanosatellite. SpaceX was paid minimally for only some of those payloads, Musk said.
Wednesday’s test flight was the first of three financed by NASA under a $278 million Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement, the main cog of a program designed to encourage commercial space companies to develop rockets and spacecraft to deliver cargo – and later perhaps crew — to the International Space Station after the space shuttle is retired next year.
After the Dragon’s initial success, Musk said he hopes NASA will consider allowing Dragon to go directly to the International Space Station on the next flight, estimated to take place in mid-2011. Since Dragon is capable of carrying 5987 kg (13,200 pounds) of cargo in pressurized and unpressurized cargo bays, it can bring more than twice as much cargo as Russian Progress resupply ships.
Musk also thinks Dragon can compete with Lockheed’s Orion capsule, the only part of the Constellation Program that NASA has maintained.
“What I’m hopeful for is that NASA may consider the Dragon as good as Orion,” Musk said. “It is good to have multiple companies doing something, so Lockheed has Orion and we have Dragon and we would certainly like to have Dragon considered for anything that Orion could do. Perhaps we could do more because our heat shield is significantly more advanced.”
While Musk said SpaceX could not have gotten where it is today without NASA’s support and path-making, Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program Office, said with the success of this flight, the benefits might be going both ways.
“As much as SpaceX is learning from NASA, there are certainly things we can learn from SpaceX,” he said.