Elon Musk Briefs Universe Today & Media ahead of Revolutionary Falcon 9 Blastoff

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
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CAPE CANAVERAL, FL – A new space era potentially dawns today, Nov. 25, with the planned maiden launch of the next generation SpaceX Falcon 9 commercial rocket from Cape Canaveral, FL, that could completely revolutionize how we access the high frontier and “rock the space industry to its core” by cutting cost and production times – if all goes well.

Just a day before liftoff, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk personally briefed reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL, nearby the firms Cape Canaveral launch facility about today’s (Nov. 25) upcoming maiden launch of the companies upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, saying it was “very important” for the future.

“This launch is very important to the future of SpaceX. This is our toughest mission yet!” said Musk to a small group of reporters, including the author, gathered for Sunday’s exclusive pre-launch briefing.

“Whether or not this launch is successful, I’m confident we will certainly make it on some subsequent launch,” said Musk at the Cocoa Beach meeting with the media.

The Falcon 9 liftoff from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL is scheduled for 5:37pm EST and will be webcast live by SpaceX for viewing at; www.spacex.com/webcast

Today’s (Nov. 25) inaugural blastoff of the privately developed Falcon 9 rocket with the commercial SES-8 HDTV and telecommunications satellite is especially noteworthy because it also features SpaceX’s first ever launch of any satellite to a Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO).

From the start, SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 rocket from a clean sheet aimed at radically reducing production and manufacturing costs and assembly times and thereby offer significantly lower launch price, says Musk.

“I don’t want to tempt fate, but I think it’s going to have a pretty significant impact on the world launch market and on the launch industry because our prices are the most competitive of any in the world,” Musk stated.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk (right) and Martin Halliwell (left), SES chief technical officer briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk (right) and Martin Halliwell (left), SES chief technical officer briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

SES-8 also represents SpaceX’s first launch of a Falcon 9 carrying a commercial satellite to space from the Florida Space Coast.

“This is really rocking the industry. Everybody has to look out,” said Martin Halliwell, SES chief technical officer, who joined Musk at Sunday’s meeting.

The 3,138 kg (6,918 lbs) SES-8 satellite is a hybrid Ku- and Ka-band spacecraft that will provide TV and communications coverage for the South Asia and Asia Pacific regions.

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk (right) and Martin Halliwell (left), SES chief technical officer briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Urijan Poerink
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk (right) and Martin Halliwell (left), SES chief technical officer briefs reporters including Universe Today on Sunday (Nov. 24) in Cocoa Beach, FL prior to planned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blastoff with SES-8 communications satellite set for Nov. 25, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Urijan Poerink

The SES-8 spacecrft was built by Orbital Sciences Corp and will be lofted to a 295 x 80,000 km geosynchronous transfer orbit inclined 20.75 degrees.

SpaceX has signed nearly 50 commercial and government launch contracts and thus already sports a very crowded launch manifest ahead of today’s Falcon 9 launch.

All five launches of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station were either test launches or flights to the International Space Station, under contract to NASA.

The five Falcon 9 launches to date from the Florida Space Coast also featured the original, less powerful and shorter version of the booster and has a 100% success rate.

This mighty new version of the Falcon 9 dubbed v1.1 is powered by a cluster of nine of SpaceX’s new Merlin 1D engines that are about 50% more powerful compared to the standard Merlin 1C engines. The nine Merlin 1D engines 1.3 million pounds of thrust at sea level that rises to 1.5 million pounds as the rocket climbs to orbit.

Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with SES-8 communications satellite awaits launch from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Next Generation SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with SES-8 communications satellite awaits launch from Pad 40 at Cape Canaveral, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Therefore the upgraded Falcon 9 can boost a much heavier cargo load to the ISS, low Earth orbit, geostationary orbit and beyond.

The next generation Falcon 9 is a monster. It measures 224 feet tall and is 12 feet in diameter. That compares to 13 stories for the original Falcon 9.

The payload fairing for SES-8 is 17 feet in diameter.

The Falcon 9/SES-8 launch window extends for 66 minutes until 6:43 p.m. EST.
Weather outlook is 80% favorable at this time.

SpaceX is planning a live webcast of the launch with commentary from SpaceX corporate headquarters in Hawthorne, CA.

The broadcast will begin at approximately 5:00 p.m. EDT and include detailed discussions about the Falcon 9 rocket, launch and flight sequences as well as about the SES-8 satellite.

Stay tuned here for continuing SpaceX & MAVEN news and Ken’s SpaceX launch reports from on site at Cape Canaveral & the Kennedy Space Center press site.

Ken Kremer

…………….

Learn more about SpaceX, LADEE, MAVEN, MOM, Mars rovers, Orion and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Nov 22-25: “SpaceX launch, MAVEN Mars Launch and Curiosity Explores Mars, Orion and NASA’s Future”, Kennedy Space Center Quality Inn, Titusville, FL, 8 PM

Dec 11: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars”, “LADEE & Antares ISS Launches from Virginia”, Rittenhouse Astronomical Society, Franklin Institute, Phila, PA, 8 PM

Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com
Falcon 9 SpaceX CRS-2 launch on March 1, 2013 to the ISS from Cape Canaveral, Florida.- shot from the roof of the Vehicle Assembly Building. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

SpaceX Signs Pact To Start Rocket Testing At NASA Stennis

SpaceX — the maker and operator of the Dragon spacecraft that runs periodic cargo flights to the International Space Station — has signed a contract to research, develop and test Raptor methane rocket engines at the NASA Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi.

The California-based company plans to use the E-2 test stand at Stennis, which is able to support both vertical and horizontal rocket engine tests. (Here are some more technical details from NASA on its capabilities.)

“We have been talking with SpaceX for many years about working at Stennis Space Center, and I am pleased to officially welcome them to our Mississippi family. I hope this is just the beginning of their endeavors in our state,” stated U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss) in response to the news. A press release from his office said the presence of the private space company would boost jobs in the region.

The E-2 test stand at NASA Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. The stand is used for vertical and horizontal rocket engine tests, among other things. Credit: NASA
The E-2 test stand at NASA Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi. The stand is used for vertical and horizontal rocket engine tests, among other things. Credit: NASA

There’s little information on SpaceX’s website about what the Raptor engine is or specific development plans, but Space News reports that it would be used for deep-space missions. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has mentioned the engine previously when talking about Mars missions, according to multiple media reports.

“We are looking to test the whole engine at Stennis, but the first phase starts with the components,” SpaceX spokesperson Emily Shanklin said in the Space News report. “The E-2 stand at Stennis is big enough for components, but we would need a bigger stand for the whole Raptor.”

The two sides are reportedly hashing out a Space Act agreement to establish user fees and other parameters. Once that’s finished, the testing will begin, perhaps as early as next year. SpaceX currently does most of its rocket testing in Texas.

Other parties in the agreement — which was signed by Governor Phil Bryant — include the Mississippi Development Authority, the Harbor Commission and Hancock County Port.

Yes, Elon Musk Really Does Say All This, Um … Awesome Stuff

One of the ‘hot’ memes these days are collections of sayings by various groups or persons, classified under the “S*** [insert name] Says” genre of videos, articles and websites. A new site making the rounds among the space community is “S*** Elon Says” which includes an assemblage of over 40 actual quotes from SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk. Besides listing some of the most awesome, peculiar and downright futuristic quotes from Musk, this site is also one of the most thoroughly researched in this type of meme, as each quote links to transcripts of press conferences, news shows and conference panels where Musk actually said these things.

Enjoy a little Friday diversion to read some of the um, awesome stuff Elon says.

Hat tip: Ryan Kobrick

SpaceX Grasshopper Performs Divert Maneuver

SpaceX proved yesterday that their Grasshopper prototype Vertical Takeoff Vertical Landing (VTVL) vehicle can do more than just go straight up and down. The goal of the test, said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk on Twitter was, “hard lateral deviation, stabilize & hover, rapid descent back to pad.”

On August 13th, the Grasshopper did just that, completing a divert test, flying to a 250-meter altitude with a 100-meter lateral maneuver before returning to the center of the pad. SpaceX said the test demonstrated the vehicle’s ability to perform more aggressive steering maneuvers than have been attempted in previous flights.

While most rockets are designed to burn up in the atmosphere during reentry, SpaceX is looking to make their next generation of Falcon 9 rocket be able to return to the launch pad for a vertical landing.

This isn’t easy. The 10-story Grasshopper provides a challenge in controlling the structure. The Falcon 9 with a Dragon spacecraft is 48.1 meters (157 feet) tall, which equates to about 14 stories high. SpaceX said diverts like this are an important part of the trajectory in order to land the rocket precisely back at the launch site after reentering from space at hypersonic velocity.

Also on Twitter this morning, NASA’s Jon Cowert (who is now working with the Commercial Crew program) provided a look back at NASA’s foray into VTVL vehicles with the Delta Clipper Experimental vehicle,(DC-X). The video below is from July 7, 1995, and the Delta Clipper was billed as the world’s first fully reusable rocket vehicle. This eighth test flight proved that the vehicle could turn over into a re-entry profile and re-orient itself for landing. This flight took place at the White Sands Missile Range in southern New Mexico.

But after some problems (fires and the spacecraft actually fell over when a landing strut didn’t extend) NASA decided to try and focus on the X-33 VentureStar, which would land like an airplane…. and that didn’t work out very well either.

But that’s another story.

What Is Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, And Why Is It Important?

This week, SpaceX founder and billionaire Elon Musk (who also founded electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla Motors) released his vision for a futuristic transportation system. Called hyperloop, it’s supposed to be better than flying supersonic over short distances. To give you a quick overview, we’ve summarized a portion of his paper below.

What is a hyperloop? In Musk’s words, a hyperloop is a system to “build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment.” Cars would basically be propelled in this tube. One example could be a huge sort of pneumatic tube where high-speed fans would compress and push the air — although the friction implications make Musk skeptical that it would work. Another option is having a vacuum in the tube and using electromagnetic suspension instead. Musk acknowledges it is hard to maintain a vacuum (one small leak in hundreds of miles of tubing, and the system shuts down), but there are pumping solutions to overcome this. He favors the second solution.

What is the motivation? Musk is seeking an alternative to flying or driving that would be “actually better than flying or driving.” He expressed disappointment that a proposed high-speed rail project in California is actually one of the slowest and most expensive of its type in the world, and speculated that there must be a better way.

What is the biggest technical challenge? Overcoming something called the Kantrowitz limit. Musk describes this as the “top speed law for a given tube to pod area ratio”. More simply, if you have a vehicle moving into an air-filled tube, there needs to be a minimum distance between the walls of the vehicle and the walls of the tube. Otherwise, Musk writes, “the capsule will behave like a syringe and eventually be forced to push the entire column of air in the system. Not good.”

Artist concept of a futuristic 'flying wing' airplane. Credit: DLR
In Musk’s view, his hyperloop system would be better than futuristic (perhaps supersonic) aircraft over short distances. Artist concept of one potential airplane future design incorporating a ‘flying wing’. Credit: DLR

How will Musk overcome that challenge? The principal ways of getting around it is to move slowly or quickly. A hyperfast speed would be a “dodgy prospect”, Musk writes, so his solution is to put an electric compressor fan on the capsule nose that would move high-pressure air from the front to the back of the vehicle. As a bonus, this would reduce friction. Yes, there are batteries available that would have enough power to keep the fan running for the journey’s length, he says.

How is hyperloop powered? Solar panels would be placed on top of the tube, providing enough juice to keep the vehicles moving, according to Musk’s calculations.

What about earthquakes? Musk acknowledges that a long-range system is susceptible to earthquakes. “By building a system on pylons, where the tube is not rigidly fixed at any point, you can dramatically mitigate earthquake risk and avoid the need for expansion joints,” he writes.

Dragon in orbit during the CRS-2 mission. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield
One of Elon Musk’s greatest achievements is overseeing the build of a spacecraft, called Dragon, which now makes periodic runs to the International Space Station. Credit: NASA/CSA/Chris Hadfield

Where would hyperloop be used? In a description of the system, Musk says the hyperloop would be best served in “high-traffic city pairs that are less than about 1,500 km or 900 miles apart.” Anything more distant, and supersonic travel would be the best solution. (Short distance supersonic travel isn’t efficient because the plane would spend most of its time ascending and descending.)

Is it cost-effective? Musk estimates the tube would be “several billion dollars”, which he describes as low compared to the “tens of billion [sic] proposed for the track of the California rail project.” The individual capsules would be several hundred million dollars. Moreover, building a tube instead of a railway offers advantages, Musk says: it can be built on pylons (meaning you don’t need to buy the land), it’s less noisy, and there’s no need for fencing.

I want more information. Musk wrote a technical proposal that spans several dozens of pages, which you can check out here. He calls his system an open-source one and seems to be open to ideas to improve it.

Feel free to leave your feedback in the comments. Does this look feasible? Is there anything that could be added to make it a better system?

Hangout with Elon Musk

SpaceX’s Elon Musk with the Falcon rocket. Credit: SpaceX

You can now tell everyone that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is a close personal friend and that you are going to hang out with him on Friday. A Google+ Hangout, that is. Musk and NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden will be part of a G+ Hangout, and will answer questions submitted by viewers. They will also discuss the upcoming launch of SpaceX’s first contracted cargo resupply flight to the International Space Station. The Hangout will take place on Friday, October 5, 2012 from 17:00-17:30 UTC (1-1:30 p.m. EDT). SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket and its Dragon cargo spacecraft are scheduled to lift off at 00:35 UTC on Monday, October 8 (8:35 p.m. EDT, Sunday, Oct. 7) from at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Bolden and Musk will talk about the flight, which will be the first of 12 contracted for NASA by SpaceX to resupply the space station. Followers on Twitter may ask a question in advance of or during the event using the hashtag #askNASA. On NASA Facebook and Google+, a comment thread will open for questions on the morning of the event. To join the hangout, visit the NASA’s Google+ page.

Dragon’s Ocean Splashdown Caps Historic Opening of New Space Era

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Concluding a perfectly executed and history making test flight, the first private spacecraft ever to visit and dock at the International Space Station (ISS) performed a picture perfect splashdown at 11:42 a.m. EDT (1542 GMT) today, May 31, in the Pacific Ocean, off the west coast of Baja, California, some 560 miles southwest of Los Angeles to cap the opening to a historic new Era in Space Exploration.

Dragon is the linchpin in NASA’s bold Commercial Crew and Cargo program aimed at significantly driving down the cost of transporting cargo and crews to low Earth orbit by using private commercial companies to foster competition and innovation in the free market setting of the new, post-shuttle Era of Commercial Space Transportation.

NASA aircraft were able to transmit live video of the last few minutes of the Dragon’s breathtaking descent, unfurling of the trio of parachutes and ocean splashdown – pretty much on target at 27 degrees latitude and 127 degrees west longitude.

The official mission elapsed time on landing was 9 days, 7 hours and 58 minutes.

Splashdown of the Dragon cargo craft took place barely 6 hours after departing the orbiting lab complex following detachment from the station using the station robotic arm. The ISS astronauts released the craft from the grip of the station’s robot arm at 5:49 a.m. EST (949 GMT) this morning, May 31.

Screen shot of Dragon after May 31 splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA TV

The two spacecraft were soaring some 250 miles (400 km) high above the Indian Ocean east of Africa at the moment of release and departure. Altogether, Dragon spent 5 days, 16 hours and 5 minutes mated to the station.

The gumdrop shaped Dragon capsule is 4.4 meters (14.4 ft) tall, and 3.66 m (12 ft) in diameter and has an internal pressurized volume of about 350 cubic feet .

The Dragon cargo resupply capsule was built by SpaceX and is being retrieved from the ocean by a flotilla of three recovery ships. The ships reached Dragon, detached the chutes and are in the process of recovery. It will take about two days to deliver the craft to the port of Los Angeles where the most critical cargo items will be removed for quick shipment to NASA. The capsule will then be shipped to SpaceX’s McGregor,Texas facility for post-flight evaluation.

Dragon is the world’s first commercial spacecraft whose purpose is to carry supplies to and from the ISS and partially replace the cargo capabilities previously performed by NASA’s now retired fleet of space shuttle orbiters. Dragon was designed, developed and built by Hawthorne, Calif., based SpaceX Corporation, founded in 2002 by CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk.

“This has been a fantastic day,” said Musk at a post splashdown briefing for reporters. “I want to thank NASA and the whole SpaceX team for an amazing job.”

“I’m really proud of everyone. This really couldn’t have gone better. We’re looking forward to doing lots more missions in the future and continuing to upgrade the technology and push the frontier of space transportation.”

“In baseball terminology this would be a grand slam. I am overwhelmed with joy.”

The de-orbit burn to drop Dragon out of orbit took place precisely on time at 10:51 a.m. EDT for a change in velocity of 100 m/sec about 246 miles above the Indian Ocean directly to the south of India as the craft was some 200 miles in front of the ISS.

Screen shot of Dragon after May 31 splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA TV

The Draco thruster firing lasted 9 minutes and 50 seconds and sent Dragon plummeting through the Earth’s atmosphere where it had to survive extreme temperatures exceeding 3000 degrees F (1600 degrees C) before landing.

The Dragon capsule is the first US vehicle of any kind to arrive at the ISS since the July 2011 forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program resulted in the total loss of all US capability to send cargo and humans crews to the massive orbiting outpost.

SpaceX signed a contract with NASA in 2006 to conduct twelve Falcon 9/Dragon resupply missions to carry about 44,000 pounds of cargo to the ISS at a cost of some $1.6 Billion over the next few years.

This was the third test flight of the Falcon 9 rocket and the first test flight of the Dragon in this vastly upgraded configuration with solar panels. A future variant of Dragon will eventually blast US astronauts to space and restore US crew capability – perhaps by 2017 thanks to repeated cuts to NASA’s budget.

Only four entities have ever sent a spacecraft to dock at the ISS – the United States, Russia, Japan and the European Union. SpaceX is the first commercial entity to accomplish the same feat.

The precedent setting Dragon mission has opened a new era in spaceflight by giving birth to the first fully commercial mission to the orbiting space station complex and unlocking vast new possibilities for its utilization in science and exploration.

On May 22, Dragon thundered to orbit atop a SpaceX built Falcon 9 rocket during a pre-dawn liftoff at 3:44 a.m. EDT from Space Launch Complex-40 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.

After a three day chase, Dragon arrived at the ISS on May 25 and was deftly berthed at an open Earth-facing port on the Harmony Node 2 module after being dramatically captured by the astronaut crew using the station’s robotic arm in a landmark event in space history as the Dragon and the ISS were passing about 251 miles above Earth. Capture was confirmed at a mission elapsed time of 3 days, 6 hours and 11 minutes and 23 seconds.

Working in tandem, NASA astronaut Don Pettit and ESA astronaut Andre Kuipers snared the Dragon craft as it was drifting in free space about 10 m (32 ft) away with the 18 m (58 ft) long Canadian robot arm at 9:56 a.m. EDT and parked the first privately built capsule to an open port at 12:02 p.m. EDT on May 25.

The astronauts opened the hatch and ‘Entered the Dragon’ for the first time a day later on May 26 and then proceeded to unload the stowed cargo and refill it for the return trip to Earth.

On this first NASA sponsored Dragon test flight to rendezvous and dock at the ISS, the cargo craft was packed with 460 kilograms (1014 lbs) of non-critical cargo including 306 kg (674 lbs) of food and crew provisions; 21 kg (46 lbs) of science experiment; 123 kg (271 lbs) prepositioned cargo bags to be used for future flights; and 10 kg (22 lbs) of assorted computer supplies and a laptop.

Dragon splashed down successfully on May 31, 2012 at 11:42 a.m. EDT in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of California. In a carefully timed sequence of events, dual drogue parachutes deployed at 45,000 feet to stabilize and slow the spacecraft. Full deployment of the drogues triggers the release of the main parachutes, each 116 feet in diameter, at about 10,000 feet, with the drogues detaching from the spacecraft. Main parachutes further slow the spacecraft's descent to approximately 16 to 18 feet per second.

Unlike the other Russian, European and Japanese cargo freighters that service the ISS and then disintegrate on reentry, the SpaceX Dragon is uniquely equipped with a state of the art PICA-X heat shield that allows it to plunge safely through the Earth’s atmosphere and survive the fiery temperatures exceeding more than 3000 degrees F (1600 degrees C).

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket clears the tower after liftoff at 3:44 a.m. on May 22, 2012 from Space Launch Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., on the first commercial mission to loft the Dragon cargo resupply vehicle to the International Space Station. The Dragon mission was a resounding success from launch to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on May 31 at 11:42 a.m. EDT. Credit: Ken Kremer/www.kenkremer.com

The down mass capability restores another critical capability lost with the forced retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiters in July 2011. The astronauts filled Dragon with about 620 kilograms (1367 pounds) of science experiments, trash and non-critical items on this historic test flight.

The first operational Dragon resupply mission to the ISS could blast off as early as September, said Alan Lindenmoyer, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program.

“We’ll await the final post flight report to make the determination that this was an extremely successful mission. But they should be well on their way to starting [delivery] services,” said Lindenmoyer at the briefing. “Of course, officially we will look at the post flight data and make an official determination. But I would say at this point it looks like 100 percent success.”

Ken Kremer

SpaceX’s Elon Musk Talks Space on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart

As Jon Stewart from the Daily Show noted (although not quite correctly), four entities have launched rockets into space: the US, China, the Soviet Union (Russia) and Elon Musk. “Well, it wasn’t just me,” Musk replied humbly. Watch the entire interview here of Elon Musk on the Daily Show, where he discusses SpaceX’s upcoming test flight of their unmanned Dragon capsule to the International Space Station, sending humans to Mars, energy problems, and whether he is one of the X-Men.

Part 2 is below:
Continue reading “SpaceX’s Elon Musk Talks Space on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart”

Elon Musk: “Why the US Can Beat China”

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“Whenever someone proposes to do something that has never been done before, there will always be skeptics,” says SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. He distributed an email today, setting the record straight on SpaceX’s actual launch costs and prices, and he also outlines why he believes American innovation will trump countries like China in space –even though that country has the fastest growing economy in the world and lower labor rates than the US. Read Musk’s article below:

Whenever someone proposes to do something that has never been done before, there will always be skeptics. So when I started SpaceX, it was not surprising when people said we wouldn’t succeed. But now that we’ve successfully proven Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon, there’s been a steady stream of misinformation and doubt expressed about SpaceX’s actual launch costs and prices.
As noted last month by a Chinese government official, SpaceX currently has the best launch prices in the world and they don’t believe they can beat them. This is a clear case of American innovation trumping lower overseas labor rates.

I recognize that our prices shatter the historical cost models of government-led developments, but these prices are not arbitrary, premised on capturing a dominant share of the market, or “teaser” rates meant to lure in an eager market only to be increased later. These prices are based on known costs and a demonstrated track record, and they exemplify the potential of America’s commercial space industry.

Here are the facts:

The price of a standard flight on a Falcon 9 rocket is $54 million. We are the only launch company that publicly posts this information on our website (www.spacex.com). We have signed many legally binding contracts with both government and commercial customers for this price (or less). Because SpaceX is so vertically integrated, we know and can control the overwhelming majority of our costs. This is why I am so confident that our performance will increase and our prices will decline over time, as is the case with every other technology.

The average price of a full-up NASA Dragon cargo mission to the International Space Station is $133 million including inflation, or roughly $115m in today’s dollars, and we have a firm, fixed price contract with NASA for 12 missions. This price includes the costs of the Falcon 9 launch, the Dragon spacecraft, all operations, maintenance and overhead, and all of the work required to integrate with the Space Station. If there are cost overruns, SpaceX will cover the difference. (This concept may be foreign to some traditional government space contractors that seem to believe that cost overruns should be the responsibility of the taxpayer.)

The total company expenditures since being founded in 2002 through the 2010 fiscal year were less than $800 million, which includes all the development costs for the Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon. Included in this $800 million are the costs of building launch sites at Vandenberg, Cape Canaveral and Kwajalein, as well as the corporate manufacturing facility that can support up to 12 Falcon 9 and Dragon missions per year. This total also includes the cost of five flights of Falcon 1, two flights of Falcon 9, and one up and back flight of Dragon.

The Falcon 9 launch vehicle was developed from a blank sheet to first launch in four and half years for just over $300 million. The Falcon 9 is an EELV class vehicle that generates roughly one million pounds of thrust (four times the maximum thrust of a Boeing 747) and carries more payload to orbit than a Delta IV Medium.

The Dragon spacecraft was developed from a blank sheet to the first demonstration flight in just over four years for about $300 million. Last year, SpaceX became the first private company, in partnership with NASA, to successfully orbit and recover a spacecraft. The spacecraft and the Falcon 9 rocket that carried it were designed, manufactured and launched by American workers for an American company. The Falcon 9/Dragon system, with the addition of a launch escape system, seats and upgraded life support, can carry seven astronauts to orbit, more than double the capacity of the Russian Soyuz, but at less than a third of the price per seat.

SpaceX has been profitable every year since 2007, despite dramatic employee growth and major infrastructure and operations investments. We have over 40 flights on manifest representing over $3 billion in revenues.

These are the objective facts, confirmed by external auditors. Moreover, SpaceX intends to make far more dramatic reductions in price in the long term when full launch vehicle reusability is achieved. We will not be satisfied with our progress until we have achieved this long sought goal of the space industry.

For the first time in more than three decades, America last year began taking back international market-share in commercial satellite launch. This remarkable turn-around was sparked by a small investment NASA made in SpaceX in 2006 as part of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. A unique public-private partnership, COTS has proven that under the right conditions, a properly incentivized contractor—even an all-American one—can develop extremely complex systems on rapid timelines and a fixed-price basis, significantly beating historical industry-standard costs.

China has the fastest growing economy in the world. But the American free enterprise system, which allows anyone with a better mouse-trap to compete, is what will ensure that the United States remains the world’s greatest superpower of innovation.
–Elon–

For more information see the SpaceX website.

The SpaceX Business Plan: Help Build a Spacefaring Civilization

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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.

The interior configuration of the Dragon capsule. Credit: SpaceX

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.