The conference to announce the SpaceX launch date got underway at 2:15 Pacific. Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO talking now…
Launch date is next week…
6 Falcon 1’s are on the manefest. So whatever happens next week, the company will launch those. [seems to be prepping us for possible failure–a possibility with any rocket launch]
SpaceX will move on from satellite launches to manned spaceflight.
–Update at 5:21–
Exact launch date and time: 1 pm. California time, next Friday, November 25
Musk qualifies that by saying that’s when the “launch attempt” will be.
–Update at 5:23–
We’re launching FalconSat on a Falcon rocket. Something fairly reminescent of a Joseph Heller novel, says Musk.
I actually don’t feel nervous, says Musk. I feel relief. It’s been a difficult devlopment process. Nobody said this would be easy, but it’s been more than that…If we have three consecutive failures, he says, we’ll probably throw in the towel. Don’t know who would want to fly with us if we have three consecutive failures, says Musk.
–Update at 5:30 pm (Eastern time, where I am)
A lot riding on this launch…
“I really feel that one successful launch will establish us as being fairly reliable.”
Two Falcon 1s are complete, one more in production.
Going for 3-4 falcon 1 launches a year, 2 or 3 Falcon 5 launches a year. 3 falcon launches are planned for the first 12 months of operation.
Musk: We have over 200 million dollars in business committed, even before our first launch. That should go up significantly after a successful launch.
–Update at 2:35 Pacific–
approx 100 million invested in the company at this point, 98% of that comes from Musk personally. The other 2%? Friends and family says Musk.
Half of all rocket launch failures due to propulsion. 30% due to separation problems, the other 20% to other factors.
Musk: “I’m not sure at this point what to fear most. I feel good about our engines. We delayed launches a few times to put extra care into the engines, particularly the main engine. We put a lot of effort into our separation systems. The guidence system is the only part of the vehicle we’ve only tested in simulation, as opposed to actual operation. That has more of an unresolved question mark around it.”
Musk compares this process to software development, where he made his fortune. In software development, you never run a program for the first time without finding bugs, and that’s expected. You don’t have that luxury with rockets.
SpaceX’s second Gen rocket engine will be the biggest rocket engine in the world, though not the biggest in history. The F1 engine that sent people to the moon is no longer in production, so Musk doesn’t count that.
Musk: A very significant chunk of my net worth is in this company. I don’t want to give an exact figure. You can probably figure it out from what I earned by selling PayPal.
–Update at 2:43 Pacific–
Falcon 9 will cost another $100 million to develop.
[The rocket are designated by the number of engines they have in their first stage. Falcon 1 has a single Kestril engine, devleoped by SpaceX. Falcon 9 will have nine of these engines.]
Musk: The Falcon 1 is the first all-new hydrocarbon rocket developed in the U.S. in 40 years.
Safe enough for people? Not a lot you would do different to protect a person than a $100 million satellite, says Musk.
Q: What customers will you put on Falcon 9?
A: We haven’t thought a lot about it because it’s speculative, but big customers would be NASA, Bigelow Aerospace, which is launching its first subscale space station module next year, and potentially people who just want to go to orbit and just spend some time on orbit. Also we could do a loop around the moon, which actually wouldn’t require a huge rocket. [Space Adventures recently cut a deal with the Russian Space Agency to do just that, so that may be what inspired Musk to say that.]
Q: When will you go to space?
A: I’m not doing this to go into space myself, per se. I want to help build a space faring civilization. It would have been very easy for me to pay to go to the International Space Station myself. I want to help other people get to space.
–Update at 2:50 Pacific–
Bigelow Aerospace’s America’s Space Prize is a tall order: you have to launch 2x in 60 days, carry five people to orbit, and demonstrate rendezvous and docking.
SpaceX’s lawsuit against Boeing and Lockheed: Musk doesn’t want to comment much because its in progress.
SpaceX will vigorously pursue the new commercial contracts to service the ISS that NASA has announced its intention to award by the end of this year. Musk sees Falcon 9 as the ideal vehicle for that.
ITAR: Restrictions in arms trade needs reform because they block friendly nations from collaborating with U.S. companies on rockets.
On Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’ space program
Musk: “I met with Jeff Bezos a couple of times and had dinner. His motivations in doing Blue origin are identical to mine in forming spacex. There’s a good chance we’ll work collaboratively at some point.”
Musk: The expansion of life on earth to other places is arguably the most important thing to happen to life on earth, if it happens. Life has the duty to expand. And we’re the representatives of life with the ability to do so.
Q: Do you have multiple launch crews?
No, we have only one crew that must travel from launch pad to launch pad (from Vandenberg in California, for example, to Kwajalein).
First launch of Falcon 9 will take place from Kwajalein, like this first Falcon 1 launch.
Second launch in the March 06 timeframe.
He leaves for Kwajalein on Tuesday. It’s a paradise, says Musk. A nice place to be for our customers. A lot nicer than the Russian launch facilities in Kazakhstan.
25 people on the island right now.
If you imagine a small town from middle america transplanted 5,000 out in the Pacific, that’s Kwajalein. Tricky for press, though.
–Update at 3:05 Pacific–
Flight of first Falcon 1 will take 10 minutes, three minute burn for first stage, second stage about 7 minutes. Faring separation at about 3 minute mark. Payload release at about 10 minute mark. Upper stage will do a restart. Not necessary for this mission, but we want to test it. The first stage after sepaation continues balistically. Lands about 600 miles downrange, where there’s a recovery ship waiting. Has high speed drough chute, which pulls out the main chute, will hit the water at about 25 feet per second. Recovery ship will locate it. First stage has GPS locator, plus two sonar devices, and a radio finder. “We have a lot of ways to find this stage, and we really want to bring it back, no matter what kind of shape it’s in.” Ship will bring it back to the harbor at Kwajalein.
DARPA, the customer, takes control of the satellite at plus 10 minutes after launch.
Q: How many days do you have to get the rocket up?
A: I’m not aware of any restrictions we have right now. It’s going to happen either when we said, or fairly soon thereafter. Prelaunch checkout going extremely well. We anticipate no problems.
Q: Any dress rehearsals to work out bugs?
A: We’ve done a wet rehearsal, where we load propellant and do a simulated coundown. We’ve done everything we think we can do before launch to be ready.
Q: Which version of the Falcon would you use for the new NASA contracts?
A: Falcon 9.
Q: From which facility?
A: We suspect from the Cape (NASA’s manned launch faciltiy at Cape Canaveral on Florida’s east coast)
Q: When will you fly cargo missions to the space station?
A: I hope in the next 3 to 4 years.
Q from me: Have you talked with NASA about what form your contract with them might take?
A: We expect an RFP next month, contracts to be awarded in the May timeframe. They will be commercial-like contracts, different from NASA’s usual mode.
Another question from me: Are you developing a manned vehicle right now, or have you thought that far ahead yet?
A: I can’t comment on that right now.
Boeing and Lockheed can’t win on a level playing field. The only way we can fail is if we’re stupid. If we build a good rocket and we launch it and it’s reliable, then we have a very bright future and there’s very little a competitor can do to stop us.
Q: Is Blue Origin a potential competitor?
A: Not right now–they’re doing virtical take off and landing suborbital vehicles. I’m very glad for companies like that.
We have to cut back on the bureaucratic drags on development. I think there’s an acknowledgement at NASA of that, and we’re going to see some improvements in the new contracts, which will have much less bureacratic overhead.
A traditional cost-plus contractor with NASA has an incentive to increase bureaucratic demands, because they’ll get more money that way. We don’t have that incentive.
Last few questions coming up….
Q: What’s next in the entreprenurial space field?
A: Lots of people doing things–Paul Allen [who funded SpaceShipOne], Jeff Bezos with Blue Origin, John Carmack with Armadillo Aerospace…Musk thinks we’re heading toward a Netscape moment, when someone turns a profit, and hopefully it’ll be SpaceX, and then investment capital will start to flow in.
Q from me: What’s the current price for Falcon 1?
A: $6.7, which includes not only the rocket launch, but third-party insurance, range fees, other costs.
Q: That’s an increase over your previous $6 million price, correct?
A: No, that price only included launch, didn’t include the other expenses, which are now rolled into the price. We are actually the only launch company to publish our prices.
I’m super late now. I must go catch a plane now.