SpaceX Press Conference

Elon — half a billion dollars, biggest commercial launch deal in history. Reinforces fact that Falcon 9 is vehicle of choice not just for NASA but also for commercial sector. Also a lot of international customers. Good thing for US in particular because vehicles are built 100% in the US. US hasn’t been cost competitive in launch market, but are now.

2015-2017 for launch. Expect a couple dozen launches before then.

Bobby Block: What does mean in terms of what you’ll be looking for from the government to accelerate both crew and cargo?

Elon: Won’t make much difference, but does validate the NASA’s approach. Over the long term the cost to NASA and the taxpayer will be less because fixed costs will be divided by larger number of launches. Dragon is currently long pole, and this deal doesn’t affect that.

Block: People talking about Shuttle extension and more flights. If Shuttle is extended will it affect COTS?

Elon: Doesn’t see it affecting things. Assume that everyone knows that extending/restarting not a viable option. An extra Shuttle flight will cost a lot of money, more than SpaceX is getting for the entire NASA constract.

Claire Moskowitz: When launching out of Vandenberg?

Elon: Two years from now, roughly. Using SLC-4, former Titan IV facility (just like at the Cape). So they have a good understanding of what it takes to convert, 12-18 months.

Moskowitz: How about Taiwan launch on Falcon 1e?

Elon: Been in discussion for a couple years. Planning to do a number of Falcon 1e launches. Over forty launches manifested by the end of the year.

Alan Boyle: How many launches is the contract? About ten? One more provider to receive lion’s share?

Elon: No insight into other provider. SpaceX is primary provider, so other will be a backup or secondary. Can’t comment on exact number of launches, depends on final satellite configuration.

Elon: Most of the money goes to satellite production, the half billion is just the launch piece. Part of the cost is dispenser development, so it’s not all launch costs.

MSNBC: When is next launch, and what is cash situation (talking about Pasztor’s billion-dollar number).

Elon: Pasztor’s article rife with errors. In good financial shape but may take on debt for working capital. May also take in strategic investor. Next launch toward end of summer. Falcon 9 carrying operational version of Dragon.

Todd Halvorson: What is total backlog of Falcon 1/9 launches?

Elon: Low thirties in terms of backlog. Will be over forty by the end of the year.

Halvorson: Assuming that Iridium are polar, will any be equatorial?

Elon: Some chance of equatorial, but all current plans high inclination.

Irene Klotz: Location of Falcon 1e with Taiwan satellite?

Elon: Kwaj.

Klotz: How much to convert SLC-4 for Falcon 9?

Elon: $40-$50M.

Klotz: Who was competition for Iridium?

Elon: Everyone. French satellite, so no restrictions on American content issue. Global competition.

Klotz: How is data analysis from flight going?

Elon: Not a lot to report. It went great. Slight roll anomaly isolated to probably the roll-control actuator, but still not positive, still seeking internal consensus. A little too concerned that it went too good. Will be looking for “near misses” to prepare for next flight.

Space News: Is contract for all seventy two birds, or just a piece of the Constellation?

Elon: Doesn’t want to discuss that, ask Iridium.

ALan Boyle: Any better sense of how long the Dragon test article will stay in orbit? Is there another client for the mission, perhaps classified? Can you say anything?

Elon: Laughs, can neither confirm or deny. Dragon will stay up for a year or two, and burn up on entry.

Halvorson: Comment on how SpaceX operates versus legacy companies in terms of costs?

Elon: Doesn’t like to give sound bites — oversimplifies. Needs to write a paper on it. Like asking why Southwest is cheaper. Not just because they use 737s. SpaceX operates on a Silicon Valley OS and DNA. Sort of like an Intel or Apple or Google of space transport. Vertical integration helps also, once problems are solved. Too much outsourcing in traditional aerospace. They cut out middlemen. Using legacy components means inheriting legacy cost structure. Tightly integrated team, with factory on the same floor as engineering. Everyone in a cube, including him. Also, very simple, with same propellants in both stages. Upper stage simply a short version of first stage. Same engine on both stages, so lots of economies of scale from Merlin.

Klotz: Launch escape in house, or contract?

Elon: Building liquid escape engines into sidewall of Dragon, which will be safety improvement over solid. Won’t have to eject a tower. Having something that you have to eject every flight seems like a crazy idea. Will have escape capability all the way to orbit.

International Business: Is this part of the two and a half billion in contracts?

Elon: Yes, it’s about $2.7B, including this, through 2017, but bulk over the next five years.

Are Chinese competition?

Yes, when international customer.

How much financial margin? Can you avoid the Sea Launch problem?

Elon: Cash flow not significantly affected even in stand down. Sea Launch suffered from single-point failure of launch platform. Tough to recover from. SpaceX has site flexibility of Vandenberg, Cape and Kwaj.

Space News: Might want to check out if Chinese were eligible to bid for Iridium work.

Elon: Not sure they were, just thought they were because of French satellite. You may know more than me, but didn’t think there was an ITAR issue.

Conference over.

[Update a few minutes later]

The one question that I didn’t capture was mine. I asked him if they knew yet why the first stage didn’t survive entry, or if they would have to wait for another flight to get better data (because they didn’t get the microwave imaging data they wanted). He said that they still didn’t know, and might not figure it out until they try again. I followed up, asking if he could conceive of a time that they might just give up on it, and pull the recovery systems out to give them more payload. I was surprised at the vehemence of his answer (paraphrasing): “We will never give up! Never! Reusability is one of the most important goals. If we become the biggest launch company in the world, making money hand over fist, but we’re still not reusable, I will consider us to have failed.” I told him that I was very gratified to hear that, because I like reusability.

[Early afternoon update]

Here’s Bobby Block’s report on the presser.

37 thoughts on “SpaceX Press Conference

  1. Martijn Meijering

    Great news, but reportedly it is still conditional on Iridium obtaining funding for it.

  2. MfK

    “We will never give up! Never! Reusability is one of the most important goals. If we become the biggest launch company in the world, making money hand over fist, but we’re still not reusable, I will consider us to have failed.”

    If that’s the case, he picked the worst possible way to try to get there, and is almost certainly going to “fail.”

  3. Patrick

    Elon starts rocket company: what an idiot.

    Elon launches F1 into orbit: he failed three times with his little bottle rocket. What an idiot.

    Elon has 100% successful launch of 9-engine Falcon 9: the second stage rolled and he lost the first stage. What an idiot.

    So, when Elon has an idea… remember, he’s an idiot, and is almost certainly going to fail. Any day now.

  4. Neil H.

    > Elon: Building liquid escape engines into sidewall of Dragon, which will be safety improvement over solid.

    Hm… if it’s actually being built into the Dragon, and SpaceX is planning on eventually doing propulsive landings with them, I wonder if the Dragon escape system might eventually be an evolutionary step towards a commercial lunar cargo/crew lander.

  5. MfK

    I didn’t say he was going to fail in business, which is why I put the word in quotes. It was, after all, his definition.

    No attempt to convert an expendable into a reusable has ever succeeded, and there have been many. It’s not because the wrong people were on the job, either…

    SpaceX may well eventually get into the RLV business. But I doubt if what they wind up flying will look anything like any of the Falcons.

  6. Coastal Ron

    Just because no one has ever done it does not mean that it’s not possible. The Shuttle SRB’s fall from 220,000 ft, and parachute into the ocean for recovery. I’m sure this is the model that SpaceX is following.

    Elon Musk has also stated that they were not focused on recovering the 1st stage on the 1st flight, and that they will continue to work out the recovery issue over future flights. They are very good at incremental improvements, and their business model does not depend on reusability, so their profitability is not at stake while they figure it out.

    I would think they will most likely be able to salvage the engines for reuse, and maybe some of the electronics packages. The 1st stage body, even if it’s not in good enough shape for reuse, can always be recycled (lots of certified AL-Li to sell).

  7. Paul D.

    Just because no one has ever done it does not mean that it’s not possible. The Shuttle SRB’s fall from 220,000 ft, and parachute into the ocean for recovery.

    The SRB casings are designed to contain internal pressures considerably higher than the tanks of the Falcon-1 first stage, though.

  8. MfK

    “Just because no one has ever done it does not mean that it’s not possible.”

    Yes, in this case it does. For 2,500 years, people tried to “square the circle.” No one ever did, and there was a reason for it. It’s impossible, which became evident when Lindemann proved that pi is a transcendental number. That hasn’t stopped people from continuing to try. I don’t expect people to try to convert expendables into reusables, either. I also don’t expect them to succeed.

    Also, the shuttle SRBs were designed to be recovered from the outset. The entire system was designed around it, and it’s possible only because they are steel-case solids.

  9. Pete

    I noted this response from Elon: “Using legacy components means inheriting legacy cost structure. ”

    Any launch system that uses NASA (or Boeing or Lockhead) derived hardware is a repeat of Apollo, and I am not sure many people get this.

    As for Falcon reusability – it is a solvable problem, not necessarily easily solved but still solvable – and in an incremental fashion. I see nothing inherently expendable about the Falcon, excepting a current lack of a reentry and landing system. How difficult would it be to put landing gear on the lower stage and do Armadillo/Masten style VTVL flights? Can the Falcon evolve in this direction? It is not like they haves solids or inherently long turnaround times to deal with.

  10. Ray

    My understanding was that SpaceX had no desire to directly reuse the body, only the engines. The engines are where the costs are.

    Hence any arguments about the casings not withstanding the recovery process are probably not relevant.

  11. Fred Willett

    “For 2,500 years, people tried to “square the circle.” ”
    For 2,500 years man has dreamed of flying o the moon. Clearly it’s impossible. Any 19th century scientist wil tell you so.
    Very difficult? Yes.
    Impossible? No.
    The real question is can they do it in a cost effective way.
    If it’s going to cost too much and add too much weight to the F9 first stage…

  12. Coastal Ron

    Paul D. Said June 16th, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    The SRB casings are designed to contain internal pressures considerably higher than the tanks of the Falcon-1 first stage, though.

    And that’s why I said that most likely they will be able to reuse the engines and electronics, but not the tank structure. At least not right away.

    A couple of things to keep in mind. Yes the Shuttle SRB’s are made out of steel and super strong. That also means they are really heavy, and that they require lots of parachute square footage to slow them down enough to prevent damage (remember the Ares I-X damage from the parachute malfunction).

    The Falcon 9 1st stage is made from AL-Li, so it much lighter, and it will still retain internal pressurization (and buoyancy). If they get enough parachute square footage, they could be able to drop the 1st stage in the water without substantial damage. With the engines being the heavier end, the biggest question will be if the engines can withstand the landing force. They do have 9 engines, so some should be OK.

    Just like the Shuttle SRB’s, the Falcon 9 1st stage has lots of individual pieces that can be salvaged if they can get the parachutes to work – how much they salvage will probably increase over time. As Musk said, it’s a bonus right now, but a definite goal for later.

  13. Coastal Ron

    MfK Said June 16th, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    You are clearly not an inventor or an engineer.

    I’ve always like the motto of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during World War II:

    The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes a little longer.

    Besides, how do you know something is impossible until you try?

  14. MfK

    “You are clearly not an inventor or an engineer.”

    If that’s directed at me, you’ve got it wrong on both counts. I have four patents, two on launch vehicles, one of them reusable. I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and I know the reasons why certain things have never been done. In some cases, it’s because they can’t be.

    Maybe circle-squaring was a bad example, because some people really don’t understand why it’s impossible, and because it isn’t an engineering problem.

    A better example would be a perpetual motion machine of the first kind. It’s physically impossible, but that doesn’t stop people from trying to build them. And they will never, ever succeed.

    An engineer and inventor doesn’t try to dictate the laws of nature — he obeys them.

  15. Godzilla

    No attempt to convert an expendable into a reusable has ever succeeded, and there have been many. It’s not because the wrong people were on the job, either…

    There are not enough data points to be able to answer such a question. The people who designed the Centaur upper stage certainly thought it was possible to recover Saturn V rocket stages. But if there is no funding, nor enough flight rate, why bother?

    AFAIK Soyuz capsules are reused to a degree. Everything in the interior of a capsule (e.g. electronics) is scavenged and reused in later capsules.

    The issue IMO is that if the launch vehicle is not able to make it back to a landing spot on its own devices, any recovery will be made more difficult. Also if it lands at nonzero velocity, the probability of damage to the vehicle will increase, as will the turnaround time.

    This means a successful reusable with a low turnaround time should have powered landings, or at least be capable of gliding to the destination. This may be done in a number of ways.

    SpaceX has managed to make really light structures. They also have designed some restartable engines. Much of this technology could be applied to a full reusable eventually, if they wish to.

    However to make a reusable also implies knowing a lot of other things. You also risk ending up with a vehicle with no payload. So IMO in the short term it makes sense to go with an expendable.

  16. Godzilla

    PS: Astronatix has this quote in one page that the Energia first stage strap-ons were recovered and returned for study. Since Energia was only launched like twice effort stopped there.

  17. Pete

    Perhaps it might be more appropriate to say that SpaceX has designed for reusability but are currently taking a few short cuts in initially using their vehicle in an expendable form.

  18. Big D

    >Hm… if it’s actually being built into the Dragon, and SpaceX is planning on eventually doing propulsive landings with them, I wonder if the Dragon escape system might eventually be an evolutionary step towards a commercial lunar cargo/crew lander.

    Neil: My first thought was that it seemed like a shame to carry that mass (dry and wet) to orbit every time and to never use it…

    Anybody know if that system can/will be used for retro burns or maneuvering, or does Dragon *also* carry enough hydrazine to do all non-emergency maneuvering?

    If they’re planning to just treat the escape system and its fuel as dead weight on a successful mission, it seems like a bit of a waste… would there be anything else that could be done with it? Is there enough fuel in the escape system to be worth designing the tanks to be detached or siphoned from at some point in the future?

  19. Coastal Ron

    MfK Said: June 16th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    “I’ve been in the business for 30 years, and I know the reasons why certain things have never been done. In some cases, it’s because they can’t be.”

    The problem seems to be how to parachute a pressurized cylinder from over 200,000 ft up, have it land in the ocean, and be intact enough to float. We have done this with the much heavier Shuttle SRB’s for years, so the question is why would it be impossible for SpaceX?

    As I stated in my first post, I don’t think they’ll be able to reuse the tank section, but that the 1st stage will survive a water landing enough to salvage the engines and other components.

    You seem to imply that they have no hope of recovering the 1st at all – is that correct, and if so, what are the challenges they have to overcome?

  20. Coastal Ron

    Big D Said: June 16th, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    From what I heard, the escape engines would use the same fuel they would use for maneuvering in space. I don’t know if the engines would be the same. We’re obviously missing some details…

  21. Karl Hallowell

    No attempt to convert an expendable into a reusable has ever succeeded, and there have been many.

    MfK, could you please mention some examples? I’m dubious of your claims, but it would help to see what you are talking about.

  22. MfK

    “MfK, could you please mention some examples? I’m dubious of your claims, but it would help to see what you are talking about.”

    Sure. An attempt was made to make the first stage of the Saturn V recoverable. All of the engineering was done, and it would have been possible. However, the rocket took such a payload hit that it would have been useless for lunar missions. And the recovery and refurbishment would have cost more than building a new stage.

    The same was attempted on the Atlas booster engine package. They even dropped them into a sea water pond from aircraft, then refurbished and static fired them. Both things that happened to the Saturn V happened with Atlas. A basic Atlas E or F, with no upper stage, had it’s orbital payload reduced to zero. And the recovery and refurbishment cost for the engine package was greater than the cost of a new set.

    Yes, the Russians recovered Energia boosters. They also discovered that Rokot first stages land intact in the water, and float — and are a hazard to navigation. But recovery and reuse hasn’t proven worthwhile.

    But the basic problem is this: if you start with an expendable rocket that delivers X pounds to LEO, then try to scab on enough stuff to get it back, you wind up with a rocket that may only deliver 0.05X pounds to LEO (probably less). It just never seems worth the (considerable) development cost to reduce the capability of a rocket. Especially when there isn’t enough market in the small payload end to justify even a cheap expendable (or so the studies have always shown). Even more especially when you’ve probably spent a boatload of money to maximize its payload when operated as a full expendable.

    If you’re going to have a reusable, you design it that way from the start. Kistler did, and though I have my doubts about it, the economics were right from the start. It was a larger rocket than Falcon 9, with a much smaller payload. But it was optimized around a business case. Falcon 9 is optimized (very well, I might add) around an expendable business case. I think it would be great if they made it reusable, and it was successful. But it would be delivering payloads more in the Falcon 1E range, and past experience says that people look at that and say “Nah!”

  23. Cecil Trotter

    if you start with an expendable rocket that delivers X pounds to LEO, then try to scab on enough stuff to get it back,

    I don’t understand how you support this charge, judging from all I have ever read/heard SpaceX has designed from the beginning with the intention of making the vehicle recoverable. Nothing has been “scab(ed) on”

  24. Jim Howard

    Samuel Langley, a great scientist with several patents, 30 years of experience, and the full backing of the U.S. government, proved conclusively on October 7, 1903, that it was not possible to build a controllable heavier than air craft.

  25. Coastal Ron

    MfK Said: June 16th, 2010 at 5:41 pm

    Your two examples, Saturn V and Atlas, are valid examples of the inability of the 60’s era engineers to recover and reuse 1st stage sections. However those were all 50 years ago, and the materials and methods available today are different.

    Do you have any recent examples?

    Also, as Cecil Trotter pointed out, SpaceX has designed reusability into their 1st stage from the beginning, so they must have been aware of some of the issues you are concerned with.

    Unless you’re saying they should give up on the idea without even trying?

  26. MfK

    I’ve just pointed out a couple of the serious attempts. I’ve probably seen 100 or more paper studies of various proposals (including Delta and Titan. Note, by the way, that Titan III and IV never reused their SRMs. They needed all the performance they could get.) You don’t have to go very far into any of these studies to reach the same conclusion.

    Materials and methods haven’t changed as much as you might think. The two most significant advances have been composites and aluminum-lithium, with the latter being more significant. As far as composites go, if we had ever gone to a composite shuttle SRB, they would likely have been expendable. I’ve had direct experience with recovery of a composite ICBM first stage. It’s hardly identifiable, let alone reusable.

    The Falcon 9 has a pretty healthy payload capability for its gross liftoff weight, which means there isn’t a lot of extraneous stuff on it. Putting extraneous stuff on may make it recoverable, but will put it in a much smaller market class.

    I can’t rule out the possibility that SpaceX has plans just to use pieces and parts, and that they might have figured out a way to do so to genuine economic advantage. Just recovering the hardware can sometimes give you an unexpected bonus, even if you don’t (or can’t) reuse it. For instance, it might show you that you were right on the edge of failure and never even knew it. That has happened once in my career, and saved the integrity of a weapon system.

    But none of this addresses the RLV as it should be. Kistler was a good attempt, and might have worked. Some of the parallel staged VTOHL concepts we’ve all seen over the years are even better. But taking a racehorse expendable and trying to make it into a reusable mule will at best result in a dwarf mule.

    SpaceX will succeed with its expendables, of that I have no doubt. And they may in fact be shooting for reusables in the future. But there won’t be much resemblance between the two.

  27. Dick Eagleson

    Shorter MfK: “I tol’ Orville ‘n I tol’ Wilbur ‘n now I’m a-tellin’ you; that thing’ll never fly!”

    I’m not an engineer and you claim you are, but at least I know enough to get my facts straight before shooting off my yap. RTFWS (RTF website) fr’instance. SpaceX makes it plain that both Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 1st stages were designed from the clean sheet of paper stage to be recoverable.

    I also know that when new facts that invalidate my original design come to light, I don’t ignore them and keep plowing blindly ahead. You have been informed of the Falcon-series’s designed-in recoverability several times here and yet you keep blathering on about expendables being converted to recoverables. Be ye deef and blind, man?

    For the Nth time, bub, listen up. Parachute recovery systems were designed into these puppies and are allowed for in spec’ing out their LEO mass delivery figures.

    Neither was true for Saturn and, especially, for Atlas. Nor were the engines of those beasts designed to make watertight landings. The Atlas engine was already a given when NASA started using it and had been designed as a throw-away weapon component from the get-go. I don’t believe the F-1 RFP included any language about imitating a mallard’s ass either. SpaceX, having recoverability from a seawater dunking in mind from the start, could engineer their engines to be as water-repellent as necessary. The choice of pintle injector technology for propellant metering gave them one big, penalty-free boost in this direction all by itself.

    I am of the opinion – in case I haven’t made myself sufficiently clear yet – that SpaceX will successfully recover and reuse a first stage and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they did it within a year. I believe this because the SpaceX folks have a demonstrated track record of making corrections – rather than excuses – for their mistakes.

  28. Pingback: SpaceX and Iridium Sign $492M Launch Contract | JetLib News

  29. Coastal Ron

    MfK Said: June 16th, 2010 at 7:53 pm

    As far as composites go, if we had ever gone to a composite shuttle SRB, they would likely have been expendable. I’ve had direct experience with recovery of a composite ICBM first stage. It’s hardly identifiable, let alone reusable.

    You’re drawing conclusions for a liquid-fuel 1st stage based on results from solid-fueled rockets. The goal of the Trident II composite 1st stage is not to be reusable, it’s to encapsulate the most power for it’s weight. No one expects the Navy to fish the spent ones out of the water during a war and reuse them, so that was not the goal – they are truly expendable.

    I can’t rule out the possibility that SpaceX has plans just to use pieces and parts, and that they might have figured out a way to do so to genuine economic advantage.

    This is a more rational statement, but it differs from your earlier statement when you implied “It’s impossible“.

    For someone that says they are an engineer, you seem to rule out solutions too quickly. You and I don’t know the design details of the Falcon 9, so all we can do is make assumptions. I assume that they will be able to recover and reuse some part of the 1st stage, both because SpaceX has said it was designed that way, and because other 1st stage sections have been able to be recovered. You assume that because it has not been done before, it will continue to be impossible.

    We will just have to agree to disagree, and see what happens over time.

  30. MfK

    “Mfk, ok how about making a gentleman’s bet then? Define the terms, if Musk does it, you make a significant donation to the charity of his choice.”

    If Musk does what?

  31. Michael Kent

    Elon Musk said:

    Elon — half a billion dollars, biggest commercial launch deal in history.

    For the record, Elon is wrong about this. In 1995ish Hughes signed a $1.5 billion deal with McDonnell Douglas for a block buy of Delta III launches. Both companies were absorbed into Boeing two years later, so the contract became moot, but it was signed.

    Mike

  32. Godzilla

    Mike: A good thing that contract was dismissed then. Delta III was an unmitigated disaster of a launcher.

  33. Michael Kent

    Godzilla wrote:

    A good thing that contract was dismissed then. Delta III was an unmitigated disaster of a launcher.

    Delta III had two initial failures and was successful on the third flight. That made its intial flight record the same as the Ariane V and better than the Falcon 1.

    Ariane V went on to become a very successful launch vehicle, and Falcon 1 has two successful flights under its belt now. Delta III never got another shot because Delta IV Medium took over its market.

    But regardless of all that, my main point stands. SpaceX’s latest contract, while impressive, is not the largest commercial contract in history.

    Mike

  34. MfK

    “I’m not an engineer”

    Yes, that’s quite apparent.

    “but at least I know enough to get my facts straight before shooting off my yap.”

    Yes, you actually do. And I appreciate the research you’ve done. That doesn’t mean I don’t have my facts straight.

    “SpaceX makes it plain that both Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 1st stages were designed from the clean sheet of paper stage to be recoverable.”

    They make that statement in some places. I’ve actually seen Falcon 1 and 9 hardware on the factory floor, and couldn’t understand the statement. There is nothing special about it other than a parachute package. It is NOT very robust. None of the composite hardware will be reusable, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that.

    “Neither [recover and reuse as a design requirement] was true for Saturn and, especially, for Atlas. Nor were the engines of those beasts designed to make watertight landings.”

    My engineering upbringing was in the place that actually invented system engineering for ICBMs. I don’t know of any way to design a rocket engine to both be a rocket engine and a submarine. However, I know a lot about both the F-1 and H-1 engines, and have seen the Merlin engine hardware down to piece parts. Of the three, the Merlin is the one that would require the most refurbishment after immersion in salt water. It’s a matter of materials, and probably just by accident. The F-1 and H-1 were almost all stainless steel. Merlin isn’t.

    “You’re drawing conclusions for a liquid-fuel 1st stage based on results from solid-fueled rockets. The goal of the Trident II composite 1st stage is not to be reusable, it’s to encapsulate the most power for it’s weight.”

    No, I’m drawing my conclusion from the fact that composites, even those designed to contain very high pressure, are still extremely vulnerable to damage from reentry heating and impact in the ocean. And who ever said anything about a Trident II? Certainly not me, and that certainly isn’t what I was talking about.

    The interstages for Falcon are aluminum honeycomb core composites, and are very well designed. But they are unlikely to be reusable, just because of their vulnerability to impact damage, and difficulty to inspect and repair. I have more than a feeling that SpaceX knows they need to make a change, however…

    “…if Musk does it, you make a significant donation to the charity of his choice.”

    I asked “does what?” and received no reply. However, it’s an important question. The definition of a reusable launch vehicle is very squishy, and I have been on public record for 11 years as pointing out that we need to define our terms.

    I spent 1/3 of my career on RLVs. It was my living. And I am on very public record as stating that we need to remove the terms “reusable” and “launch” from that term, because of the intellectual baggage they carry.

    Elon has done great, amazing things. I believe he will succeed for a while because I know why launch costs what it costs, and he won’t get himself in that trap for a while.

    But I know him, and I know that he doesn’t understand the meaning of the term “reusable” when it comes to space launch. He can’t get where the industry needs to be the way he started. That DOESN’T mean he shouldn’t have started the way he did. All it means is that he’ll have to do something drastically different in order to fulfill the promise of space.

  35. Stexer

    @ Big D

    “Anybody know if that system can/will be used for retro burns or maneuvering, or does Dragon *also* carry enough hydrazine to do all non-emergency maneuvering?”

    It would be a backup orbit propulsion system to add redundancy to the Draco thrusters in case of system failure, it would be for emergency maneuvering only.

    “If they’re planning to just treat the escape system and its fuel as dead weight on a successful mission, it seems like a bit of a waste…”

    It is a payload mass penalty yes, all Launch Escape Systems are.

    ” would there be anything else that could be done with it?”

    Yes, this would be the first ever Launch Escape System that I know of without the dreaded “black zones” that have plagued past systems. Leaving the astronauts with the ability to hit that panic button from launch all the way to orbit, a luxury no manned vehicle has ever yet had. A second great advantage is that this system may also serve as a backup system in case of parachute failure on the capsule. A quickly computed emergency burn before touchdown could bring the capsule to a survivable impact speed. Another feature, never as of yet, seen on a manned vehicle.

    “Is there enough fuel in the escape system to be worth designing the tanks to be detached or siphoned from at some point in the future?”

    The LES uses the same fuel tanks as the RCS Draco thrusters.

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