Category Archives: Space

Why the US Can Beat China: A SpaceX Story

A letter from Elon Musk:

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–

Article Source

Remember, if you want to be entered for a chance to watch the next Falcon 9 launch from the Kennedy Space Center, then be on twitter today (4/5/12) at noon EST and be following @SpaceX.

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SpaceX Offering 50 People a Chance to See Rocket Launch

Want to watch SpaceX launch their Falcon9 and Dragon spacecraft at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on 4/30/12? Be on twitter at noon EST Thursday 4/5/12 to have a chance of being 1 of 50 random social followers selected.

Make sure you follow SpaceX on twitter!

NASA and SpaceX will host a two-day event for 50 social media followers on April 29-30, 2012, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is targeted to lift off at 12:22 p.m. EDT on April 30, on a mission to become the first commercial company in history to attempt to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station.

NASA Social participants will have the opportunity to:

  • view a launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket
  • tour NASA facilities at Kennedy Space Center
  • speak with representatives from both organizations
  • view and take photographs of the SpaceX launch pad
  • meet fellow space enthusiasts who are active on social media
  • meet members of SpaceX and NASA’s social media teams

For full details visit the NASA site here!

Good Luck!

 

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A Whole Lotta Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson has been all over the news lately. Come get your fill of all things Tyson as I share some of my favorite moments of his awesomeness.

An avid defender of the sciences, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ph.D. is an American astrophysicist and science communicator. He is currently the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium at the Rose Center for Earth and Space, and a Research Associate in the Department of Astrophysics at the American Museum of Natural History. – Wikipedia

NASA Budget Hearing

Dr. Tyson’s speech, just given to Senate about NASA spending. How much would you pay to “launch” our economy. How much would you pay for the universe? Truly awesome!

The full transcript below:

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.

Antoine St. Exupery

Currently, NASA’s Mars science exploration budget is being decimated, we are not going back to the Moon, and plans for astronauts to visit Mars are delayed until the 2030s –on funding not yet allocated, overseen by a congress and president to be named later.

During the late 1950s through the early 1970s, every few weeks an article, cover story, or headline would extol the “city of tomorrow,” the”home of tomorrow,” the “transportation of tomorrow.” Despite such optimism, that period was one of the gloomiest in U.S. history, with a level of unrest not seen since the Civil War. The Cold War threatened total annihilation, a hot war killed a hundred servicemen each week, the civil rights movement played out in daily confrontations, and multiple assassinations and urban riots poisoned the landscape.

The only people doing much dreaming back then were scientists, engineers, and technologists. Their visions of tomorrow derive from their formal training as discoverers. And what inspired them was America’s bold and visible investment on the space frontier.

Exploration of the unknown might not strike everyone as a priority. Yet audacious visions have the power to alter mind-states –to change assumptions of what is possible. When a nation permits itself to dream big, those dreams pervade its citizens’ ambitions. They energize the electorate. During the Apollo era, you didn’t need government programs to convince people that doing science and engineering was good for the country. It was self-evident. And even those not formally trained in technical fields embraced what those fields meant for the collective national future.

For a while there, the United States led the world in nearly every metric of economic strength that mattered. Scientific and technological innovation is the engine of economic growth–a pattern that has been especially true since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. That’s the climate out of which the New York World’s Fair emerged, with its iconic Unisphere – displaying three rings – evoking the three orbits of JohnGlenn in his Mercury 7 capsule.

During this age of space exploration, any jobs that went overseas were the kind nobody wanted anyway. Those that stayed in this country were the consequence of persistent streams of innovation that could not be outsourced, because other nations could not compete at our level. In fact, most of the world’s nations stood awestruck by our accomplishments.

Let’s be honest with one anther. We went to the Moon because we were at war with the Soviet Union. To think otherwise is delusion, leading some to suppose the only reason we’re not on Mars already is the absence of visionary leaders, or of political will, or of money. No. When you perceive your security to be at risk, money flows like rivers to protect is.

But there exists another driver of great ambitions, almost as potent as war. That’s the promise of wealth. Fully funded missions to Mars and beyond, commanded by astronauts who, today, are in middle school, would reboot America’s capacity to innovate as no other force in society can. What matters here are not spin-offs (although I could list a few: Accurate affordable Lasik surgery, Scratch resistant lenses, Chordless power tools, Tempurfoam, Cochlear implants, the drive to miniaturize of electronics…) but cultural shifts in how the electorate views the role of science and technology in our daily lives.

As the 1970s drew to a close, we stopped advancing a space frontier. The “tomorrow” articles faded. And we spent the next several decades coasting on the innovations conceived by earlier dreamers. They knew that seemingly impossible things were possible –the older among them had enabled, and the younger among them had witnessed theApollo voyages to the Moon–the greatest adventure there ever was. If all you do is coast, eventually you slow down, while others catch up and pass you by.

All these piecemeal symptoms that we see and feel – the nation is going broke, it’s mired in debt, we don’t have as many scientists, jobs are going overseas – are not isolated problems. They’re part of the absence of ambition that consumes you when you stop having dreams. Space is a multidimensional enterprise that taps the frontiers of many disciplines: biology, chemistry, physics, astrophysics, geology, atmospherics, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering. These classic subjects are the foundation of the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering, and math – and they are all represented in the NASA portfolio.

Epic space adventures plant seeds of economic growth, because doing what’s never been done before is intellectually seductive (whether deemed practical or not), and innovation follows, just as day follows night. When you innovate, you lead the world, you keep your jobs, and concerns over tariffs and trade imbalances evaporate. The call for this adventure would echo loudly across society and down the educational pipeline.

At what cost? The spending portfolio of the United States currently allocates fifty times as much money to social programs and education than it does to NASA. The 2008 bank bailout of $750 billion was greater than all the money NASA had received in its half-century history; two years’ U.S. military spending exceeds it as well. Right now, NASA’s annual budget is half a penny on your tax dollar. For twice that–a penny on a dollar–we can transform the country from a sullen, dispirited nation, weary of economic struggle, to one where it has reclaimed its 20th century birthright to dream of tomorrow.

How much would you pay to “launch” our economy. How much would you pay for the universe?

Most Astounding Fact

Astrophysicist Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson was asked by a reader of TIME magazine, “What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?” This is his answer.

Pluto Isn’t a Planet Anymore 😦

“3rd graders are getting pissed off!”

Stephen Colbert Interview

Still need more Niel deGrasse Tyson? Not yet satisfied with the few tidbits I’ve fed you thus far. Well then pour yourself a glass of your favorite 15 year scotch and prepare for an hour of mind blowing facts!

Other than the whole Pluto thing (just kidding… I think), Dr. Tyson is a leading voice for our profession and dreamers alike. We all need to stand up for what we believe in. And for the love of all things holy or unholy. Support STEM 🙂

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I’m glad that this type of work is getting started!

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