Tag Archives: Rockets

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–

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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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Dream Vacation for an Aerospace Engineer

During spring break a group of 16 aerospace engineers took a grand tour of Southern California (SoCal), visiting 8 of the top aerospace research and production facilities. Known as the “Aerospace Dream Tour,” this event was organized by Michigan’s AIAA chapter, which leveraged its network to arrange tours at JPL, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, SpaceX, Lockheed-Martin “Skunk Works,” Scaled Composites, Pratt & Whitney Rockedyne, and Edwards Air Force Base. Details of this trip were documented on a blog the AIAA president Steve Harris kept throughout the trip. A day-by-day breakdown summarizing our trip is given below:

Monday: On Monday we toured NASA’s Jet Population Laboratory (JPL) and Boeing’s C-17 production facility. JPL is responsible for almost all of the deep space probes NASA sends to the other planets. Among other things, we saw where the new Mars rover known as Curiosity (the Mars Science Laboratory, currently on its way to Mars) was made. We noticed an engineer in a clean suit was using the iHandy app on his iPhone to find the inclination of the MSL engineering model. Later that day we saw C-17 Globemasters in various stages of their construction. It was humbling standing next such a large aircraft in its infancy. Some of the construction techniques were very unique, and we learned some surprising facts on the type of damage this military aircraft can take and still stay in the air.

Tuesday: On Tuesday we toured Northrop Grumman and SpaceX. At Northrope we toured the composites facility and walked down the F-18 Super Hornet production line. Looking at fighter jets never gets old for an aerospace engineer, and seeing their half build structure and

Iron Man thinks rockets are cool.

internal guts gave us all goose bumps. We then toured SpaceX, which pretty much blew the socks off the space geeks in the group (myself included). Everywhere you looked there was space hardware, including a new rocket engine the tour guide told us we should probably not be looking at. We stuck our head into that Dragon capsule mock up, watched their mission control room in action during a test run for the upcoming launch, and ate some of the free frozen yogurt the employees enjoy every day at the expense of a bet lost to Elon Musk. Did I mention the Iron Man movie was filmed here?

Wednesday: The mind-blowing tours continued on Wednesday when we took a very exclusive tour of Lockheed’s Advanced Development Programs facility, commonly known as the Skunk

Walt and an F-1 Engine

Works. This is where a lot of the top secret aircraft are developed and built. Most of us never thought we would have a chance to step foot in this facility without working for them. There we had a chance to get down and dirty with the P-791, an experimental aerostatic/aerodynamic hybrid airship. The day kept getting better with a trip to the Mohave Spaceport and a tour of Scaled Composites. One of the most interesting aircraft they developed and built is the Space Ship One spaceplane, a suborbital vehicle which won them the X Prize. There TBP members (Dan Becker and myself) piloted the suborbital flight simulator, launching the spaceplane to the edge of space.

Thursday: On Thursday AIAA members took a tour of two of Rocketdyne’s production facilities. Rocketdyne is responsible for building the F-1 rocket engine; the enormous monster that combined with four other engines put a man on the moon. They also built the Space Shuttle Main Engines, among others. If you want to see their handy work head over to the FXB.

Friday: Our grant tour concluded on Friday with a bang, literally. We were sitting in a conference room on the secure military base eating lunch and a loud noise, which sounded like someone dropping something on the roof, shook the room. It was a sonic boom! We had a

F-22 Raptor on the Flight Line

chance to shake the wing of a Global Hawk (a surveillance UAV) to view the vibrational modes,  and saw plenty of jets in the air, including tow F-22 raptors. We saw the F-35 (the new Joint Strike Fighter) with our own eyes, and got up close to an F-16 and it various tools of destruction.

There is no question that this trip is basically the best possible way an aerospace engineer can spend a week short of flying in a fighter jet or traveling into space. However, not everything was official business. There were a lot of conventional fun activities we did as well. For instance, on

AIAA For Life!

Thursday, after our tour of Rocketdyne, we piled into our inconspicuous 12 passenger white van headed to Santa Monica for some beach time. There we took a short walk to Venice Beach to do some people watching, check out the set of American Ninja Warrior, and get some tattoos. Needless to say, it’s a pretty crazy place! Once the Sun set we drove to Hollywood Blvd for dinner and some live

The Doctor is In

music at the Hard Rock Café. We also spent some time hanging out with employees from SpaceX and Scaled Composites and made use of the hotel hot tub. All in all, a perfect spring break trip. We are all extremely grateful to everyone that made this trip possible.

If you are interested in joining Michigan’s AIAA chapter (and you should because AIAA regularly does awesome field trips and flies planes around AA at almost no cost to their members) please contact umichaiaa@gmail.com and ask how you can be a member. All majors welcome!

Written by: Nathan Mckay

UofM AIAA at the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne facility.

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Aerospace Dream Tour Group Photos

I thought it would be fitting to make a post with all of the group photos we took at each of the companies that the University of Michigan AIAA Student Chapter took while in Southern California.

University of Michigan group picture in front of JPL

We had a great tour of the C-17 production line. What an amazing airplane and impressive facility.

The University of Michigan group in front of Northrop Grumman's facility in El Segundo, CA.

The group inside the SpaceX lobby.

Group shot in the Scaled Composites Lobby

UofM AIAA at the Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne facility.

UM Students in front of the Global Hawk at Edwards AFB

University of Michigan with Cal Poly Students at Edwards Air Force Base.

AIAA at Edwards Air Force Base

I’m still waiting on some official photos from Edwards and Rocketdyne. Once they’ve cleared security, I’ll post the update here.

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Aerospace Dream Tour Day 5: Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne & Beaches

Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne

Our first tour of the day starts with Rocketdyne. We started with a tour of their Canoga Park facility and learned about all of Rocketdyne's heritage and previous projects. Next we traveled a few miles down the road to Rocketdyne's de Soto facility. Here we got a first hand look of the shop floor, where all the magic happens.

Beach Time!

Eventually I’ll have some time and these posts will get the proper attention they deserve, but I must keep trucking with the tours. Today is our final tour. We will be at Edwards AFB all day. Keep checking out the twitter feed for updates!

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Aerospace Engineering Dream Tour

Companies being toured by the University of Michigan

Over the next seven days I will be keeping a detailed log of the University of Michigan AIAA tour of Southern California’s premier aerospace companies.

Day 1: Travel to LAX

 – The adventures of flying United and American Airlines!

Day 2: JPL and Boeing (Long Beach)

 – Electric propulsion and C-17’s!
– Learn more about JPL and Boeing

Day 3: Northrop Grumman and SpaceX

– F/A-18, Space Park, and lots of ROCKETS!!
– Learn more about Northrop Grumman and SpaceX

Day 4: Lockheed Martin Skunk Works and Scaled Composites

– Revolutionary airplanes and blimps day! I can’t wait!!!
– Learn more about Skunk Works and Scaled Composites

Day 5: Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne

– The J-2X rockets and lots of beaches!!
– Learn more about Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne

Day 6: Edwards Air Force Base

– JSF and much much more!!
– Learn more about Edwards AFB

Day 7: Travel back to Ann Arbor

– The exhausting trip home plus the shear sadness of leaving aerospace paradise.

 

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