SpaceX Prediction

I predict that regardless of the outcome of SpaceX’s inaugural Falcon 9 launch, nobody is going to change their opinion. If it’s successful, Ares-huggers will suddenly begin to understand the concept that a single successful flight doesn’t prove anything about a vehicle’s overall reliability (while most on the pro-commercial space guys will start sounding like NASA guys post Ares-IX).

If it fails, commercial space people will switch back to “it was only a test” mode while to Ares-huggers, it will prove, prove, prove that all commercial vehicles (including those with existing proven track records) are all death traps. After all, imagine the national security risk of flying our astronauts on private launch vehicles! I mean, if we’re going to turn LEO crew transportation over to the private sector, we might as well all start learning Chinese and reading the little Red Book, cause them Commies are going to come and sap and impurify our precious bodily fluids.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
Jonathan Goff

About Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
This entry was posted in Commercial Space, Politics, Snark, SpaceX. Bookmark the permalink.

75 Responses to SpaceX Prediction

  1. Mike Lorrey says:

    Ares-IX wasn’t a real test of a real vehicle, it was a SRB with a 1:1 scale model mounted on it. More accurate to call it the Estes-1X.

  2. Gordan says:

    Unfortunately, I completely agree with you there, Jon. The mind reels at all the hypocrisy out there.

  3. john hare says:

    So you’re saying that nobody will change their opinion, just their spin? Very minor quible with the bracket comment in the first paragragh. Many NASA guys were also not happy with der Griffenschaft.

  4. Luke says:

    Yeah, but by betting on human nature, your prediction is bound to come true. That’s not playing fair 🙂

    Personally my prediction for falcon 9, is it explodes spectacularly approximately 30 seconds into its flight. However I also predict that this will have no long term adverse affects on SpaceX and the Falcon 9 will go on to become a reliable and popular launcher.

    I understand that developing a new launcher is not easy, and there are bound to be setbacks. Just look at what happened with Falcon 1!

    Anybody else care to place bets on how long the Falcon 9 will fly?

  5. Gordan says:

    BTW, here’s a condensed version of the CNBC interview Musk had, has some nice tidbits on their proposed LAS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vTSDFzKdYVU

  6. The military trusts multi-billion dollar national assets to commercial launch vehicles, so why can’t NASA use them as well? Most of the Ares-huggers have a financial reason to see the world the way that they do.

  7. Daniella says:

    “including those with existing proven track records”

    Remind me which private sector organization has launched a human being to LEO and brought them back? I can’t seem to think of one.

  8. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Daniella,
    I was referring to the *launchers* that are currently used for billion dollar government satellites, nuclear powered space probes, etc. They’ve put a lot more into space than der Griffenshaft has.

    ~Jon

  9. jb says:

    My thoughts exactly!!! I’m a pro commercial guy so you know what side I’d be on.. But I think we can argue Ares 1 would work in the long run but would bancrupt NASA in doing so..that I guess is the real issue is performance vs cost ..
    jb

  10. Robert Clark says:

    Thanks for that Youtube link, Gordon. I like what Musk says at the end about the need for us to remain a space faring civilization.

    Bob Clark

  11. Paul Breed says:

    I’ve made public predictions on the all the Spacex attempts. I made recently F9 predictions on Arocket, I’ll repeat/expand here: Musk has publicly stated that he thinks its 50:50 shot. I hope its a 100% success, I’d put the likely hood of a perfect first flight more in the 20% range.

    For failures I predict:
    1)They will have pogo problems with the 9 engines and the huge amount of complex plumbing involved. (This is a repeat of the sort of problems seen on the Saturn V first stage)

    2)They will have vacuum ignition problems with the 2nd stage.
    They have never tested the 2nd stage ignition sequence in vacuum and like the shutdown surge that killed Falcon 1 flight #3, things really are different in a vacuum.

    Examples:
    The RP-1/LOX will respond differently to the low absolute pressure and the mixture ratio will be so far off that ignition is delayed until too much propellant is in the chamber leading to hardstart.

    The TEA/TEB torch igniters will heat up and soften the chamber wall without the ambient air to help dissipate the heat. (This assumes igniters are started before the main flow cools the chamber.)

    The 2nd stage has to restart in flight. The Saturn had big solid rockets for settling propellant I think spacex only has rcs thrusters.
    So the 2nd, 2nd stage restart might have problems. (If they get this far you would have to call the flight a 90% success)

    Unknown unknowns in vacuum ignition/startup.

  12. Paul,
    Thanks for your prediction. My guess is that the most likely outcome is that they’ll reach some orbit, but there will be some issues with the flight that will still give people who don’t like commercial something to gripe about.

    For me the most likely issues will be:
    1-Nozzle strike during staging
    2-A premature first stage engine shutdown
    3-US turbopump startup issues

    I’m not too worried about most of the US starting problems you mentioned, because they’ve already done several upper stage ignition events successfully. The only one that didn’t ignite cleanly was the one where the first stage rammed the second stage.

    I’m not too worried about POGO, because that’s a well-known problem that I’m pretty sure they have made deliberate fixes for.

    So even though I don’t think they’ll nail it right down the center this time, I do think they’ll make it to orbit.

    Should be fun to see who’s right.

    ~Jon

  13. Sean says:

    Jonathan Goff – I was referring to the *launchers* that are currently used for billion dollar government satellites, nuclear powered space probes, etc. They’ve put a lot more into space than der Griffenshaft has

    Yes, but there is more to human spaceflight than propelling their bodies to a sufficient velocity.

  14. Its obvious that private American companies will launch people into space. A private company with minority ownership by the government called Energia launches humans into space. But the question is, should the Federal government continue to have its own access to orbit or should it only travel into space via a corporate owned vessel. The military industrial complex is currently costing us nearly a trillion dollars annually. So it should also be asked whether private commercial manned spaceflight companies that are dependent of government contracts and tax payer money are a good thing.

    If I owned my own manned spaceflight company, I wouldn’t focus on government contracts. I’d just take that NASA money– they’re giving away for free– and focus on space tourism and launching commercial satellites in order to avoid all of the red tape and regulations NASA would want to put upon my company for launching their astronauts.

  15. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Yes, but there is more to human spaceflight than propelling their bodies to a sufficient velocity.

    Very true. Of course, back before NASA found out they were going to get to build a shiny new launcher, they were pretty happy with using EELVs for OSP. Quite a bit of the work was done on those projects before they got canceled. I think you might find the latest ULA paper on applying Atlas V/Delta IV to launching people rather interesting:

    http://ulalaunch.com/site/docs/publications/HumanRatingAtlasVandDeltaIV.pdf

    Unlike what a lot of the politicians seem to think, ULA actually has more practical, recent, and successful LV development experience than NASA. I don’t work for ULA, but I know whose rocket I’d trust my butt on first. And it isn’t Ares-I.

    ~Jon

  16. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Marcel,
    If I were running a commercial manned spaceflight company, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at the government demand. It’s the one set of demand out there that is actually well known and quantifiable. In the long-run I hope it’s entirely dwarfed by space tourism, microgravity researchers, and “sovereign clients” from countries that don’t have their own launchers. But in the near term, may as well leverage the demand that’s known while trying to prove out the rest of the market. You really can only afford to thumb your nose at the government market if you have enough money to make it all the way to one of those other markets yourself. The only company I know of that might be able to pull that off is Blue Origin.

    Sure there’s more paperwork, but you’ll learn some useful things from the extra efforts, and you can always charge extra for all the red tape.

    All that said, going back to your original question, I think NASA would be much better served trying to build a robust commercial orbital manned spaceflight industry that they can just buy services from than trying to always have their own ETO capabilities–I’d rather see them focused on expanding the frontier, not building yet another overpriced and mediocre ETO launch vehicle.

    ~Jon

  17. Sean says:

    I agree that Atlas/Delta is > Ares. Sorry didn’t mean to imply otherwise.

    I was thinking more along the lines of actually getting to a destination, and then safely home again.

  18. Gordan says:

    “The only one that didn’t ignite cleanly was the one where the first stage rammed the second stage.”

    Well, that one did ignite cleanly too. The rest is, as they say, history…

  19. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Sean,
    I see what you’re getting at. Sure, there are prox ops, life support, and Entry/Descent/Landing issues that all need to be sorted out. But it’s not like NASA has much more recent successfully completed development experience in this field than many of the companies that would be competing for commercial crew delivery services.

    ~Jon

  20. Roga says:

    Yes, but there is more to human spaceflight than propelling their bodies to a sufficient velocity.

    Please, do tell. I suspect the engineers at ULA and SpaceX have not considered this. Maybe you should write a letter or something. But let’s take a look at what else you might need:

    1) Fault-tolerant systems. All these companies have launch vehicles with some fault tolerance, and most (Boeing, Lockheed, Orbital) have satellite divisions where they produce multi-billion $$ payloads that are vital for national security, and where there is no hope of servicing if something goes wrong. So, check.

    2) Life support systems. Boeing has more experience with pressurized cabins, both legacy from building Shuttle and designing Orion, and from that little commercial airplanes unit they run in the back yard. Yeah, they build fully redundant, self-contained life support systems inside pressure vessels, and then sell them for a profit!

    6-axis control. See #1, and also see the fact that SpaceX and Orbital will both be demonstrating automated docking capability with ISS before they fly humans to any destination that requires this. So, yeah.

    Heat shield. Boeing was working on Orion. SpaceX will be demonstrating re-entry soon. Lockheed is the world leader in hypersonic flight research so they are well acquainted with this regime.

    Launch escape system. Probably the toughest nut to crack of all these. But it has been done before, dozens of times, on rockets and capsules just like the ones these companies are proposing. And it was not done on Shuttle.

    And add to all this experience the fact that USA and ATK engineers will also be on the market, with their experience working on solid rockets, reentry, and turnaround operations, and put them in a commercial environment where they are encouraged to minimize cost and overhead rather than the opposite, and you should have no delusions about commercial providers of human launch.

  21. Paul Breed says:

    As for having done upper stage ignition,
    The F1 used an ablative, pressure fed system.
    The F9 uses a totally different motor, it includes a Turbo pump, so the complexity of starting a regen turbopump motor in vacuum is significantly higher than starting a pressure fed ablative.

  22. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Paul,
    I guess I’m probably just quibbling. While I completely agree that the Merlin-flavored upper stage engine on F9 is a lot more complicated than Kestrel, I guess I’m saying I’m not worried about the ignition side so much as the turbopump startup side. I still give them a better than 75% chance of having the startup sequence work well enough the first time to not damage anything.

    Most of my big question marks have to do with that ginormous nozzle extension.

    ~Jon

  23. googaw says:

    Marcel Williams:
    I’d just take that NASA money– they’re giving away for free– and focus on space tourism and launching commercial satellites in order to avoid all of the red tape and regulations NASA.

    A good business strategy if you can pull it off. But almost always TANSTAAFL applies: getting NASA money requires taking on the red tape and regulations.

  24. As Bolden said in Congress, USA is a private company and they do all the work that launches humans on the Shuttle into orbit.

    Oh, and if other people are going to start pimping out my youtube videos I guess I’ll just have to find some other form of blatant self-promotion 😉

  25. Chris (Robotbeat) says:

    Jon, that nozzle extension is quite large. And about the same thickness as a pop can. But at least it’s not an extendable one, like the RL-10B-2 (seriously, it’s like they get paid to make complicated schemes instead of just for launching stuff into orbit….)

  26. googaw says:

    Trent Waddington:
    USA is a private company and they do all the work that launches humans on the Shuttle into orbit.

    So then a private company is responsible for the Shuttle’s preposterous costs?

  27. Paul Breed says:

    >So then a private company is responsible for the Shuttle’s preposterous costs
    NASA is responsible for the design and procedures associated with the shuttle. The private contractors just do what they are contracted to do. NASA should not be in the design business they are not very good at it.

  28. Googaw: “A good business strategy if you can pull it off. But almost always TANSTAAFL applies: getting NASA money requires taking on the red tape and regulations.”

    Private companies would be much more successful in the long run, IMO, if NASA just set up a Space Lotto system for them.

    Space Commercialization and the Lunar Lotto:
    http://newpapyrusmagazine.blogspot.com/1999/01/space-commercialization-and-lunar-lotto.html

  29. To answer your question googaw, the difference between what USA does now and what some commercial crew service might hopefully do in the future is twofold:

    1) They’ll actually make the vehicle so they’ll have the opportunity to design it for lower operational costs.
    2) The contracting with NASA will be less contractor and more acquisition.

    Specifically, SpaceX have designed their vehicle to be integrated and roll out horizontally, and be launchable with a minimum ground crew.. this might sound familiar to you, it’s what the Russians do. They’ll charge a fixed price for providing a specific service.

  30. googaw says:

    Trent:
    1) They’ll actually make the vehicle so they’ll have the opportunity to design it for lower operational costs.
    2) The contracting with NASA will be less contractor and more acquisition.

    But with ISS as the target and with NASA’s man-rating bureaucracy being enforced, and with NASA dominating visions of such space travel since its inception, NASA obviously has a dominant role in the basic design goals of Dragon and any of its potential Commercial Crew rivals (i.e. the basic purposes of the spacecraft and the list of requirements it must satisfy). There has been practically no input into these requirements from private customers, nor would it make any business sense to pay attention to them if there were, given the vast and easy flow of NASA revenue via COTS.

    They’ll charge a fixed price for providing a specific service.

    For the last four years SpaceX has been making a profit by simply making “milestones”. They have destroyed as many customer payloads as they have delivered, yet are making a profit. They will probably take several more years worth of profits from NASA revenues before they actually deliver any cargo for NASA. In other words, a fixed-price milestone-based R&D contract, not commercial “buying a ticket”, is the main feature of COTS. Don’t confuse euphemism and press release hype with reality.

    BTW, Musk also gets substantial government subsidies in his other businesses: government loan (Tesla), massive tax breaks for customers (Solar City). All of these subsidies are dwarfed by the practically 100% subsidy NASA doles out in HSF. Political connections, e.g. with California Senators Boxer and Feinstein, are crucial to Musk’s success with his several ventures. Look for SpaceX and/or Musk himself to be funding Boxer’s reelection efforts this fall, and also Dana Rohrbacher’s. (Effective lobbying is not partisan). Or if Boxer starts looking like a lame horse, look for Musk to switch sides to Carly Fiorina or Stephen Poizner, whichever wins the Republican nomination.

  31. Wow, googaw, that’s two for two.. I was assuming you’d be less ignorant over here than you are over as Transterrestial Musings. Look, why don’t you just go back to NASA Watch where they appreciate content free discussion.

  32. googaw says:

    Splendid…I state the facts about SpaceX and COTS that Trent would prefer to ignore and he thinks that makes me “ignorant.”

  33. Jonathan Goff Jonathan Goff says:

    Trent, Googaw,
    If you can’t play nice together, I’m going to have to separate you two… 😉

    ~Jon

  34. Danny says:

    This reminds me of the big snowstorms that blew through the eastern half of the country just a few weeks ago. The global warmers, who are usually reminding us that “weather is not climate” were saying, “This is entirely consistent with global warming!” Nevermind that it was also consistent with no global warming. It’s more convincing to point to a trend, rather than assigning importance or causation to any single event. The same goes for launch vehicles (though you can identify why any single launch vehicle failed, you have to have several failures before you can identify a trend).

  35. googaw, let me showcase your most absurd comment as representative of the rest.

    “For the last four years SpaceX has been making a profit by simply making “milestones”. ”

    That single comment proves you are either ignorant or stupid, and the overall aggressiveness by which you proclaim your opinion is simply baffling. There’s no possibility that you even know what the word “profit” means.. and I don’t just mean in the technical sense, you seem to not even have a colloquial understanding of the term.

  36. membrane says:

    I think it’s extremely unlikely F9 will explode 30 seconds into flight.
    The ground testing and computer modeling pretty much eliminated this.

    F1 never showed any issues with it’s guidance system so they have a very good avionics team.

    Instead I’d look at upper stage engine turbo pump spin up and start and propellant ullage and engine restart as potential problem areas.

    I think staging will go smooth simply because F1 had so many issues with it.
    I have a feeling F9’s development may go as smoothly as the Saturn I development program went.

  37. Coastal Ron says:

    In response to points that googaw is making:

    A. “NASA obviously has a dominant role in the basic design goals of Dragon…” – SpaceX was building Dragon before the COTS program, and NASA only reviews what is submitted by the COTS participants. SpaceX has always had the goal for launching people into LEO, and the COTS program is a parallel effort for them.

    B. “For the last four years SpaceX has been making a profit by simply making “milestones”” – NASA is one of their sources of revenue (not to be confused with profit), as is deposits for future commercial launches. For the COTS program, NASA wanted the contractors to meet specific criteria for delivering cargo to the ISS, and it pays the contractors for demonstrating those criteria (i.e. milestones). This is standard contracting procedure anywhere in the business world when you are buying customized products or services. For delivery, they will only be paid for safe delivery of their product, putting the onus on them for safety.

    C. “They have destroyed as many customer payloads as they have delivered” – Actually they have only delivered one paying payload to orbit, and that one successfully. SpaceX critics conveniently forget that the first three launches were test vehicles, specifically intended to work out the bugs. Since they declared the Falcon I operational, no failures.

  38. Josh Cryer says:

    I’ve been defending SpaceX pretty consistently the past few weeks (ask Trent), and I can say, with 100% confidence, that if Falcon 9 fails, then SpaceX really screwed up and it will certainly put in to question the ability of private space to fulfill NASAs needs (congressmen, and public naysayers, alike). I’ll be hoping that they can do what they did with Falcon 1-3, launch again a month later with a success. If they can’t pull that off I’ll be very disheartened and I will admit to it. I do hope, though, that if they do fail, it’s incredibly fantastic, and I get to see fireworks. Heh.

    And to be fair, googaw, I think NASAs man rating standards, while no doubt high, are certainly in the realm you want to design for, anyway. It’s not like they put random stuff in their standards to make things harder (though with Ares I they liked to put exceptions in to make things easier). Having a NASA stamp of satisfaction on your vehicles gives the average customer confidence in your ability to get the job done.

    For cargo SpaceX is very open for the consumer, and no doubt with Dragon this will be the same, as you’ll probably have options if only 3 people go up on a Dragon vs 6. More luxurious flight room, added digital TV, whatever. As far as actually controlling the design though? I wouldn’t trust a consumer to know what to demand.

  39. Mike Lorrey says:

    Googaw seems to be ignoring that the large costs and time delays associated with NASA developed vehicles (even when built/work done by ULA or other private contractors) is that those types of programs involve cost plus contracts and NASA being intimately involved with every aspect of every decision. This obviously forces companies to do tons more paperwork and R&D&T than is necessary. The COTS and CRS programs SpaceX is involved in are far looser, with NASA having zero decision making authority over development work and paperwork requirements far less, so long as milestones are met.

    This difference alone saves tremendous amounts of money and time.

    Another difference is the companies are free to design based on business decision making. Compare this to NASA, where, for instance, you can blame the Shuttle’s poor sortie rate (1/4 of that originally planned) on one factor: the TPS silica tiles consume more than 3/4 of the maintenance man hours, far more than was planned or expected. Why? Because back during development, the guys developing the tiles were having trouble making tiles that wouldn’t crack in half after a few thermal cycles. Rather than putting money into fixing this issue, they instead decided to make the tiles 1/4 the size they were originally planned to be. As a result there are four times as many tiles on the shuttle as was originally planned due to this dimension change, resulting in four times as much maintenance time between flights to repair damage…..

    If a private business were developing an RLV like the shuttle, their bean counters would have seen this issue early on and seen it as worthwhile to put extra money into solving the cracking issue rather than condemning the whole program to such a low sortie rate that it became impossibly expensive to fly (and thus unprofitable).

  40. Gordan says:

    Coastal Ron said: “SpaceX critics conveniently forget that the first three launches were test vehicles, specifically intended to work out the bugs. Since they declared the Falcon I operational, no failures.”

    AFAIK, Falcon 1 was declared operational after flight #2. That would leave #3 as the one *operational* failure so far.

  41. googaw says:

    Coastal Run, thank you for responding cogently to my points instead of Trent’s method of just spewing idiotic insults.

    Firstly let me point out that when I wrote

    For the last four years SpaceX has been making a profit

    I was quite correct. That some folks automatically decided that it couldn’t possibly be true, that I just must be some ignorant dweeb who meant “revenue”, without having bothered to do the easy research needed to actually verify the claim, says sad things about the unreal attitudes some people have about SpaceX . SpaceX’s profit has been headline news — try Googling [SpaceX profit]. Having invested in stocks for decades and having run a business, I know far more about what these terms mean than the average space activist.

    Second, about Dragon, I simply claimed that it is obvious, from business common sense, that Dragon has been designed with NASA as a customer in mind. That they did some of that design before COTS is irrelevant. NASA and its old rival Russian government program heavily promoted the idea that HSF in LEO is somehow such an important thing to be doing in the first place. There is no evidence that any other customer besides NASA has submitted design requirements for Dragon to SpaceX. It is business common sense that if you have one dominant customer you design the product around the needs of that customer.

    Actually they have only delivered one paying payload to orbit, and that one successfully.

    They have also destroyed a customer payload on what you are calling a “test” launch. Like I said, they have destroyed as many customer payloads as they have delivered.

    Sheeh, folks, I am not even anti-SpaceX, I am not one of these soon-to-be-ex-Constellation people who think SpaceX is the enemy. I would love for them to succeed. I wouldn’t view one early failure of the Falcon 9 as commercially speaking a big problem. (I do view three failures of the Falcon 1, including destroying a paying customer payload, as a problem, albeit one that people would eventually forget about after a string of subsequent successes if they hadn’t decided to move their revenue model towards being dominated by politics). What I am against is the preposterously unreal view some space activists evolved in their heads about this company as some sort of free enterprise savior of the space program. The Dragon is in fact dominated by NASA and the company as a whole is now moving towards being dominated by NASA. The more they hitch their ride to NASA the more they will evolve away from being useful to private customers. SpaceX is now staking its future on NASA politics, not on commerce.

  42. googaw says:

    Mike Lorrey and Josh Cryer, thank you also for your cogent responses.

    Mike Lorrey:
    NASA developed vehicles…involve cost plus contracts and NASA being intimately involved with every aspect of every decision.

    I am not arguing in favor of the cost-plus model. In fact, I think COTS is an improvement over it. Just not the fantastic improvement some have expected or claimed. Nor is it the free enterprise some people have expected or claimed. COTS is still government contracting. To call it “commercial” is to parley in euphemisms, like the IRS calling its taxpayers “customers”.

    While NASA’s costs are a big problem, they are not its biggest problem. NASA’s biggest problem is that it does the wrong things. Living far beyond market incentives it pursues economic fantasies. COTS does not solve that problem, indeed it exacerbates it by portraying economic fantasies as somehow just as “commercial” as really useful things like mail delivery and satellite communications.

    I think NASAs man rating standards, while no doubt high, are certainly in the realm you want to design for, anyway.

    Only if you have paying space tourist customers. But NASA and Russia and European governments provide at least 99% of the revenue of the orbital space tourism (excuse me, “astronaut” or “cosmonaut”) industry. (Over $10 billion per year in government HSF funding vs. less than $100 million per year in revenues from private space tourists). So Dragon is being designed for a “market” that is 99% artificial. No businessman in his right mind invests or designs for the 1%.

  43. googaw, I assume you’re referring to Musk’s comments way back in 2008 that the company was cash flow positive and that they had been profitable for FY07.. This is hardly surprising as Falcon 9 efforts had barely begun. Can you actually present any evidence that “for the last four years SpaceX has been making a profit”?

    But hey, you’ve said more stupid shit since then so let’s move on.

    “(Over $10 billion per year in government HSF funding vs. less than $100 million per year in revenues from private space tourists). So Dragon is being designed for a “market” that is 99% artificial. No businessman in his right mind invests or designs for the 1%.”

    Who says Musk is in his right mind by your standard? Musk has specifically said his goal is to go to Mars.. that he thinks people will pay their life’s savings for a one way trip and go live there. Does that sound like a guy jockeying for pork?

    In regards to the “space tourists” market, I dunno how many times I have to say this (http://xkcd.com/386/ again), but Space Adventures has more customers lined up to pay $35M than seats available. If the price goes down to $20M/seat – which is what Musk has said is the goal for Dragon for NASA astronauts – the demand can only go up. Richard Garriott has spoken a number of times about the human tended experiments which Space Adventures is lining up for private astronauts that will almost pay for the seat. It seems obvious to me that, eventually, private customers will out-buy NASA for seats.

  44. Josh Cryer says:

    Trent Waddington, I agree with you, but only if ISS 1) allows tourism 2) can actually accommodate tourists on an acceptable level, such as adding an inflatable Biglow module where they can stay on the station without getting in the way or frustrating astronauts. There’s also the missing option that hasn’t been stated; that non-space fairing states (ie, all but the big three) can sign on with ISS, have their own astronaut training programs, and send them up for $20 million a pop. I remember when the first Swiss astronaut went to the ISS (about 3-4 years ago), they literally had parties with thousands of attendants, with free food and music. It was like an Olympic event. Imagine, and don’t laugh, a Chilean astronaut, or a New Zealander, or even an an Argentinean.

    There’s a business case to be made here, but we have to be careful when we move away from COTS to totally private, and I agree in principle with googaw’s SCOTS proposal (he made it on SpacePolitics). It’s just too early to really be saying how it will go.

  45. Josh, I felt stupid after I asked Richard Garriott, Brett Alexander and John Gedmark at Space Vision if they thought SpaceX would be allowed to fly non-NASA astronauts to the station. They seemed baffled that I would even ask… NASA has no say in the matter (yet). SpaceX can fly anyone they want and all they need is an agreement with one of the member countries to open the door for them. The biggest problem I see is ride sharing with NASA.. if a Dragon is taking 2 NASA astronauts and 5 private astronauts up they might have to arrange separate crew return capability for whichever astronaut are staying on the station longer than the others. To me, this speaks volumes about the focus on “lifeboat” trials. There’s always been more upmass requirement than downmass (even trash downmass), so it seems inevitable that resupply vehicles will be used as planned crew return vehicles, not just lifeboats.

  46. Mike Lorrey says:

    “I am not arguing in favor of the cost-plus model. In fact, I think COTS is an improvement over it. Just not the fantastic improvement some have expected or claimed. Nor is it the free enterprise some people have expected or claimed. COTS is still government contracting. To call it “commercial” is to parley in euphemisms, like the IRS calling its taxpayers “customers”.”

    Googaw, I don’t think anybody is arguing that COTS is equal to a purely commercial contract. Most people recognise that the milestone system is fully intended so that NASA can help capitalize development of capabilities by companies so that those companies don’t have to give up control of their companies to hedge funds and institutional investors and VC operations. The last thing you want, believe me, is for some hedge fund to get in a position to screw with a company like SpaceX. The nation is littered with the corpses of companies destroyed by hedge funds despite being profitable operations.

    I also agree that NASA makes bad design decisions, such as their fatally bad decision on the shuttle TPS tile size way back in the day that destroyed the sortie rate. I don’t see NASA having any ability to make design decisions for SpaceX. NASA is, I hear, offering various technologies to SpaceX (like a launch escape system), but its entirely up to SpaceX to decide what to accept and how to adapt it to the application of Dragon.

    Can you please point to specific items where you feel NASA has forced a decision on SpaceX?

    As for comparing NASA man rating standards to Soyuz, I don’t believe Soyuz has lower standards, especially given the much better safety record Soyuz has vs Shuttle.

    Vis a vis ride sharing: based on what I hear from inside NASA, while the shuttle pilots seem to be averse to riding as paying passengers in other peoples capsules, the mission specialists really don’t care cause they get treated that way on the Shuttle anyways. I dont see a reason why a space tourist couldn’t pay to stay on the station for a full tour, not just a turnaround, but if SpaceX is going to be sending regular flights to ISS, they will still result in crews overlapping like they do with Soyuz already, so the tourists can ride up on one capsule and return on the older one just like they do with Soyuz.

    BTW: who says space tourism is merely a $100 million a year market? It may be NOW, but thats a function of a limited number of seats available on Soyuz for tourism (2 empty seats per year at 50 million per seat, oh and Russia announced they are no longer offering tourist seats til 2015 due to ISS entering full time operations). SpaceX has quoted rides to ISS for NASA at $47 million per seat, so it really doesn’t matter whose ass is filling the seat, a NASA astronaut or a tourist astronaut.

    That said, I don’t see much tourism to ISS. Bigelow has an F9 flight scheduled for 2014, with no Dragon capsule, so I assume this will be to loft part of his space hotel. I expect non-COTS Dragon flights after that point will be heading there with non-NASA tourists and scientists.

    Oh yeah, dont forget the science market, which some have estimated is likely ten times more valuable than the pure tourism market…

  47. googaw says:

    Even in the highly unlikely event that orbital space tourism market ends up growing five-fold by 2020, due to extraordinary good luck and the supposed not-enough-seats effect, it would still be less than 5% of the government agency HSF budget. In other words the HSF “market” would still be 95% artificial.

    the science market, which some have estimated…

    Some have been estimating this for at least three decades now. Thousands of experiments and press releases later, still over 90% of microgravity experiments are funded by space agencies themselves, often funneled through universities.

    These claims about the grand hypothetical markets somehow magically connected to HSF are the echoes of very old propaganda that NASA trotted out to motivate funding for Freedom/ISS. Now it’s being trotted out to justify further NASA infusions into a supposed HSF “market” that is still over 99% artificial after decades of such hype.

    Real commerce lies elsewhere.

  48. Chris (Robotbeat) says:

    Real commerce (beyond telecommunications, navigation) won’t happen in space until costs become lower. Costs won’t become lower without investments. So what if the government is using commercial services? Is it such a problem that it fits neither socialist ideals nor libertarian ideals? I mean, seriously.

  49. googaw says:

    Chris (Robotbeat):
    Costs won’t become lower without investments.

    Throwing money at a problem is a rather bad way to get people to be more efficient.

  50. googaw says:

    Real commerce (beyond telecommunications, navigation)

    I do believe you are missing the point. The telecomm, nav, etc. is the real commerce — the LEO HSF stuff is the hype that originated from NASA.

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