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Shit Elon Says - Transcript - CRS-2 Post Landing Teleconference

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Elon Musk:

Thanks. Well, I think I'll just talk a little bit about the anomaly that we experienced and we did have an issue with the Dragon spacecraft briefly on the way to the space station. The rocket performed very well, flawlessly as far as we could tell. We did have a slight issue with the propellant check valves, which we were able to fix within about four or five hours and then get to the space station about a day later, and there were no further issues after that. I think we understand the root cause of that and have addressed that in future vehicles and so we don't expect to see that issue again. Yeah, I think I'll just leave it at that.

[Question on when CRS-3 launch will be.]

Gwynne Shotwell:

Yeah, we are currently scheduled to launch late this fall with CRS-3. There's a number of upgrades to that particular Dragon configuration, which is going to give NASA even more of the critical types of cargo that they're looking to both bring up and bring back.

Elon Musk:

It's actually also worth noting that it will be with the new version of Falcon 9, which [has] some fairly significant upgrades on the vehicle side, both to improve performance and to improve reliability. It's capable of actually, really, maximizing the payload of Dragon. We can, as much as you can basically pack in Dragon, we can send up. It could potentially raise the useful payload of Dragon by several tons. This is also the version of Falcon 9 where we will attempt to recover the first stage. Although, as I've said before, I think it's going to take us several flights before we are successful in that. I'm not sure it'll be this flight where we are successful, but that is our aspiration and that is one of the key design goals of the new version of Falcon 9.

[Question on update on and schedule of fairing tests at Plumb Brook.]

Sure, this is obviously going a little off-topic on the CRS flight, but I'll just spend one minute on it. I'd like to say thanks to the folks at NASA Glenn, who operate Plumb Brook, for helping us out here. Their assistance is much appreciated. It's an awesome facility. If you've seen pictures of it, it's really epic. Super cool. We're just assembling the fairing right now to do the vacuum separation tests, which are quite exciting tests, because it's a giant giant fairing. We'll be releasing information, probably in the next few weeks about how those tests go. Ya know, they are tests, so things could definitely go wrong, but yeah, I just want to give a special thanks to the NASA Glenn folks.

[Question on upgrade of Dragon for carrying astronauts.]

I'll make some brief comments and then maybe Charlie can share the perspective of NASA on how things are going. Things seem to be going pretty well. We're passing our milestones and making, I think, good progress. We're hoping to do the pad abort tests fairly soon. Potentially later this year. That's going to be an exciting test and we're hoping to unveil, actually, what Dragon version two looks like, also later this year. We'll work with NASA on that unveiling. I think it's coming along really well. As with the cargo program, the partnership with NASA, from our perspective, is going really well and it's just a really great partnership.

[Question on the cause of the thruster problem on Dragon during CRS-2 and how it was solved.]

The problem was a very tiny change to a check valve that served the oxidizer tanks on Dragon. Three of the check valves were actually different from the prior check valves that have flown in a very very tiny way. It's difficult to describe verbally. You have to really see a diagram. Because of that tiny change, they got stuck. What we were able to do was write some new software, in real time, and then upload that to Dragon where we built pressure upstream of the check valve and then released that pressure to give it kind of a kick. It's like the spacecraft equivalent of the Heimlich maneuver. That basically got the valves unstuck, and once they got unstuck they worked really well. So yeah, it was definitely a worrying time. We also had some difficulty communicating with the spacecraft, because it was drifting... kind of in free drift in orbit. So we were able to work with the air force and get higher intensity dishes - more powerful dishes - to communicate with the spacecraft and upload the software, do that pressure slam maneuver and get things unstuck, and from then on it worked really well.

[Question on what will be done for future Dragons regarding the check valves and question on booster recovery for next flight.]

The software that we uploaded was really just to get the valves unstuck, so we don't need any software changes in the future. We really just need to fix this tiny tiny little issue with the valve. It's essentially reverting it to what it was. It's really such a subtle change, but we've been through some checks to just verify that this can't happen again. I wouldn't anticipate this to be an issue ever again. As I said, it was a momentary interruption but not something that was, obviously, serious in the end.

With respect to the recovery, the initial recovery attempts will be from a water landing. The first stage booster will, after separation, continue in a ballistic arc and execute a velocity reduction burn before hitting the atmosphere, just to lessen the impact. Then, right before sort-of splashdown of the stage, it's going to light the engine again. So, there will be two burns after stage separation, if things go well. But I really want to emphasize that we don't expect success in the first several attempts. Hopefully next year, with a lot more experience and data, we should be able to return the first stage to the launch site, deploy the landing legs and do a propulsive landing on land - back at the launch site. So, this year is about just recovering - hopefully recovering - the first stage, at all, from an ocean landing and then next year it'll be the boost-back, return to launch site, with the landing gear deployed. That's our aspiration.

[Question about when flyback will happen.]

You mean the return to launch site? [Yes.] Not a specific flight, but it would be sometime - I'm guessing - around the middle of next year.

[Response to Charlie Bolden expressing that NASA and SpaceX are one team during approach to station.]

That's the exact sentiment that I would express as well. I don't think a lot of people out there appreciate that NASA and SpaceX are really closely integrated. Like, day to day. It's not like some sort of hands off thing. It's really a joint effort. NASA knows everything that we're doing and we know, at least the stuff that pertains to us, what NASA's doing. We have high speed data links between Johnson Space Center and the Hawthorn California headquarters of SpaceX. In fact, Charlie was with me in mission control on this last mission and I must say, it's great to work with NASA. On this last mission, NASA was so cool. What I mean is, like, I was completely unruffled. I was far more anxious than NASA was. I was like, we have one cool customer.

[Question about check valves and how Falcon 9 v1.1 is different from Falcon 9.]

It was not a manufacturing tolerance issue, it was actually a tiny design revision change from a supplier. The supplier made some mistakes there, and we didn't catch those mistakes. Sort of a dual responsibility. We do actually run the system through pressurization checks, but we didn't previously run them through the high pressure checks. We do a low pressure functionality check, but not a high pressure functionality check. Now we've changed the procedure to do a high pressure functionality check and, obviously, both us and the supplier are now extremely sensitive to even the tiny nuanced changes that we're talking about here. The thing that was kind of interesting was that the check valve didn't get stuck if you did these low pressure functionality checks and we didn't expect there to be any difference at the high pressure levels. That was clearly a mistake and we'll make sure we don't repeat that in the future. This is definitely a learning process. Literally, if you looked at the valve you'd have to use a magnifying glass to even see the difference.

On the rocket side, the next version of Falcon 9 is certainly a meaningful upgrade. It's a vehicle that has about 60% to 70% more capability than the current, or the old, version of Falcon 9. We've really improved the structural efficiency, engine efficiency, the thrust is about 60% greater, and we've also improved the redundancy on the vehicle. We're now moving to a full triple redundant system on the Falcon 9, and also improving the engine to engine protection on the first stage, and the engine to stage protection. As people know, we had an engine go out on us in flight 4 of Falcon 9. The mission completed successfully, but we had an engine go out on us. Proving that we can lose an engine and complete the mission, which is what we always said we could do, but looking at taking that as a lesson and saying, well, how can we even improve the engine protection cell? Going into the next version of Falcon 9 we've made it even more robust. The increased capability of the rocket would mean that we could actually lose an engine right after liftoff and still complete the mission. Still have enough capability to complete the mission. So, I think, there's a number of improvements across the board, in structures, avionics, engines and then, as I said, this version is really designed to be able to have the first stage come back - boost back to launch site, deploy landing gear and actually land propulsively. But it will take at least a year I think, for us to get that right, and there will be many losses of stage between now and then.

Sorry, I should also mention Dragon version 2. So, there are the upgrades to the rocket, which are more proximate, and then there are some minor upgrades to Dragon which Gwynne was referring to, and then there's Dragon version 2 which will be a substantial upgrade. That version of Dragon will be capable of landing propulsively on land. That's going to be a really quite a significant upgrade. The water landings, in the long term, should be a thing of the past, and allow us to do missions with a more rapid tempo, without having to marshal a bunch of ships.

[Question on Dragon version 2 on what upgrades make it possible to land propulsively]

I don't want to jump the gun too much on a future unveiling. We want to work with NASA on that unveiling because I think it would be kind-of a fun thing for the public to see the new version, kind-of up close. It is quite a significant upgrade. There are very powerful thruster pods, side-mounted thruster pods, on the new version of Dragon and quite big windows as well for astronauts to see out. There's legs that pop out the bottom. "It looks like a real alien spaceship", if you will. We started off landing in water because that was kind of the easiest thing to do. We didn't really know what we were doing, honestly, at the beginning. I think we're getting better, but we didn't want to take any unnecessary risks, but now we want to really try to push the envelope and see if we can take the technology to where it hasn't been before.

[When will be the unveiling?]

Hopefully later this year. We have to figure out the exact timing, but hopefully later this year.

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