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Shit Elon Says - Transcript - Elon Musk at ISDC 2006

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The optimization in the case of Falcon 1 was really in terms of a cost per flight to orbit. So it wasn't a cost per unit mass optimization, it was - what is the smallest useful vehicle that we can build and deliver satellites on. It was clear that was at least a 1000 pounds to LEO and we ended up exceeding that, going to about 1500 pounds. Total cost per launch is about $6.5 million, all in. Both stages are LOX/Kerosene. One note is that the first stage is intended to be reusable, it comes back via parachute to a water landing. The pricing does not include any assumptions for reusability. I'm actually fairly confident that reusability will work, provided the parachute opens. I mean... I think, if the parachute opens, I don't think the sea water is going to hurt the rocket. If you see what it goes through on the test stand, and on the launch pad, where it gets deluged with high pressure water. At our test stand in Texas we've had sleet, snow, rain that's hitting you sideways at 35 mph, extremely high winds. So, I think that if - provided we get it back, I think it will actually require very little refurbishment in order to launch again.

The first stage engine, which we call the Merlin, is of modest performance. One of the things that we haven't tried to do, is try to achieve the highest possible performance. Our goal has been to create something that is a reliable truck, essentially, rather than a Ferrari. We haven't produced, for instance, a stage combustion super high ISP engine. You need to be pretty good to get to orbit at all, but you don't really have to push the envelope any further than we've pushed it here. Our upper stage engine is also LOX/Kerosene, and a somewhat similar architecture to the first stage engine, except that it doesn't have a turbopump, and it's a low pressure engine.

The Falcon 1 development has really been winding down now for the past several months, and essentially is almost complete at this point. The development focus for about the past year has been more of the Falcon 5 which is our medium lift vehicle. It has engine-out capability, so you can lose any one of the main engines and still make it to orbit. I think that's actually a very important principle. Given that almost all airliners have multiple engines. So, if you lose an engine you don't go down, and jet turbines are far more reliable than rocket engines. So, if that principle makes sense for jet turbines, it really makes sense for rocket engines. We expect to be able to accommodate up to a five meter fairing as well. So, it'll have really - we'll be able to put some really big stuff up there.

What is the throw weight of Falcon 5 to Mars? Well, it depends on which trajectory... the zero C3 number, as I recall, is about 1200 kg, something like that. Yeah, it's like a ton. A little over a ton. Basically, it's about as capable as the Delta II Heavy is that sent the Mars exploration rovers there. So, anything that Delta II could throw to Mars, Falcon 5 could throw to Mars. "You know, couldn't really send people.. if they were alive." We'll need something much bigger than that, but you could certainly do robotic missions.

We don't like to disclose too much ahead of time, because - well, it's more a question of sounding credible more than anything else, we'd like to get some things accomplished before we claim we're going to do other things, but the plan is to do a vehicle which is in the class of Delta IV after Falcon 5 and you could apply, sort of, a common booster core approach to that and, ya know, encompass the entire range of the EELV capabilities. Up to about 60,000 pounds to orbit, maybe a little beyond that. I can say that we'll be announcing something fairly significant later this year, as far as much more lift capability that is currently represented, but ideally I'd like to have Falcon 1 launched before we make any big announcement in that direction, but you can expect that, from a strategy standpoint - call it the 7-11 strategy, we're going small, medium, large and extra large, or big gulp or whatever it is.. super big gulp. Falcon 1's obviously small, Falcon 5's medium, we'll have a large and an extra large.

Range related stuff is probably - all regulatory stuff combined is, I'd say, at most 25% of the cost - it's material, ya know, and significant, but it's probably 20% to 25% of the total cost associated with both development and launch.

The ablative portion is actually really cheap, it costs less than one of our main valves on the engine. I don't want to give away really detailed, proprietary numbers, but I can say it's really de minimis. It costs us more to hire the tugboat to go out there than it does to replace the ablative.

As far as the actual launch date, we think we'll be ready to go as soon as the Titan IV departs, which is currently scheduled to be around mid-July. There's a contingency there both on the Titan IV rocket as well as the payload, which is a class 5 payload. They won't give you specifics when there's classified stuff involved. We expect, assuming that they launch in mid-July, we expect that the range would give us - because the range has to assign a launch date to us - we assume the range would assign a launch date that is within two or three weeks of the Titan IV departure. So, therefore, if Titan IV left - basically, say August would be a good bet. As far as Kwajalein, that's actually going very well, we have our own little island there called Omelek.

We expect to have that launch site active and ready to do something with in the late August time frame. So, if Titan IV gets significantly delayed then we'll go out of Kwajalein, and we expect to actually have two rockets - one at Vandenberg and one at Kwajalein, possibly on the pad at the same time.

Actually, "we try not to tell anyone outside the space business that it's for a rocket, because they assume rockets are made of magic." If you tell them it's for a rocket, they go like well, 'I don't think I'm quite good enough to do something for a rocket,' and we're like, 'no it'll be fine.' So, we generally - there are some aerospace suppliers that do do a good job of.. I'd say Mirada Valves does a good job for example. Spincraft does a good job of spinning domes. I don't want to paint all aerospace suppliers with the same negative brush. I think there are definitely some good ones out there, but generally we find that if you want something cheap, fast and that's probably going to work, then you should use a regular commercial supplier. If you want something that's expensive, takes a long time and might work, use an aerospace supplier.

We don't want to be the ones begging to use facilities, so if we're going to use a NASA facility then that NASA facility has to behave like we're the customer. If they don't behave like we're the customer then we're not going to work there. If we have to justify why we want to work there, we're definitely not going to work there. I think, just for pace of execution reasons - because there's also a lot of paperwork involved with using NASA facilities, we've chosen to use our own facilities, but I think, like I said, for big stuff or where it's one-of-a-kind test facilities, that's probably where we'll tend to work with NASA.


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