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Shit Elon Says - Transcript - Elon Musk interview at the Royal Aeronautical Society

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Well, I feel reasonably good about things, but I don't want to be complacent. We definitely want to keep the pace of the technology progression as rapid as possible. We want to do lots of launches, which are kind of our bread and butter, and then keep pushing the envelope in parallel on new technology.

[Question about the October launch anomaly.] It's just a scratch! It's just a flesh wound. [Will it impact the human-rated Dragon?] No. We actually file flight plans. When we file a flight plan we file a flight plan with zero, one and two engines out. So it wasn't even considered, from the Air Force and FAA standpoint, it wasn't actually considered an anomaly because it was one of the prescribed flight plans. It was considered an anomaly but not a failure, sorry.

[Question about the Falcon Heavy and the sizes of satellites.] Well, I think they're getting smaller and bigger. On the small side you've got companies like Surrey, which I used to be an investor in until it was acquired, and I certainly like what they're doing in small satellites. And then, on the big side, you've got the big geosynchronous satellites where, particularly for places that have a limited number of geostationary spots, they actually want the satellite to be as big as possible. So I think you've got this bifurcation going on to both big and to small but probably with fewer medium.

[Question about new crew transportation systems.] I think as long as we're making revolutionary improvements in space transport, I think there is room for a lot of companies. But we really need to get to rapid, and completely reusable rockets. Just as is the case with aircraft. I mean, aircraft are rapid and completely reusable. They have a maintenance cycle and everything, but basically you can put fuel in and fly it again. You can land a 747 and takeoff in an hour and a half later, and you should be able to do that with rockets too, and if you can do that, the costs will come down so dramatically that we could find many uses for rockets.

[Question about Stratolaunch.] That's definitely not one of our main initiatives, and I think there's likely to be some changes in that program, but nothing I could comment on myself.

[Question about MCT/Raptor.] Every now and again I just throw something out, just for fun. I can confirm that the name of the engine is Raptor. I'd like to announce maybe some details about the engine next year. Perhaps, what is even more interesting is the spaceship that that's attached to. [Does the M stand for Mars?] "You've gotta.. you show a little leg, but not all of it."

[Question about Grasshopper.] The Grasshopper is kind of a test rig and it's intended to help us develop a vertical landing capability. Obviously, the rocket can certainly takeoff vertically, now we need to make them land. Grasshopper has very robust landing legs. It's designed to be able to take very off-nominal landings. It's got a Falcon 9 version 1 stage, combined with the Merlin-1D engine that we've got on the next generation Falcon 9. So it's sort of a hybrid vehicle of past and future technologies. We'll use it to sort of figure out a bunch of things and then next year we'll upgrade to the actual flight design of Falcon 9, the next generation of Falcon 9.

[Question about recovery.] Our long term goal is to recover the entire rocket, and be able to relaunch the whole thing quickly.

[Question about Planetary Resources.] Our rockets are standing by. I think there's potentially some market for mining asteroids as kind of a refueling station on the way to Mars and other places. I'm not convinced there's a case for taking something, say, platinum, that is found in an asteroid and bringing it back to Earth.

[Question about Skylon.] Don't know it well enough. In the past, whenever I've done the basic math on an air breathing stage, it doesn't seem to make sense, but I could be wrong about that and I always look to figure out how I can better understand things. I think it's maybe easier to just increase the size of the boost stage than to add an air breathing stage.

[Question about retiring on Mars.] There's no real work going on now in terms of designing Mars habitats. I think we need to focus our energies on designing the Mars spaceship first, and then that would effectively be the first habitat.

[Question about first Mars mission.] I'm hopeful that, from a SpaceX standpoint, we'll be ready to do such a mission in the 10 to 15 year time frame. So we'll see if that occurs. It may or may not be a government. There may be some government involvement or none and I don't know quite yet but I think SpaceX will be ready at approximately the time we intend to be.

[What's going to happen in 2013?] In 2013, I'm hopeful we'll be able to demonstrate high altitude supersonic liftoff and return. So, it's being able to have the stage takeoff, go supersonic, and then come back and land propulsively at the launch site. Then, I hope we will also demonstrate the Falcon Heavy towards the end of next year and it will be the most powerful vehicle in the world by a factor of two. More than a factor of two actually. Yeah, so 2013 should be an exciting year.

[How do you get a job at SpaceX?] It's quite difficult for us to employ people who don't have a green card because of US ITAR rules. So, my first advice would be, do anything you can to get a green card. We have been successful in a few cases with getting permission from the US state department, defense department, to appoint non-US citizens but it's very difficult to do that. Unfortunately. I wish it were easy.

[Question about passion.] I've always been into science fiction movies and books, and I always thought that we were on our way to becoming a spacefaring civilization, just to be like the stories that I would read about, and then I was disappointed to learn that it didn't seem to be happening. That's when I got into.. that's why I started SpaceX, to make that a reality and not just be forever a fiction.

[To what do you attribute the success of SpaceX?] Well, certainly, we're very determined to succeed and fortunately we had just enough money to make it to the fourth launch which was the one that worked. Thank goodness. "I think we had a critical mass of technical talent and just enough money and a design that was sensible and those were probably the three ingredients that resulted in success eventually."

[How do you find the time?] I split my time approximately evenly between the two companies, although depending upon which company needs me the most I might allocate a bit more time to that company at times. So, right now, I've got a majority of my time on Tesla but earlier this year was a majority of my time on SpaceX.

[How would you steer space policy?] "I think NASA is actually doing a pretty good job overall." I mean, they've been very pro-commercial-space and I have really nothing but good things to say about what NASA is doing.

[Question about Hyperloop.] You know, it's funny, it's kind of a combination of electric and aerospace. I'd like to polish something before the end of the year hopefully, but I want to make sure I vet it with a few people within SpaceX and Tesla and maybe a few outside people and then just sorta put it out there as sort of just something that I think would be sensible and then ask people to add to it and modify it and maybe people have - I'm sure people have good ideas about making it better - and then try to come up with some sort of standard design that anyone can implement in the world. I think that'll be kind of cool. You know, sort of like an open source operating system, like an open source transport system. It'll be really neat. But the basic thought behind it is to have something like a cross between a rail gun and a Concorde. I sort of like saying that because some people are going to be scared about that and some people will be like yes, that's awesome. I'm appealing to the second group. [Maglev in a vacuum tube?] Nice try.

[What's your favorite fictional spacecraft?] Oh, fictional spacecraft. Well, you know, I'd have to say that would be the one in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy that's powered by the Improbability Drive. I mean, that thing's awesome. It does the most unexpected things.

Alright, thank you.


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