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Shit Elon Says - Transcript - SpaceX SES-8 Pre-Launch Conference

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I'd be happy to answer a few questions, and then I'll drop off the line and Gwynne can take it from there.

[Question about second stage restart] On the last flight everything worked really well. I think we were able to retire an enormous amount of risk with the new design of Falcon 9 with one exception being the restart, which is why we aimed for that mission to deploy the satellite on a single burn insertion. For this mission, obviously, the second burn has to work in order for it to be successful. The essence of the prior flight, and SES agrees with us, is that the igniter fluid lines froze due to a liquid oxygen bleed impingement on those lines. We've added a lot of insulation to those lines and made sure that the LOX no longer impinges on those lines, and that seems to have, or we believe that will, address the restart issue. We still view this launch from the perspective of there's still a fair bit of remaining risk because it's only the second flight of the new design of Falcon 9. Even rockets that have been flying for a long time, like the Proton, still have failures. I think this is something like four failures of the Proton in the last four years. With rockets there's always some irreducible risk, but the one thing I feel comfortable about, is that we've done everything we can possibly think of to maximize the reliability of this launch. So there's nothing.. "there's no stone that hasn't been overturned, at least twice, to maximize the probability of success." That still leaves us with, being a rocket, some chance of failure, but whatever happens, we can be at peace that we've done everything that we could think of and the SES technical team has looked at it, and they concur. So the rest will be up to fate.

With respect to the future potential for the rocket, I do think we've got.. I'm really happy with this rocket design. It's an incredibly capable vehicle. It's actually one of the biggest rockets in the world, it's worth noting, at about 1.3 million pounds of thrust, and we're only actually operating the engines at about 85% of their potential. Down the road, in future missions, we anticipate being able to crank them up to their full thrust capability, which would give about 165,000 pounds of sea-level thrust per engine. Anyway, it really is something that is, I think, going to serve really well for the commercial launch market, for government satellites and for Dragon, both crew and cargo. I believe its inherent reliability potential is better than any other rocket in the world. It will be up to us to show that it lives up to that reliability potential.

[Question about competitors] Well, I think those organizations make good rockets, but, I think with the advent of Falcon 9 we're hopefully going to provide a forcing function for increased competitiveness in the launch vehicle industry and essentially provide a good forcing function for improving the technology across the board. Unless the rocket makers improve their technology rapidly they will lose significant market share to Falcon 9. I actually think it's a good thing if there are multiple providers of launch, so this is not some competitive bravado. It's really, they are going to need to improve their rocket technology in order to compete and I think that's going to be a good thing for the future of space.

[Question about maintaining quality] I think so. The higher the production rate of engines, the better the quality, because you're able to iron out lots of different things. In fact, the flight history we obtain with each mission, is an order of magnitude greater than a rocket that is only flying one of a particular type of engine per flight. Having flown, for example, the last flight of the Falcon 9 v1.1, we effectively got ten missions worth of flight data on the Merlin engine, because there were ten. So you get a much better statistical reliability, much faster, and you see issues with an engine at - again - at an order of magnitude greater pace that you'd otherwise. And, of course, because the Falcon 9 has the ability to complete its mission even if it loses an engine - and, in fact, on most missions - I should mention, we actually are sacrificing the ability to recover the first stage in order to maximize the performance margin for the SES satellite. SES was kind enough to say look, if we wanted to try to bring the stage back, they would support that, so it's really to their credit and we really appreciate that, but just to be super sure that even if there's an engine out, or multiple engines out, we can complete the mission with the maximum amount of likelihood, we will not be actually trying to recover the stage. We're going to gather data on the boost stage as it reenters, and apply that information to future launches, but we're not going to try to recover it, in order to give maximum performance margins to this mission. However, I think having that engine out capability is a fundamental reliability improvement compared to other vehicles out there.

Okay, thanks a lot.

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