The German Aerospace Center (DLR) believes that SpaceX will realize significant cost savings with reusable boosters (archive) without needing to launch them ten times each — as bitter SpaceX competitor United Launch Alliance asserts:
Gerd Gruppe, a member of DLR's executive board and responsible for DLR's space program, said the agency has concluded that SpaceX is on the verge of realizing the savings it has promised from reusing first stages. "With 20 launches a year the Falcon 9 uses around 200 engines, and while their cost of refurbishment is unknown, we think SpaceX is well on the way to establishing a competitive system based on the reusability" of the rocket's first stage, Gruppe said here Oct. 24 at the Space Tech Expo conference.
Not everyone is so sure. Leslie Kovacs, executive branch director at United Launch Alliance (ULA), said ULA has concluded that SpaceX needs to refly Falcon 9 first stages 10 times each to make reusability pay. "The question of reusability is not a technical problem. It boils down to an economic problem," Kovacs siad here Oct. 24. "Our internal analysis shows that if you are going to do that [reuse the first stage], the break-even point is about 10 times. You have to bring back that first stage 10 times for it to be economically beneficial for you."
Meanwhile, SpaceX has thrown the future of the European commercial launch provider Arianespace into doubt. Although Arianespace plans to launch its cheaper Ariane 6 rocket in 2020, it may not be able to compete with SpaceX's reusable rockets even with European subsidies (which Germany is reluctant to provide):
In what was likely an unexpected question during a Nov. 19 interview with Europe 1 radio, French Economy and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire was asked if SpaceX meant the death of Ariane. "Death? I'm not sure I'd say that. But I am certain of the threat," Le Maire said. "I am worried." Le Maire cited figures that are far from proven — including a possible 80% reduction in the already low SpaceX Falcon 9 launch price once the benefits of reusability are realized.
One analyst has joked that Elon Musk will reach Mars before Tesla, which has been burning cash and struggling to meet production targets, becomes profitable:
"Tesla stock is an extreme bet on the future," said [Frank] Schwope. "The share development depends on the transformation of the company from a small premium manufacturer with five-digit sales figures to a mass manufacturer with figures in the six-digit or millions range. We don't see Tesla as a tough competitor of the established automakers, but rather as a trailblazer that will push long-established companies to boost their performance."
Lastly, a former SpaceX intern thinks that Musk is Satoshi Nakamoto, inventor of Bitcoin. Musk denies it.
SpaceX is now one of the most valuable privately held companies in the world, joining the likes of Uber, Airbnb, Palantir, WeWork, and Xiaomi:
SpaceX, the rocket maker founded by billionaire Elon Musk, has raised up to $350 million in new financing and is now valued at around $21 billion, making it one of the most valuable privately held companies in the world.
[...] With the latest funding round, SpaceX joins an elite club of seven venture-backed companies valued at $20 billion or more around the world, according to research firm CB Insights. Investors have poured money into the companies, many of which operate capital intensive businesses such as Uber and Airbnb, even as smaller start-ups have gone public and have seen their valuations waver.
[...] SpaceX's latest funding nearly doubles the valuation of the company, which was pegged at around $11 billion when it raised $1 billion from Fidelity and Google in 2015. Previous investors in SpaceX include venture capital firms Founders Fund and DFJ.
Auto production is hard:
Having racked up its first quarter of burning through more than $1 billion of cash in the three months ending in June, Tesla topped that with $1.4 billion of negative free cash flow in the third quarter. In the past two quarters, therefore, Tesla has burned through more cash than the previous six combined. More importantly, it has burned through roughly four out of every five of the $3.2 billion dollars it has raised since late March through selling new equity and convertible debt and its debut in the high-yield bond market.
Consequently, debt has soared. Even just using debt with recourse to the company, on a net basis it has almost tripled since the start of the year to $3.36 billion.This would matter less if the primary objective of sucking in most of that external funding -- mass production of the Model 3 -- was fast approaching. Instead, it has receded further.
When Musk first talked about production targets for the Model 3 in 2016, they implied Tesla would be producing roughly 3,800 to 7,600 a week in the second half of 2017. By July of this year, Musk was guiding toward production hitting about 5,000 a week by the end of December. I estimated at the time that this implied a second-half average of maybe 1,400 a week.
Now, Musk estimates production might hit 5,000 a week by the end of the first quarter of 2018. As for this year, it might be in "the thousands" by the time New Year's Eve rolls around. He refused to say what the current run rate was. But I would estimate Tesla will be lucky to produce 10,000 Model 3 vehicles in total this year, or an average of 400 a week for the second half -- roughly 5 to 10 percent of the original guidance. As for the earlier target of 10,000 a week in 2018 ...
Previously: Tesla Adds Lots of Certified Pre-Owned Model S Vehicles for Under $40,000 with New Warranty
Time to Bash Tesla Model 3
Tesla Reportedly Teaming Up With AMD for Custom AI Chip
Tesla Fires Hundreds of Employees
It was about a year ago that Boeing Chief Executive Dennis Muilenburg first began saying his company would beat SpaceX to Mars. "I'm convinced that the first person to step foot on Mars will arrive there riding on a Boeing rocket," he said during a Boeing-sponsored tech summit in Chicago in October 2016.
On Thursday, Muilenburg repeated that claim on CNBC. Moreover, he added this tidbit about the Space Launch System rocket—for which Boeing is the prime contractor of the core stage—"We're going to take a first test flight in 2019 and we're going to do a slingshot mission around the Moon."
Unlike last year, Muilenburg drew a response from SpaceX this time. The company's founder, Elon Musk, offered a pithy response on Twitter: "Do it."
The truth is that Boeing's rocket isn't going anywhere particularly fast. Although Muilenburg says it will launch in 2019, NASA has all but admitted that will not happen. The rocket's maiden launch has already slipped from late 2017 into "no earlier than" December 2019. However, NASA officials have said a 2019 launch is a "best case" scenario, and a slip to June 2020 is more likely.
Also, the next SpaceX flight is an ISS resupply mission and is scheduled for this coming Tuesday (December 12, 2017) at 1646 GMT (11:46 a.m. EST) from SLC-40, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. The plan is for the booster to return to landing at Landing Zone-1, also at Cape Canaveral.
Previously: Maiden Flight of the Space Launch System Delayed to 2019
Elon Musk Publishes Mars Colonization Plan
SpaceX Appears to Have Pulled the Plug on its Red Dragon Plans
SpaceX Putting Red Dragon on the Back Burner
SpaceX: Making Human Life Multiplanetary
Related: VP of Engineering at United Launch Alliance Resigns over Comments About the Space Launch Industry
ULA Exec: SpaceX could be Grounded for 9-12 Months
Commercial Space Companies Want More Money From NASA
Bigelow and ULA to Put Inflatable Module in Orbit Around the Moon by 2022
SpaceX Unlocks "Steamroller" Achievement as Company Eyes 19 Launches in 2017
Trump Space Adviser: Mars "Too Ambitious" and SLS is a Strategic National Asset
SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Could End EU's Arianespace, and Other News
The United Launch Alliance's CEO Tory Bruno has been making his case for the upcoming Vulcan rocket and Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage. The system could compete against SpaceX's Falcon Heavy and BFR in the mid-2020s:
The maiden flight of the Vulcan currently is targeted for the middle of 2020. Two successful commercial launches are required as part of the government certification process, followed by a required upper stage upgrade to improve performance, either moving from two to four Centaur RL10 engines or using a different set of engines altogether. If all goes well, ULA will introduce its new upper stage in 2024, the Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage, or ACES, that Bruno says will revolutionize spaceflight. "This is on the scale of inventing the airplane," Bruno told reporters during the media roundtable. "That's how revolutionary this upper stage is. It's 1900, and I'm inventing the airplane. People don't even know what they're going to do with it yet. But I'm confident it's going to create a large economy in space that doesn't exist today. No one is working on anything like this."
The Vulcan will stand 228 feet tall with a first stage powered by two engines provided by either Blue Origin, a company owned by Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos, or Aerojet Rocketdyne. Blue Origin's BE-4 engine burns methane and liquid oxygen while Aerojet Rocketdyne's AR-1 powerplant burns a more traditional mixture of oxygen and highly refined kerosene.
[...] ULA plans to begin engine recovery operations after the Vulcan is routinely flying and after the ACES upper stage is implemented. Bruno said the engines represent two-thirds of the cost of the stage and getting them back every time, with no impact on mission performance, will pay big dividends. SpaceX, in contrast, must use propellant to fly its Falcon 9 stages back to touchdown. Heavy payloads bound for high orbits require most if not all of the rocket's propellant and in those cases, recovery may not be possible. As a result, SpaceX's ability to recover rocket stages depends on its manifest and the orbital demands of those payloads.
"Simplistically, if you recover the old booster propulsively then you can do that part of the time, you get all the value back some of the time," Bruno said. "Or, you can recover just the engine, which is our concept, and then you get only part of the value back, about two thirds ... but you get to do it every single time because there's no performance hit. So it really turns into math."
Related: SpaceX's Reusable Rockets Could End EU's Arianespace, and Other News
Boeing CEO Says His Company Will Carry Humans to Mars Before SpaceX
Zuma Failure Emboldens SpaceX's ULA-Backed Critics; Gets Support from US Air Force [Updated]
SpaceX to Launch Five Times in April, Test BFR by 2019
Previously, the EU-propped Ariane Group's CEO scoffed at the idea of pursuing reusable rockets (the upcoming Ariane 6 is fully expendable) due to Europe having a small market of 5-10 launches per year, as well as the potential effects on rocket-building jobs:
[Chief executive of Ariane Group, Alain] Charmeau said the Ariane rocket does not launch often enough to justify the investment into reusability. (It would need about 30 launches a year to justify these costs, he said). And then Charmeau said something telling about why reusability doesn't make sense to a government-backed rocket company—jobs.
"Let us say we had ten guaranteed launches per year in Europe and we had a rocket which we can use ten times—we would build exactly one rocket per year," he said. "That makes no sense. I cannot tell my teams: 'Goodbye, see you next year!'"
This seems a moment of real irony. Whereas earlier in the interview Charmeau accuses the US government of subsidizing SpaceX, a few minutes later he says the Ariane Group can't make a reusable rocket because it would be too efficient. For Europe, a difficult decision now looms. It can either keep subsidizing its own launch business in order to maintain an independent capability, or it can give in to Elon Musk and SpaceX, and Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin. Charmeau seems to have a clear view of where he thinks the continent should go.
Now, the attitude has changed:
This month, the European Commission revealed a new three-year project to develop technologies needed for two proposed reusable launch vehicles. The commission provided €3 million to the German space agency, DLR, and five companies to, in the words of a news release about the project, "tackle the shortcoming of know-how in reusable rockets in Europe."
This new RETALT project's goals are pretty explicit about copying the retro-propulsive engine firing technique used by SpaceX to land its Falcon 9 rocket first stages back on land and on autonomous drone ships. The Falcon 9 rocket's ability to land and fly again is "currently dominating the global market," the European project states. "We are convinced that it is absolutely necessary to investigate Retro Propulsion Assisted Landing Technologies to make re-usability state-of-the-art in Europe."
Ariane Group isn't one of the five companies, but then again, €3 million isn't a lot of money.
Even a fully reusable rocket is on the table:
[...] attitude of the new RETALT project appears to have indicated European acceptance of the inevitability of reusable launch vehicles. Engineers will work toward two different concepts. The first will be a Falcon-9-like rocket that will make use of seven modified Vulcain 2 rocket engines and have the capacity to lift up to 30 tons to low-Earth orbit. The second will be a more revolutionary single-stage-to-orbit vehicle that looks like the Roton rocket developed by Rotary Rocket about two decades ago.
They should mine Elon Musk's Twitter for clues. Try making the rocket out of stainless steel.