Falcon Heavy Demo Pre-Launch Phone Presser
Moderator: Good afternoon. My name is Nicole and I will be your conference operator today. At this time, I would like to welcome everyone to the SpaceX call with Elon Musk. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speaker's remarks there will be a question and answer session. If you would like to ask a question during this time, simply press star, then the number one on your telephone keypad. Or if you would like to withdraw your question, please press the pound key. Thank you. John Taylor, Director of Communications for SpaceX, please go ahead.
John Taylor, SpaceX: Thank you Nicole. I want to first apologize to everyone who's been waiting today. We've been super-jammed and we greatly appreciate your patience. We've got about thirty minutes, maybe a little bit longer, and I'm ready for questions now. At the end, when we are ready to wrap things up, Elon will say we've got time for one more question, and -- [computer logoff noise] -- quick as we can. Are we ready for the first question?
Moderator: At this time, if you would like to ask a question, please press star, one on your telephone keypad. Your first question comes from Sean O'Kane from The Verge. Your line is open.
Sean O'Kane, The Verge: Hey John. I saw some information, that with the coast that's happening, after the last stage separates, that there's a chance that the Tesla might not make it out of Low Earth Orbit. I was wondering if you guys could elaborate on that?
Elon Musk: Yeah, that's true. We're going to be testing something on this flight which we've never done before, which is a six-hour coast in deep space. That's actually going to go through the Van Allen belts, so it's going to experience a great deal of radioactivity and high energy particles. So it's going to get whacked pretty hard. It's really taking the grand tour through the Van Allen belts. And it's going to do that for about six hours. And also the fuel could freeze, and the oxygen could vaporize, all of which could inhibit the third burn which is necessary for Trans-Mars Injection.
Sean O'Kane, The Verge: Once it's passed that, is there anything that you're worried about the environment of space might do to the car?
Elon Musk: No, I'm not worried about the car. It'll be fine. [chuckles]. Least of my concerns, I hope. Yeah.
Moderator: OK, the next question comes from...
Elon Musk: Oh, wait. If you look closely in the car video, you'll see, like a little easter egg on the dashboard. Alright. [unintelligible].
Moderator: Your next question comes from...
John Taylor, SpaceX: Can you speak up a little bit louder? We're having difficulty hearing you in our room.
Moderator: Your next question comes from Alan Boyle of GeekWire. Your line is open.
Alan Boyle, GeekWire: Hi, thanks for taking the question. What.. I'm trying to figure out the orbit. You mentioned at one point that it would be going out to the orbit of Mars. So it's going through the Van Allen belts and the onward? Maybe a little bit more about whether there would be any sort of rendezvous with the planet? Thank you.
Elon Musk: Well the Van Allen belts are very close to Earth. So it's going to be doing this, the grand tour through the Van Allen belts, and it gets zapped pretty hard, and then assuming that it makes it through all that, it will do quite a long burn for Trans-Mars Injection, and go out to Mars orbit, which is about 50% beyond that of Earth, so expect...it'll get about 400 million kilometers away from Earth, maybe 250 to 270 million miles. Something like that. And be doing 11 km/s. And it's going to be in a processing elliptical orbit, with one part of the ellipse being at Earth orbit, the other part being at Mars orbit. So it'll essentially be an Earth-Mars cycler. And we estimate it'll be in that orbit for several hundred million years, maybe in excess of a billion years. At times it will come extremely close to Mars, and there's a tiny, tiny chance it'll hit Mars.
Alan Boyle, GeekWire: Have you quantified that?
Elon Musk: Extremely tiny. [laughter].
Alan Boyle, GeekWire: Okay. Thank you.
Elon Musk: Don't hold your breath.
Alan Boyle, GeekWire: [laughs].
Moderator: OK, our next question comes from the line of Marcia Dunn, from the Associated Press. Your line is open.
Marcia Dunn, Associated Press: Thank you, Elon. Putting your Roadster on board, will that make success extra sweet for you? Or failure extra bitter on the other hand? How personal is it going to be for you this time around?
Elon Musk: It's always personal. I think, actually what I find strange about this flight is that normally I feel super-stressed out the day before. This time I don't. That may be a bad sign, I'm not sure. I feel quite giddy and happy actually. So, I'm really hopeful for this flight going as planned. We've done everything we can. That's what I'm confident of: I'm sure we've done everything we could do to maximize the chance of the success of this mission. I think once you've done everything that you can think of, if it still goes wrong, there's nothing you could have done. So I feel at peace with that.
Moderator: OK, our next question comes from the line of Jeff Faust from SpaceNews. Your line is open.
Jeff Faust, SpaceNews: Hi, thanks for doing the call. Is there anything specific about this launch, any technical issues you think have the highest risk toward the successful launch?
Elon Musk: I think, it's not clear what would be the highest risk. One of the things I think about are the relative interaction of the three core boosters. Do they have some sort of resonance that we weren't anticipating? Do they sort of shake together, potentially impacting one another? Or going through the sound barrier, you get these supersonic shockwaves. You could have some shockwaves impingement, or where two shockwaves interact and amplify the effect. That could cause a structural failure as it goes transonic. Then around max-Q, which is max dynamic air pressure, that's where the force on the rocket is the greatest, and that's possibly where it could fail as well. We're a bit worried about ice falling from the upper stage on to the nosecones of the side boosters, that would be coming like a cannonball through the nosecone. And then the separation system has not been tested in flight. We've tested everything we can think of in terms of the separation system for those side boosters on the ground, but this is the first time it has to operate in flight. I think once the second stage separates from the center booster, we're in much more known territory. And then everything from then on is relatively known, except for the very long coast through a very high radiation environment. The Van Allen belts are these sort of, the way the magnetic lines of the Earth cause charged particles to effectively, you have charged particles flowing through those magnetic lines. And you actually have a radiation environment significantly worse than deep space. Most people probably aren't aware of that. Think of the Van Allen belts as being like a concentrating lens for charged particles. So it'll actually be in a far worse radiation environment than deep space for several hours. We'll have to survive that, and then relight for the Trans-Mars Injection. Yeah. That could go wrong.
Moderator: The next question comes from the line of Dana Hull from Bloomberg News. Your line is open.
Dana Hull, Bloomberg News: Hi, thanks so much for taking the call. Could you clarify for people who maybe haven't been following the Falcon Heavy's development closely how this fits in with plans to send tourists around the moon. From your instagram post today it sounds like the moon plan is maybe now the BFR and not Falcon Heavy?
Elon Musk: Yeah. What we decided internally is to focus our future efforts on BFR. Now we'll see how the BFR development goes. If that ends up taking longer than expected, then we'll return to the idea of sending a Crew Dragon on Falcon Heavy around the Moon. And potentially doing other things with crew on Falcon Heavy. But right now it looks like BFR development is moving quickly and it will not be necessary to qualify Falcon Heavy for crewed spaceflight. We could be ready to do short hops of the spaceship portion of BFR. BFR essentially consists of a giant booster and a giant spaceship. The giant spaceship is... once you're out of Earth's deep gravity well and thick atmosphere, for the rest of the solar system, you only need the ship. The giant booster is only needed for Earth, with its unusually deep gravity well and thick atmosphere. So our focus is on the ship, and we expect to hopefully do short flights on the ship, with the ship next year. You know, aspirational.
Moderator: Your next question comes from...
Elon Musk: It's rather odd, I was looking at Falcon Heavy, and thinking...it's a bit small.
John Taylor, SpaceX: On the stand today. Yeah, it looks small. Nicole, who was the next question from?
Moderator: Morgan Brennan, from CNBC, your line is open.
Morgan Brennan, CNBC: Hi guys, thanks for taking the time today. Elon, I wanted to talk a little bit more about the business model for Falcon Heavy. The ninety million dollar launch price, I guess especially given how much lower it is than the other heavy lift rockets that are available or in development, how are you able to drive that price as low as you are?
Elon Musk: Well, you know Falcon Heavy is essentially, from a cost standpoint, it's Falcon 9 plus two side boosters. And we expect to recover all three cores, or at least two of the three cores on every flight. Now this is a development flight, so who knows what'll happen on this flight. But being able to reuse those rocket booster cores means that the expendable portion of the Falcon Heavy flight is the same as a Falcon 9 flight. On Falcon 9 we expend the upper stage. We are in the process of recovering the fairing, we're getting better and better at recovering the fairing. So we expect to recover the fairing and the booster, the first stage of Falcon 9. Like I said, only the second stage will be expended. And what's interesting is for Falcon Heavy, it's the same amount that's expended, just the upper stage. So it means we're able to offer heavy, arguably super heavy lift, nearing super heavy lift capability for not much more than the cost of a Falcon 9. Which, if we're successful in this, it is game over for all other heavy lift rockets. It would be like trying to sell an aircraft where one aircraft company had reusable aircraft and all the other aircraft companies had aircraft where they were single use, and you'd sort of parachute out near your destination and the plane would crash land randomly somewhere. Crazy as that sounds, that's how the rocket business works. So bizarre.
Moderator: Your next question comes from the line of Irene Klotz from Aviation Week. Your line is open.
Irene Klotz, Aviation Week: Hi, thanks very much and good luck tomorrow Elon. At what point in the demonstration flight would you be comfortable achieving, to go ahead and fly ArabSat and your other commercial payload. In other words, I know you've said in the past, tongue in cheek perhaps, that you consider success if you clear the launch tower, but realistically, to be comfortable putting commercial payloads on, at what point in this flight would you need to go?
Elon Musk: Well I think we'd want to have a successful flight before we put any expensive, or any commercial, any payload. This is a test flight. And if the test flight works, I think we'll be ready to put satellites on the next mission. There's so much that would be confirmed to work if this flight works. You can think of launch failures in two categories. There's the category of a design failure, which means that fundamentally the thing has a design flaw that prevents it from working. As soon as you've had even one successful flight, you've eliminated the possibility of a design flaw. Then thereafter you have errors of consistency. Which is, did you make the rocket the same way? Did you launch it the same way? And did you launch it under the same conditions? But eliminating errors of design is massive, and even one flight is able to do that.
Moderator: Your next question comes from the line of Tariq Malik from Space.com. Your line is open.
Tariq Malik, Space.com: Thank you. Elon, last year you had mentioned there being a major pucker factor for this flight. It sounds like you're a lot more confident right now than perhaps last summer. And I'm curious, given the performance that you see tomorrow for the launch, what your confidence level is, or your schedule plan is to digest the data, analyze it, make sure that it all went as planned, and turn around for that next flight? I mean, what is has status been of the next Heavy flight? Thanks.
Elon Musk: Yeah, I think we would be ready to do another Heavy flight pretty soon. Certainly within three to six months, maybe. What's really unique about the Heavy is the center core. I should say the airframe of the center core. The engines are the same. The booster stage engines are all the same. The side boosters are the same as a regular Falcon 9, but just with a nose cap on and it's really this production rate of the airframe of the center core, including interstage. So we can really produce Falcon Heavies at a pretty rapid rate. Whatever the demand is, we'll be able to meet it.
Moderator: Your next question comes from the line of Tim Fernholz from Quartz. Your line is open.
Tim Fernholz, Quartz: Hi Elon, thank you for doing this today. Two questions. One, is the Falcon Heavy we see on the pad now, does that have all the capabilities currently advertised on the website, or are those numbers for a future configuration? And two, just on the demand front, do you have a sense of how many Heavies you'll be able to fly each year going forward, if this flight's a success?
Elon Musk: Yeah, the numbers on the website are for a full Block V Falcon Heavy. Assuming we've sort of tuned all the dials on performance. This Falcon Heavy is mostly Block IV, although you would be really hard-pressed to visually notice the difference between IV and V. And the next Falcon Heavy that flies would be Block V. So I mean it's an incredibly capable rocket. We can really dial it up to as much performance as anyone could ever want. If we wanted to, we could really add two more side boosters and make it Falcon Super Heavy, and then crank up thrust, probably get thrust upwards of 9 million pounds of thrust, or something like that. So that's an engine thrust increase and two extra side boosters.
Tim Fernholz, Quartz: [over Elon] But the BFR is the easier way to get there?
Elon Musk: [over Tim] Something interesting as far as the staging, you basically wouldn't need to light the center core in that situation. So that would give it a payload capability right on par with the Saturn V. Or very close. But we think that the new BFR architecture is a better way to go, because it would enable reusability of both the boost stage and upper stage and fairing, in a very high throughput way. BFR is sort of designed for being able to launch every few hours. Whereas the Falcon architecture is designed to be able to launch every few days, in an optimal situation. Yeah.
Moderator: Your next question comes from the line of Marcia Smith, from SpacePolicyOnline. Your line is open.
Marcia Smith, SpacePolicyOnline: Thanks so much for taking my call. I was hoping you could expand a little bit on your earlier answer about flying people around the moon and the BFR versus the Falcon Heavy, I'm not so sure I followed all of that. You said that the BFR is a big rocket and a big spaceship, and the big spaceship is just a year or so away from flight, but you'd be flying on something other than the BFR rocket? And with respect to sending people around the moon.
Elon Musk: Yeah. Falcon Heavy is absolutely capable of sending a Crew Dragon, Dragon version 2 that's under development and that we'll fly later this year for NASA. With a single stick Falcon 9, it's easy for us to do Low Earth Orbit missions, or Medium Earth Orbit missions, and then as soon as you add Falcon Heavy on, we can toss Dragon way past the moon. It's actually further than we went with Apollo. Possibly even visit an asteroid or something like that. That was our plan until last year. Then we though, you know, maybe we can make this BFR development go faster than we thought, and if that's true, there won't be much point in qualifying Falcon Heavy for launching Dragon, making it fully man-rated. So we kind of tabled the crewed Dragon on Falcon Heavy in favor of focusing our energies on BFR. Um, BFR consists of two parts. One is the ship and the other is the booster. So there's BRB, the booster. Which is kind of true, because it will Be Right Back. The booster's going to come back and land in probably about ten minutes after liftoff. And then the ship, which is the hardest part, just by far the hardest part of the vehicle, of the BFR system, or interplanetary transport system. Because the ship has to have a heatshield that's capable of re-entering from very high velocities. From velocities way higher than... Basically interplanetary velocities, as opposed to orbital velocities. It's got to control itself through a wide regime, from everything from vacuum, to rarefied gas. Everything from thin atmosphere to thick atmosphere. Hypersonic, supersonic, transonic, subsonic. Different types of atmosphere, from different planets. And then land on unimproved terrain, and be able to take off from unimproved terrain. That's a pretty ridiculous set of requirements for the ship. That's why we're focusing on the ship first, because it's kind of the hard part. And then the BFB (should I say BFB or BRB?) BFB is we think that's pretty straightforward, because it's pretty much like a Falcon boost stage, but with like 31 engines instead of 9.
Moderator: Your next question comes from the line of Dave Mosher from Business Insider. Your line is open.
Dave Mosher, Business Insider: Thanks to you. I want to return to the question about contingencies here. Elon, can you try to describe what the impact on the Falcon Heavy program will be if the launch does not go as planned? If it either explodes or there's some other issue. And then I also want to ask about your plan to do global satellite coverage, and how Falcon Heavy might play into that, to...
John Taylor, SpaceX: Don't talk...
Elon Musk: [laughs] Today's topic...is Falcon Heavy. So Falcon Heavy, yeah it'll be a real huge downer if it blows up. But hopefully we will have learned, if something goes wrong, hopefully it goes wrong far into the mission, so we at least learn as much as possible along the way. This is a test mission. As I said there's so much that can go wrong. So we don't want to set expectation of perfection, by any means. I would be happy, I would consider it a win if it just clears the pad and doesn't blow the pad to smithereens. I mean, that's four million pounds of TNT equivalent. There's really not going to be much left if that thing lets loose on the pad. So if it clears the pad and hopefully makes it through transonic and max-Q, I'd say those are big wins. And if the boosters are able to separate properly, that's another big win. And then we're kind of in a relatively normal regime, because it becomes like the Falcon 9 at that point, apart from that very long coast mission that occurs, the long tour through the Van Allen belts.
Moderator: Your next question comes from the line of Stephen Clark with Spaceflight Now. Your line is open.
Stephen Clark: Thank you, Elon. I did have a question about that long coast. Can you go through, are there any modifications or upgrades that you're introducing on the upper stage on this particular launch, and does that long coast help satisfy a demonstration for some of the Air Force's and NRO direct GEO-insertion type missions? Thanks.
Elon Musk: Yeah, so the long coast is supposed to be designed to address the Air Force's need for a direct Geosynchronous Orbit insertion, meaning we do an initial burn to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit, and then circularize at GEO, which is an approximately six hour coast. So that's the main reason for that long coast. Yeah... [to John Taylor] who was on the phone?
John Taylor, SpaceX: Stephen, what was the second part of your question?
Elon Musk: Well, he's not here.
John Taylor, SpaceX: OK, Nicole?
Moderator: Your next question comes from the line of Mark Harris, from The Economist. Your line is open.
Mark Harris, The Economist: Oh, hi there, thanks for taking the call. Just to go back to the Roadster, is there going to be any instrumentation on the Roadster or in the spacesuit? And any communications tech for getting that information back to us?
Elon Musk: Yeah, so there's three cameras on the Roadster. And there's going to be a bunch of sensors on the upper stage, so we'll get a lot of data back. But, I mean the most fun stuff will be the three cameras that are mounted on the Roadster. They should really provide some epic views if they work, and everything goes well. I think I recall the other part of the last questioner, which is did we make upgrades to the upper stage of the rocket in order to enable the six hour coast. We did increase the, we have batteries that last longer, and we have additional pressurant gas for attitude control thrusters and settling. More than we normally would.
Moderator: Your next question comes from the line of Matthew Richardson, from the Orlando Business Journal. Your line is open.
Matthew Richardson, Orlando Business Journal: Hi Elon. Thank you so much for taking my question. So if anything goes wrong, how long might this put back your next try for the Falcon Heavy flight?
Elon Musk: Well, if it blows up the pad, that's going to be a real pain in the neck. That'd probably take us at least nine to twelve months to get the pad back in action. Maybe eight months? I don't know, that'd be the big problem. It won't affect production. So we have a steady production line, and so we'll be able to launch another Falcon Heavy as soon as the pad is ready. So if this one doesn't go right, we could launch another one probably in three or four months.
John Taylor, SpaceX: Nicole, we have time for one more question and I think it's Steve Gorman from Reuters, is that right?
Moderator: Correct. Your line is open.
John Taylor, SpaceX: That'll be the last question for today.
Steve Gorman, Reuters: So my question is, how's it looking for tomorrow at this point? As much as you can tell at this point, with weather forecasts and other technical issues, are you pretty confident that you're going to launch in tomorrow's window, or do you think there's a pretty good chance that you might have to postpone?
Elon Musk: Amazingly, it's looking like we're going to launch tomorrow. I felt for sure that something would delay us, that we would have some issue that we would discover on the rocket, or really bad weather. But the weather's looking good, the rocket's looking good. So, should be an exciting day tomorrow. I'm looking forward to it. We'll try to have a good time no matter what happens. We will have a good time no matter what happens. It's either going to be.... It's guaranteed to be exciting, one way or another. It's either going to be an exciting success or an exciting failure. [laughs]. One big boom. So I'd say tune in. It's going to be worth your time. Thank you. Thanks everyone.
John Taylor, SpaceX: Nicole, I did want to tell the folks on the line that we will have a webcast tomorrow at spacex.com/webcast. About ten minutes before the launch opens. Twenty I'm told, okay, twenty minutes before the launch opens. And we'll have a lot more information on the webcast. Thanks everybody for your patience and for your time.
Moderator: This concludes today's call. You may now disconnect.