Falcon Heavy Demo Post-Launch Presser
John Taylor, SpaceX: Good evening and welcome to the post-launch news conference for the SpaceX Falcon Heavy test flight. I'm John Taylor, Director of Communications for SpaceX. Joining us to provide a status on mission is Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO and Lead Designer. Elon?
Elon Musk: Hi everyone. So yeah, really excited about today. Incredibly proud of the SpaceX team. They've done an incredible job of creating, really, the most advanced rocket in the world and the biggest rocket in the world. I'm still trying to absorb everything that happened because it seems surreal to me. You know, I had this image of just a giant explosion on the pad, with a wheel bouncing down the road, and the Tesla logo landing somewhere with a thud. But fortunately that's not what happened. The mission seems to have gone, really, as well as one could have hoped. With the exception of the center core. That was the two side boosters, if you guys were here, you saw them land. That was epic. I think that's probably the most exciting thing I've ever seen, literally. Ever. And then the center core. Obviously it didn't land on the droneship, or we would have shown that. [laughter]. And we're looking at the issue but I think that it didn't have enough propellant to relight all three engines. Or sorry, enough of something called TEA/TEB, Triethylaluminium/Triethylborane that's used to light the engines. I believe the center one lit (I believe) and the outer two did not. And that was not enough to slow the stage down. Apparently it hit the water at 300 miles an hour. And it took out two of the engines on the droneship. So if we've got the footage, it sounds like some pretty fun footage. So if the cameras didn't get blown up as well, then we'll put that out for, you know, just the blooper reel. But we weren't going to reuse that center core anyway. Or the two side boosters. Those side boosters, we'll figure out some place to put 'em, but since they're not Block V or version V, we weren't planning on reusing any of the cores. The upper stage seems to have worked perfectly so far. The two burns were executed correctly. And we'll see if the upper stage avionics survive quite an arduous trip through the Van Allen belts. Normally a stage will pass very quickly through the Van Allen belts. Here it's essentially dwelling there for several hours. And then it's going to do a restart, deplete its propellant, and go to Trans-Mars Injection. And the propellant levels all look good. Propellant after the second burn of the upper stage, we were only point three sigma away from predictions. Which is basically very minor. So it has plenty of propellant to complete the Trans-Mars Injection. Assuming that the fuel doesn't freeze, and the oxygen doesn't boil off, and the electronics don't get fried. Those are the issues. We'll find out in a few hours if that burn is successful. Trying to think if there's anything else I know that's worth mentioning. I went out to the landing zone, took a look at the side boosters. They look in really good condition. So they're both re-flyable, although as I said, they're a combination of version III and version IV. So we're only going to be re-flying, really, version V at this point. That launches shortly. And that'll be our main stable, we'll stick to version V for the Falcon architecture. We don't expect to have a version VI. Alright. Any questions? That I haven't answered. I'll do my best to answer them. I'm not sure I have the information yet, but I'll try.
John Taylor, SpaceX: So we're going to start in the room. And the first question goes to David Kerley from ABC News.
David Kerley, ABC News: Elon, spectacular. What did you learn? What did Falcon Heavy teach you?
Elon Musk: It teaches, I guess it taught me, like, crazy things can come true. Cause I, I really didn't think this would work. When I see the rocket lift off I see like a thousand things that could not work, and it's amazing when they do. And seeing the two boosters land, synchronized, really just like the simulation, it makes you think really that could be quite a scalable approach. You could imagine large numbers of those just coming in, landing. Taking off, landing. Doing many flights per day. So I think it gives me a lot of faith for our next architecture, the interplanetary spaceship. We kind of have different names for it, but BFR is kind of the code name. And it gives me confidence that BFR is really quite workable. But I was actually looking at the side boosters and like, they're pretty big. You know, sixteen stories tall. Sixty foot leg-span. But really, we need to be way bigger than that. So I think it's given me a lot of confidence that we can make the BFR design work. Yeah. I mean, I have tremendous confidence, obviously, in the SpaceX team, so I think we can really do this a lot. And keep advancing the technology to achieve full and rapid reusability, which would have a profound effect on the future. And one of the interesting things about, say, the Falcon Heavy versus Falcon 9, is that Falcon Heavy has the same level of expendability as Falcon 9. So if you look at say, the price of Falcon 9 is $60 million dollars, Falcon Heavy is $90. Even though it's got three times as much capability. Because in both cases the only thing that's expended is the upper stage. We're going to start recovering the fairings, the big nosecone. We're going to recover that. Recover the boosters. And so there's really, the cost difference really between Falcon 9 and a Falcon Heavy is minor.
John Taylor, SpaceX: The next question from Marcia Dunn, at Associated Press.
Marcia Dunn, Associated Press: Marcia Dunn, AP. What were your, what was going through your mind? How amazed were you to see your Roadster up there with Starman, just cruising along with the blue planet? And how long will we be getting live views, do you think, from the car?
Elon Musk: Well, I think it looks so ridiculous and impossible. And you can tell it's real because it looks so fake, honestly. We would have way better CGI if it was fake. And the colors all look kind of weird in space. There's no atmospheric occlusion. Everything looks too crisp. You know, we didn't really test any of those materials for, you know, is it space-hardened, or whatever. So it just has the same seats that a normal car has. It's just literally a normal car, in space. Which, I kind of like the absurdity of that. And if you look closely, on the dashboard, there's a tiny Roadster, with a tiny Spaceman. Hot Wheels made a Hot Wheels Roadster, and a friend of mine suggested, hey why don't you put that Hot Wheels Roadster with a tiny Spaceman on it in the car too. Like, that'd be cool. Sure. So we did that. I mean, it's kind of silly and fun, but I think that silly and fun things are important. And normally, for a new rocket, you know, they'd launch like a block of concrete or something like that. I mean, that's so boring. And I think that just the imagery of it is something that's going to get people excited around the world. And it's still tripping me out. I mean I'm tripping balls here.
John Taylor, SpaceX: Next question in the room? How about Brendan Byrne, from WMFE, the NPR affiliate in Orlando?
Brendan Byrne, NPR: Yeah. Congratulations Elon. Great launch today. Where do you see the Falcon Heavy fitting in to this launch industry? Is this something that is going to be for more national security, or do you see this for interplanetary missions? What's the future of Falcon Heavy?
Elon Musk: Yeah, the great thing about, so Falcon Heavy opens up a new class of payload. It can launch more than twice as much payload as any other rocket in the world. So it's kind of up to customers what they might want to launch. But it can launch things direct to Pluto, and beyond. No stop needed. Don't even need, like, a gravity assist or anything. And it can launch giant satellites. It can do anything you want. You can send people back to the moon if you did a bunch of launches of Falcon Heavy and did an orbital refilling. Two or three Falcon Heavies would equal the payload of a Saturn V. But I wouldn't recommend doing that, because I think the new architecture, BFR architecture is the way to go. But I think it's going to open up a sense of possibility. I think it's going to encourage other companies and countries to say hey, if SpaceX, which is a commercial company can do this, and nobody paid for Falcon Heavy, this was paid for with internal funds, then they could do it too. So I think it's going to encourage other countries and companies to raise their sights and say hey, we can do bigger and better. Which is great. We want a new space race. Races are exciting.
John Taylor, SpaceX: How about one more in the room? How about Derrol Nail, from the Fox affiliate here in Orlando?
Derrol Nail, Fox: Mr. Musk, kind of talk us through your thought process as you were watching the launch. You said you were incredibly concerned about it, you just wanted it to clear the pad. It set expectations low, so talk me through as you were watching it.
Elon Musk: Yeah, I think this is true of anyone who's involved closely in the design of something. You know all the ways it can fail. And that's like, the sort of mental checklist that's scrolling through your mind, is all the things that can break. There's thousands of things that can go wrong, and everything has to go right once the rocket lifts off. There's no opportunity to do a recall, or upload a software fix, or anything like that. Passing grade is 100%, at least for the ascent phase. Yeah, I've seen rockets blow up so many different ways. So you know, it's a big relief when it actually works. Whoever's like, when they like, first launched a 747 or DC-3, or something like that, I bet the chief engineer was like, I can't believe that thing's flying. [laughter].
John Taylor, SpaceX: One more in the room and then we'll go to the phone. How about Irene Klotz from Aviation Week? Irene? We need to have you on mic first, for the folks on the phone to hear.
Irene Klotz, Aviation Week: Thanks. I can hold it. Thanks. Irene Klotz, with Aviation Week. Congratulations. Can you talk to us a little bit about what needs to happen to certify Falcon Heavy for the national security missions? How far along you are in that process and how many flights you might need to do. And also, if you're able to say anything about how much your, or SpaceX's, investment to get the rocket to this point. Thanks.
Elon Musk: I think we only need, I think, it depends on which national security mission. How many flights depends on which mission. But we have a number of commercial customers for Falcon Heavy, so I think, I really don't think it's going to be in any way an impediment to acceptance of national security missions. Because we'll be doing several Falcon Heavy missions, flights per year. So let's say, if there's a big national security satellite that's due for launch in three or four years, we'll probably have like, a dozen or more launches done by then. So it won't really, I don't think there'll be a launch number that's an inhibitor on national security stuff. And then we've got the STP mission that's coming up, which is another test mission. That'll go on full, where everything's on Block V, version V of the rocket. And then we'll be launching, there's a version V, a block V single stick in a couple months. So I think it's hopefully smooth sailing for qualification for national security missions. Our investment to date, probably a lot more than I'd like to admit. You know, we tried to cancel the Falcon Heavy program three times at SpaceX. Because it was like, man, this is way harder than we thought. Because the initial idea was, it was like, oh, you stick on two first stages as side boosters. How hard can it be? Like, way hard. We had to redesign the center core completely. We had to redesign the grid fins, because, it's a long story, but if you've got a nosecone on the end of a booster instead of a cylinder, you lose control authority. Because if you've got a cylinder, you can kind of bounce the air off of the rocket, and you get like, a 30% or more increased control authority if you've got a cylindrical section instead of an ogive section at the end of the booster. So we had to redesign the grid fins, redesign the control system, massively redesign the thrust structure at the base to take way more load. That center booster's got to deal with over a million pounds of load coming in combined from the side boosters. So it ends up being heavier. So the center core's basically a complete redesign. And even the side boosters, there's a pretty large number of parts that change. And then the launch site itself needs to change a lot. I'm guessing now our total investment is probably over half a billion. Probably more.
John Taylor, SpaceX: I'd like to take some questions from the phone. I think the first one up is Dan Vergano from BuzzFeed News. Is that right?
Dan Vergano, BuzzFeed News: That's right. Dan Vergano, BuzzFeed News. Could you talk a little bit about the decision to have the two side cores come down at the same time? Is that just the way that it falls out from the physics, or was that an actual decision you made?
Elon Musk: We did offset them slightly. But really they pretty much just come down. There's no, we wanted them to offset slightly just so that the radars didn't interfere. And we actually wanted no communication between the two stages, they were both going to a point in absolute space. And we were just worried that the radar reflection of one would be seen by the radar receiver of the other. But no, that's just kind of how it happened. It was actually meant to happen just like that.
John Taylor, SpaceX: The next question on the phone comes from Keith Cowing at NASA Watch.
Keith Cowing, NASA Watch: First of all, congratulations. You've launched a rather unconventional payload into space. One that's generated a lot of buzz, and there's a lot of people, some of them citizen scientists, some of them that are just newbies when it comes to tracking things in space are going to try and track the Tesla and understand what's happening to it. You know, kind of like that movie Dude, Where's My Car? And other than the live webcam today, what is SpaceX going to do to interact with this community of Tesla trackers once the car leaves orbit? Do you have a plan, or are you just going to kind of wait and see what bubbles up on the internet and react to it?
Elon Musk: We don't have a plan. No plan. [laughter]. [shrug]. The battery's going to last about twelve hours from launch, roughly. And after that, it's just going be out there in deep space for maybe millions or billions of years, who knows? And yeah, maybe discovered by some future alien race, thinking, what the heck? What were these guys doing? Did they worship this car? [laughter]. Why do they have a little car in the car? That will really confuse them. So, I'm not sure what's going to happen. But I think, you know, it's kind of a fun thing. I sure hope that next burn works, by the way. We'll know in a few hours.
John Taylor, SpaceX: Now we're going to go back to the room, if that's okay. How about Chris Davenport from The Washington Post? And Chris, if you could wait until we get you mic'd.
Chris Davenport, The Washington Post: Thanks. So, now that you're focusing more on the BFR, I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the timeline. I know you said it's coming along faster. And what that means for your plans for Mars and the moon.
Elon Musk: Well I don't want to get too off-topic, but you know, I think we might, if we get lucky we'll be able to do short hopper flights with the spaceship part of BFR, maybe next year.
John Taylor, SpaceX: Alright, one more in the room. How about Bill Harwood, from CBS?
Bill Harwood, CBS: Thanks. Bill Harwood, CBS. Elon, two really quick ones. You mentioned the droneship, a couple of thrusters cut. Did the thing land on the ship, or nearby, or?
Elon Musk: So, again, I would take any information I give with regard to this with a bit of a grain of salt. I'll tell you the information that I have, but the information that I have may be incorrect. It could be way off. So the information I received was that we hit the water at about 300 miles an hour, roughly 500 kilometers an hour. So that's hard. And about 100 meters away from the ship. Which was enough to take out two thrusters and shower the deck with shrapnel.
Bill Harwood, CBS: And you mentioned the burn coming up. Can you give us any sense, I know you're burning to completion. I mean, how long of a burn are we talking about, and when you hope to have some confirmation and would be able to tell us that it did or didn't work? Thanks.
Elon Musk: Actually I don't have the length of the burn off-hand. I was just looking at the propellant residual sigma, which is like the key number. It's a decently long burn though. Maybe a minute or so. And yeah, that'll be in a few hours. Hopefully. I actually don't have the latest telemetry. Because I was actually just down out at the landing zone and haven't been back to Launch Control since going to the landing zone, so I don't have the latest information on the status of the upper stage.
John Taylor, SpaceX: Tom Costello, from NBC News, please. Right here on the front row, in the jacket.
Tom Costello, NBC News: Well, congratulations again. I wanted to follow up on Chris's question, because Chris asked you what's your timeline potentially to go to the moon or Mars, and did you say as soon as next year? Can you quantify that? Then I had my real question, I'm just doing Chris's work here. [laughter].
Elon Musk: Well, by hopper tests, I mean kind of like, where we had the Grasshopper program for Falcon 9, where we just had the rocket take off and land in Texas, at our Texas test site. So that would be, we'll either do that at our South Texas launch site, near Brownsville, or do ship to ship. We're not sure yet whether ship to ship or Brownsville, but most likely it's going to happen at our Brownsville location, because we've got a lot of land with nobody around, and so if it blows up, it's cool. By hopper test, I mean it'll go up, you know, several miles, then come down. The ship is capable of single stage to orbit, if we fully load the tanks. So we'll do flights of increasing complexity. We really want to test the heat shield material. So we'll like fly out, turn around, accelerate back real hard, and come in hot, to test the heat shield. Because we want to have a highly reusable heat shield that's capable of absorbing the heat from interplanetary entry velocities. So it's really tricky.
Tom Costello, NBC News: So, the potential to go to the moon or Mars. What's your timeline there?
Elon Musk: Oh yeah, yeah. There are a lot of uncertainties on this program. But it is going to be our focus, now that we're almost done with Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, we're going to level off as I said, at Block V or version V. So there won't be any more major versions of Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy. Dragon is also going to level off at Dragon version 2. There might be like point releases, 5.1 or Dragon 2.1 or something like that, but most of our engineering resources will be dedicated to BFR. And so I think that will make things go quite quickly. The ship part is by far the hardest, because that's going to come in from super-orbital velocities, like Mars transfer velocities, moon transfer velocities. These are way harder than coming in from Low Earth Orbit. I mean there's some of the heating things that scale to the eighth power. I didn't realize there's anything that scales to the eighth power. But turns out certain elements of re-entry heating scale to the eighth. So just yeah, testing that ship out is the real tricky part. The booster, I think, I don't want to get complacent, but I think we understand reusable boosters. Reusable spaceships that can land propulsively, that's harder. So we're starting with the hard part first. I don't know, I think it's conceivable that we do our first test flight in three or four years. Of a full up, orbital test flight, including the booster.
Tom Costello, NBC News: To the moon?
Elon Musk: No, it'd go to Low Earth Orbit first. But it would be capable of going to the moon shortly thereafter. Because it's designed to do that.
John Taylor, SpaceX: Elon, we want to be sensitive to your time, how many more questions you want to take?
Elon Musk: I think a couple more questions, maybe.
John Taylor, SpaceX Okay, sure. There's a gentleman that came from our reddit community that I want to definitely call on. I don't know your reddit handle...
Elon Musk: Okay cool. I love reddit. The reddit sent someone. That's awesome.
John Taylor, SpaceX: ...and I don't want to say your name. So you can introduce yourself with your name or your handle.
Martin [Agnew?], reddit's /r/spacex: Hi Elon, my name is Martin [Agnew?] and I'm with reddit's /r/spacex community. I'd like to congratulate you as well, as so many people have done just now. I'd like to know about Starman's spacesuit. Is it a production model? Is it instrumented and/or pressurized? And what's holding his, what's holding him up?
Elon Musk: Well there's a mannequin inside. So it's just basically stuffed. But yeah, that is the actual production design. So the real one looks just like that. In fact, that's one of the qualification articles. So that's the real deal. Yeah I figure if you're going to go, I mean it's a dangerous trip, you want to look good. [laughter]. Yeah it took us three years to design that spacesuit. It was real hard. It's easy to make a spacesuit that looks good, but doesn't work. Or that works, but doesn't look good. It's really difficult to make a spacesuit that looks good and works. And you have to make it multi-part process. It was surprisingly difficult. Very difficult. Yeah.
John Taylor, SpaceX: How about Dave Mosher from Business Insider?
Dave Mosher, Business Insider: Hi, Dave Mosher from Business Insider. Thank you so much for doing this, by the way. I want to go back to BFR for a second since you were talking about that. And also Starman, which is such an inspirational thing that's happening. Have you thought, given any thought to what you might do with BFR in that way? What is the payload? Any thoughts on that?
Elon Musk: Oh, no idea. Suggestions are welcome. I mean, it's a beast. So, you know. The BFR, 9 meter diameter, 30 feet roughly. Diameter. Which is, yeah, you can fit a lot in 30 feet diameter. 110, 120 meters long. Yeah. Big. Although, you know, I bet it doesn't look that big after a while. [to John Taylor:] Alright, maybe a couple more.
John Taylor, SpaceX: One more in the room? OK, sure. How about Tim Fernholz from Quartz? In the back, with the white shirt?
Tim Fernholz, Quartz: Hi Elon. Thanks again for doing this. Two questions for you. One just about fairing recovery. Just curious how SpaceX is coming with that. And two, Jeff Bezos just responded to your tweet congratulating you on your launch today. You just mentioned a minute ago that we need a new space race. I'm just curious if you see yourself in a race with Blue Origin?
Elon Musk: [pauses, cocks head] What was the first part of the question? [laughter].
Tim Fernholz, Quartz: Checking in on fairing recovery.
Elon Musk: Yeah. So fairing recovery has proven surprisingly difficult. I'm pretty sure we'll solve fairing recovery in the next six months, but it turns out like, if you pop the parachute in the fairing, you've got this giant awkward thing. It tends to interfere with the airflow on the parachute, and it gets all twisty. And obviously it was a low priority, too. Also we have fairing version 2, which is, that's the important one that we want to recover. So even if we recover fairing version one, we wouldn't be re-flying it in the future. So fairing 2 and recovery, that's very important. My guess is next six months we figure out fairing recovery. And we've got a special boat to catch the fairing. It's like a catcher's mitt. It's like a giant catcher's mitt in boat form. It's going to run around and catch the fairing actually, it's kind of fun. I think we might be able to do the same thing with Dragon. So if NASA wants us to, we could try to catch Dragon. [laughter]. Really, it's meant for the fairing, but it would work on Dragon, too.
John Taylor, SpaceX: In the room, how about James Dean from Florida Today?
James Dean, Florida Today: Thanks so much Elon. James Dean, Florida Today. Speaking of those Dragons, could give us a status on commercial crew, and when we might realistically see an astronaut just getting to Low Earth Orbit, much less the moon or Mars?
Elon Musk: Yeah, you know, we're making great progress on Crew Dragon, or Dragon version 2. Actually, in terms of company priorities, obviously mission assurance is always number one, as a priority. But the priority used to be Falcon 9 Block V. But then I said a month ago, absolute priority is Crew Dragon. So we're pretty much done with Falcon 9 Block V, or version V. Almost done with Falcon Heavy, just a few tweaks that would occur with Falcon Heavy Block V, but they're minor. And so it's all hands on deck for Crew Dragon. And our goal is to, we're aspiring to fly crew to orbit at the end of this year. That's our goal. I think that's, I think the hardware will be ready.
John Taylor, SpaceX: We have time for one more question in the room...
Elon Musk: And I was just looking at Falcon 9 and I was like, yeah it looked kinda small. [laughter].
John Taylor, SpaceX: So we're going to have to wrap it up. I'd like for Chris Gebhardt to have the last question.
Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceFlight: Question in terms of the next Falcon Heavy. Which is that? ArabSat or the one for the Air Force? Do you have any idea how Pad A held up from this launch?
Elon Musk: Oh, the pad looks good.
Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceFlight: The pad looks good?
Elon Musk: The pad's in good shape. Yeah, yeah.
Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceFlight: And so, then I guess my questions are how quickly can the pad be reconfigured between Heavy and Falcon 9 since you need that pad for both?
Elon Musk: Oh, real fast. It's no problem, going back and forth. It's designed that way.
Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceFlight: And for the Block V version of the Falcon 9, or Falcon Heavy, does the Falcon Heavy need a dedicated core built for it, or...?
Elon Musk: Yes. The center core needs to be dedicated. Yeah. So the center core's a special build. The side boosters, we can reuse existing Falcon 9s, but we need to just replace the interstage with a nosecone. And it needs to use the upgraded titanium grid fins. Which are sweet. Those worked out real well. I'm really happy about those. In fact, I'm glad we got the side boosters back, because they have the titanium grid fins, and the center core didn't. So if I was to pick any one, I would have picked the side boosters. I'd pick the center core to explode. [laughter]. So, that would be like the least, yeah. Because those friggin grid fins, they're super expensive and awesome, but the production rate on them is slow. We need 'em back. That was the most important thing to recover, were those grid fins.
Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceFlight: Are there sensors inside the spacesuit testing like, its ability to function?
Elon Musk: Nope. Nope.
Chris Gebhardt, NASASpaceFlight: It's just up there?
Elon Musk: No, it definitely works though. You can just like, jump in a vacuum chamber with it and it's fine.
John Taylor, SpaceX: Elon, thank you. Thank you so very much for your time, really appreciate it.
Elon Musk: Alright, thanks everyone. Hope you had a good time. Much more excitement coming.