With Dragon 2 Still Unfinished, Musk Rolls Out an Even More Ambitious Plan

Dragon Version 2. (Credit: SpaceX)

When on May 29, 2014, Elon Musk unveiled the Dragon 2 spacecraft at a gala ceremony at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., the future of American human spaceflight seemed assured and tantalizingly close.

By 2017, the new spacecraft would begin making crewed flights to the International Space Station, restoring a capability that had ended with the last space shuttle mission in 2011. NASA’s dependence on  Russian Soyuz spacecraft would come to an end.

Four years after its unveiling, Dragon 2 is still months away from making an automated flight test to the space station. A test flight with astronauts aboard might not occur until next year. The Government Accountability Office believes additional delays could push certification of the spacecraft to carry NASA astronauts on a commercial basis to December 2019. (Certification of Boeing’s crew vehicle might not occur until February 2020).

It’s good to keep all this in mind as Musk prepares to unveil his latest transportation plan this evening. At 7 p.m. PDT, Musk will hold a town-hall style meeting in Los Angeles to discuss plans by The Boring Company for tunneling under the city. The event will be webcast at https://www.boringcompany.com/.

Musk might have given a preview of the session on Twitter this week when he made a connection between his tunneling work and the mega rocket/spaceship that he is designing to render Dragon 2 and its Falcon 9 booster obsolete.

The spaceport in question is apparently the offshore platform where passengers will board the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), which Musk says will be capable of going anywhere in the world in about 30 minutes. The rocket is also being designed to launch satellites and transport people and cargo to the moon and Mars.

It sounds as ambitious as anything Musk has attempted to date. If the past is any guide, his estimates on cost and schedules will be extremely optimistic.

  • windbourne

    of course the impact on the global climate would be felt WHEN yelllowstone goes next. However, Russia and China will not be covered in 10′ of ash. Most of America will be covered in ash, up to a meter.
    We would be taken out of any war instantly. Russia/CHina would suffer a little bit of cold and slightly lower crop production.

  • windbourne

    nuscale has a new one going into Utah in 2 years. Hopefully.

  • windbourne

    u do realize that they should be up around 400-500K cars before July 4. Right? And that they are shooting for 1M / year by end of 2018.
    They have 30+% GPM on MS/X, and over 20% on M3.
    If they have 1M M3 / year by end of year (just at freemont), then they will be getting around $9-12B / year GPM just on the M3.
    I think that they will be doing just fine.

  • Michael Halpern

    sure, but the rate at which the red tape can be gone through to get them built makes them at least for now, pretty low on my list for viable power options, after renewables + storage, the next highest on my list is waste to gas (to power), waste heat to power and waste to energy. Nukes are great for clean energy, but building, operating and eventually decommissioning them is a headache.

  • redneck

    You cannot build a low income house at all when when it’s illegal to do so. There are at least a half dozen methods of building safe dwelling at low cost, but only at the technical level. It’s not economics that prevent new units at <$20k.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Because vertical integration is how SpaceX operates. It’s how they keep their costs down, and their agility high.

    If the accusation is that this has demonstrably slowed Dragon 2’s development, I think there is an obligation to spell out just how this has occurred.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Does Boeing have any contribution to the ISS?

    They were the prime contractor and prime integrator.

  • Richard Malcolm

    Then perhaps the answer is to alter the certification process to be simpler and less risk averse.

  • Michael Halpern

    Not really an option, especially not at this early stage of commercial hsf

  • duheagle

    I tend to agree about heritage components not equaling a spacecraft. But it was Boeing that was making all the heritage noise and strongly implying this gave them a leg up. I suspect Boeing has found that simply having something on the shelf doesn’t necessarily save one a lot of time, especially if the people who originally designed said shelf-sitting componentry are no longer around to explain it to those who’ve come aboard since.

    As for SpaceX doing most of its components itself, that tends to make things go faster, not slower. Putting together a multi-level supply chain is a complicated and time-consuming process. That said, SpaceX has used subcontractors and continues to, but has had occasions when such arrangements have proven ill-starred. One of the early CRS missions had some dramatic moments courtesy of some subcontractor-supplied thruster valves that malfunctioned. Seems the contractor had made unilateral changes to the parts. Then there was the infamous strut failure on CRS-7.

  • duheagle

    I can certainly see where someone who got into aerospace in order to work on things that will actually fly might prefer working for SpaceX to working for Lock-Mart.

  • duheagle

    “Right at $3 a gallon” would look pretty good to me right now. Out here in sunny SoCal gas is about four bits a gallon higher than that, much of the difference being new taxes.

  • duheagle

    That’s because Texas has both lots of production and lots of refining capacity within its borders. CA, not so much. CA could be like TX; it has lots of frackable shale and plenty of places to build new refineries. Both are entirely anathema to the three-hugging grandees who currently rule this place.

  • duheagle

    Dream on.

  • duheagle

    Doubtless true. But I don’t own my premises, I rent.

  • duheagle

    Don’t bother telling me and Ken. You need to tell the wackadoodle tree-huggers who run my state.

  • Jeff2Space

    One problem with “letting the market sort it out” is how long it takes manufacturers to meet customer demand. Ford is already saying they’re going to drop manufacturing of sedans in the US in favor of building more SUVs and trucks (more profitable right now). By the time those go to market if gas is $4+ a gallon ($5+ a gallon in California), Ford is going to be in trouble.

  • Jeff2Space

    That’s bizarre. If Boeing being late isn’t the reason, that begs the question what is the real reason EUS is being delayed by many years?

  • Michael Halpern

    On the flip side of that, California is setting itself up for the long term payoff in energy probably better than anyone else, at least in the US, unfortunately it comes at the cost of a lot of money right now, which is why I consider myself a liberal leaning moderate, i consider it very important to push towards progress, but there are detrimental extremes, still I consider it important that heavy pushing parties like those in California exist so they can show everyone else what works.

  • Lee

    Actually, I am both. Degrees in Applied Physics, and an Observatory Engineer by profession, for these last 28+ years. Probably doing science since before either of you were born.

    When I learned science, I actually learned how to do math ($0.30+/kWhr for “green energy > $0.12/kWhr for traditional sources), why businesses exist (to make a profit). Many of the green energy proponents I’ve dealt with over the years aren’t very good at understanding either thing (especially the math part). I also understand that there are significant environmental impacts that come with making solar panels and running wind farms (pallet of dead eagles, anyone?). It says a lot to me that proponents of green energy never talk about the environmental impacts of it, nor the price of it, as if these are non-issues. They are not non-issues, however I think they are solvable issues in the long run. However, acting like these issues don’t exist is not the way to make them go away.

    As this thread has proven, those in favor of alternative energy come at it less from a pure science point of view, than from a religious-war zealot point of view. If you don’t agree with them, you are an idiot who can’t possibly know anything about science.

    I should not have made the mistake of diving into this thread. It has only confirmed my previous opinions.

    As for housing regulations, no one is saying we should get rid of regulations prohibiting aluminum wiring, asbestos, or lead paint. What redneck was saying is that in many jurisdictions there are any number of regulations that have NOTHING to do with safety. They just serve to make building a structure more expensive without really improving it. The “ideal” structure is not necessarily the “required” structure, and certainly not the most inexpensive structure to build.

    In closing, because I understand science, I think solar *will* get there eventually, and will be the preferred method. I just don’t think it’s time to be writing regulations requiring it yet.

  • Michael Halpern

    Part of the problem with GEO thermal is the cost of digging for them, maybe The Boring Company will eventually expand to such work..

  • duheagle

    The idea that forcing developers to install alternative energy hardware makes it “unsubsidized” is laughable – the mandate is the subsidy.

  • duheagle

    Moving the goalposts. Energy efficiency mandates have nothing to do with “safety” and everything to do with pursuit of a leftist political eagenda based on pseudo-science and fraud.

  • duheagle

    add little to nothing to the building cost

    Ridiculous. What do you think happens to the price of things that builders are required by law to include in a building?

  • duheagle

    If this was actually true, it would be happening without any mandate.

  • duheagle

    In CA, at least, you’re getting your wish. Fewer and fewer are able to buy houses, especially new ones.

  • duheagle

    I wasn’t talking about regulation, I was talking about the time distribution of incident solar radiation vs. cooling demand – something that is not subject to legislative fiat. To paraphrase Voltaire, the Sun in its majestic impartiality, heats up tarpaper shacks and McMansions all day and the maximum heat rejection load occurs late in the day.

    Again, if what you claim to be economic benefits of your proposed mandate scheme were real, the market would already be doing what you want without any gun pointed at the heads of developers.

  • Michael Halpern

    not what I meant, if you cant afford the extra 100 dollars/month for 100-300 dollars off your energy, you shouldn’t be looking at houses, but apartments,

  • duheagle

    Commercial Crew is late because of external Congressional politics and internal NASA politics. I believe the original COTS completion date was supposed to be year-end 2010. SpaceX’s first Dragon mission to ISS occurred in 2Q 2012, less than 18 months beyond the nominal date proposed back in 2005. Tesla has been late meeting both model introduction and production milestone dates. I’m unaware of any such delays exceeding 18 months, however.

    Permits and regulations – despite the apparent belief to the contrary by progs such as yourself – are not based in natural law and are often put in place for political reasons. The usual reasons are to impose barriers to entry of some enterprise that would otherwise subject favored political contributors – e.g., taxicab companies vis-a-vis Uber, Lyft, etc. – to competition or to raise revenue or both. Musk, in seeking exemptions to these, is also making a political effort. If he is successful, he will have defeated politically-imposed obstacles via superior application of political maneuvering. Musk has come out on top in many politically-based tussles before. His record in this respect is hardly perfect, but it’s pretty good. I like his chances.

    If wishes were fishes, as the old saying goes, we’d none of us ever starve. There are a lot of investments I now wish I’d made back in the day. Instead, I made several failed attempts at entrepreneurship. So it goes.

    The fact that you don’t see why Tesla stubbornly refuses to slip beneath the waves simply reveals that you are as ignorant as was I at several junctures earlier in life anent not knowing what I didn’t know.

  • duheagle

    Jacking up the price of housing means, at some point, even apartment dwellers are priced out of the market too. That is certainly also happening in CA.

  • duheagle

    Exactly. That’s why I think those initial freight haul missions to Mars are going to go in 2024, not 2022, and that the “aspirational” 2024 human expedition is going to go in 2026.

  • duheagle

    I’m not aware of Elon angling for any tax money to fund his proposed tunneling so I’m mystified by that aspect of your comment.

    Agree that accidents deep underground are scary, but if one looks at the record of subway and road tunnel accidents, it’s human drivers that cause most of them. In the case of subways, a minority of accidents are also caused by unwisely deferred maintenance indulged by political administrations looking to skimp there in order to put more money in the pockets of politically influential transit unions.

    My impression is that Elon’s proposed tunnels will all be one-way and built in parallel pairs. This seems to be increasingly the pattern even for road tunnels. Avoidance of even the possibility of head-on collisions counts for a lot.

  • Michael Halpern

    Except its lowering utility costs which has to be factored in

  • Michael Halpern

    yeah generally speaking in tech development, add 2-3 years padding with FH as an outlier…

  • Michael Halpern

    Well Boring tunnels are at least 20% cheaper, because instead of paying someone to take their muck, they are turning it into bricks and selling it,

  • Kenneth_Brown

    Michael, do the math. Start with a $25K, 3000 Wh solar system and look up what the expected annual insolation is for your area. Now assume no change in your historical electricity usage. What is your savings/month vs. what is your interest payment is per month on the $25k you spent? A 3kW system, which is pretty normal, saves around $100/month in tier one power ($.17/kWh) or $130/month a month at tier 3 ($.24/kWh). I’m assuming an annual average of 6 hours @ 3kW each day. That might be fairly optimistic and will depend heavily on location. I am also assuming a non-tracking rooftop installation on a well pitched, southern facing roof and no shading. Your sunlight may vary.

    A bigger system is only incrementally more expensive as the installation labor doesn’t scale in a linear way and the permitting fees/inspections will be the same.

    I haven’t seen the particulars of the California law and don’t know what size of system that will be mandated and if it’s a one size fits all or scales with square footage. There are several homes in my area with panels mounted on an east or west facing roof that aren’t going to have a very good ROI and even one house with panels on the north facing roof (face palm). I do know that when government (a bunch of non-techincal, failed lawyers) gets involved in mandating stuff, they nearly always get it massively wrong.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    Where the heck did those numbers come from? Even Elon isn’t making those sorts of a claims and he’s well known to inflate estimates. 500k cars in 6 months is 83K/month. That’s more than they have built in an entire quarter to date.

    The Fremont plant is going to top out at 5-6k model 3’s per month. That’s about one car every 60 seconds and that would be on par with a real auto manufacturer going at top speed. Doubling that number is one car every 30 seconds on the single production line. Every station has to complete their task in 30 seconds. That’s still just 10k Model 3’s/month. 60k a month would be a car leaving the line every 5 seconds.

    Your GPM statements are far more generous than the financials show and those are calculated in a way that no other manufacturer does. Other manufacturers factor in warranty and ongoing engineering along with something for the R&D which is why their numbers are lower.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    What happens if the private system can’t earn enough to pay its operating costs? It winds up in the taxpayers lap. The tunnels couldn’t just be abandoned and sealed off. They’d either need to be filled in or receive regular inspections and maintenance.

    It’s almost a certainty that while the Boring company would do the tunneling, a separate company would be the operator. That’s a classic way to avoid liability.

    It always seems to be a massive fire in a tunnel that winds up killing loads of people and causing them to shut down the tunnel down for lengthy periods until the investigation is done and they are cleaned up and repaired. It doesn’t matter if the fire is caused by a poor driver or a malfunctioning piece of equipment. Being a couple of hundred feet down in a tiny tunnel could be a huge disaster. An unscrupulous company deferring maintenance and proper repairs to “maximize value for the shareholders” is as much of a problem as political bribes and kickbacks.

    The 91 freeway toll roads in California (a roughly 10 mile stretch) were constructed by a private company for $200 million. They couldn’t make any money on them so the state of California bought them out at $400 million and operates the lanes now. The other option was to let the company and its shareholders take a huge loss and just block off the lanes from use. They were private so the state couldn’t just take them away. There would have to be bankruptcy hearings that could drag on for years as taxpayers raged about the unused lanes on a heavily travelled freeway just sitting there.

    A set of tunnels used for cargo instead of people could be a much better business plan. There would be lower costs as access would be at fewer points. The system would interconnect freight terminals, airports, fulfillment centers and UPS/FedEx/USPS hubs. Elon’s miniature boring machine doesn’t make a tunnel big enough for a shipping container, but air cargo containers would fit. “Skates” would travel at full speed in the system and pull off the main line at their destinations like PRT. That could take a lot of trucks and vans off the streets and get packages closer to the recipients before they are using roads for the final leg of delivery.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    120mph subways are silly. To get to those speeds, it would be like the launch of a roller coaster and stopping again at an uncomfortable G force. Higher speeds also equate to a heavier build and lots more maintenance.

    Most subway systems don’t travel far enough between stops to make speeding up that much of a difference. The costs could soar and any breakdowns or accidents would be magnified by the speed. It’s too hard to show the math in a comments box, but not a big deal to work out if you know some Calculus. Fewer stops make the system less usable so there is a breaking point between the number of stops and speed.