SpaceX Pushes Back Red Dragon Mission to Mars by 2 Years

Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said the company would delay its 2018 Red Dragon mission to Mars at least two years to better focus its resources on two programs that a running significantly behind schedule.

“We were focused on 2018, but we felt like we needed to put more resources and focus more heavily on our crew program and our Falcon Heavy program,” Shotwell said at a pre-launch press conference in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “So we’re looking more for the 2020 timeframe for that.”

The mission will land a modified Dragon spacecraft on the martian surface. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said he planned to launch Dragons to the surface every two years beginning in 2018, culminating in a crewed mission in 2024.

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Musk, Mars & the Iron Horse

A view from martian orbit. (Credit: SpaceX)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Last September, Elon Musk stood on stage in a packed auditorium in Guadalajara, Mexico, and invoked America’s 19th century expansion into the West to support his plan to colonize Mars in the 21st century.

“The goal of SpaceX is really to build the transport system,” he said. “It’s like building the Union Pacific Railroad. And once that transport system is built then there’s a tremendous opportunity for anyone who wants to go to Mars and create something new or build the foundations of a new planet.

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Musk Getting Pummeled Online for Support of Trump

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

The Huffington Post has an interesting story about how “green guru” Elon Musk is getting pummeled online for his increasingly close ties to President Donald Trump.

First, President Trump, whom he opposed during the presidential campaign, named him to his Strategic and Policy Forum and his manufacturing council. Then Musk broke with the environmental community and endorsed Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon Mobil, for secretary of state. Progressives were incensed by what they viewed as Musk’s betrayal. “What did they promise you in the golden room?” one tweeted to Musk.

Next, Musk defended Trump’s controversial travel ban that targets Muslims, sending out a retweet that said “after reading the language of [Trump’s executive] order, it looks far less bad than portrayed by left.” This prompted an even more intense response from progressives. One group, Americablog, went so far as to create an online petition demanding Musk end his association with Trump. “Enough is enough,” the group declared. “Tell Elon Musk to stop defending Trump’s racism — it’s time to dump Trump.”

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SpaceX to Build Tunnel for Employees Under Crenshaw Boulevard

When Elon Musk posted this Tweet early on a Saturday morning back in December, the Interwebs went wild. There was all sorts of speculation that Elon was starting a new business and that it had something to do with habitats on Mars. Or that he was venting while stuck in traffic on one of LA’s notoriously clogged arteries.

As I reported at the time, all of that speculation was dead wrong. The tweets had nothing to do with any of that stuff.

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Trump Muzzles Scientists, Elon Musk Shills for Former ExxonMobil CEO

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

The muzzling of government scientists and agencies  that people warned about [see: Harper, Trump & Science a la Carte: A Warning From Canada] has begun under the Trump Administration.

Employees at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have seen directives from the newly minted leadership seeking to limit how they communicate to the public, according to multiple sources.

The moves have reinforced concerns that Trump, a climate change doubter, could seek to sideline scientific research showing that carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels contributes to global warming, as well as the career staffers at the agencies that conduct much of this research.
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Analysis: SpaceX’s Revenue Projections for Satellite Internet Too Optimistic

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)
Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

A new analysis of SpaceX’s plans to have revenues of $30 billion per year for its global satellite Internet project is “too optimistic” and could damage the industry’s credibility by creating unrealistic expectations. It also claims that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly manipulated financial analysts with “totally unrealistic” schedules and projections.

Here’s an excerpt from the story. [Emphasis original]

WSJ’s [Wall Street Journal’s] article notes that SpaceX expects to attract over 40 M subscribers by 2025. The largest satellite Internet network today is operated by HughesNet, which has slightly above 1M subs after nearly a decade of operation. Combining ViaSat’s Exede and HughesNet, the year with the highest number of new subscribers was in the 300-350,000 range, which hints at how difficult it is to build the distribution channels for this kind of service. Of course, cheap, self-installation terminals and a global operation infrastructure could accelerate service take-up, but it appears very difficult to reach the 40M installed base in just 5 years. Compounding all of the above, one must not forget regulatory barriers as SpaceX would need to pursue landing rights in each and every country it wants to operate….

The best way to predict the future is building it, and NSR will only be pleased to see the satellite industry growing to the levels forecasted by SpaceX, as it would be beneficial for everyone. While it is true that forecasting revenues for such innovative ventures has a significant level of uncertainty, NSR nonetheless believes the $30 billion revenue projection is too optimistic no matter what assumptions are made and could stoke unrealistic expectations undermining the industry’s credibility.

One must also consider that SpaceX are masters of strategic communications and have repeatedly made extravagant announcements to push analysts, the financial community, the industry and employees in its favor. It is its CEO managing style, the day after he announced a totally unrealistic schedule and sales target for Tesla’s Model 3, auto analysts universally moved their own estimates up satisfying what probably was the original goal, shifting the paradigm. SpaceX has said very clearly that it plans a step deployment of the constellation starting commercial operations with a “modest” 800 satellite constellation (compared with the 4,420 of the full deployment), which hints at the venture having different growth scenarios with more reasonable assumptions. When analyzing SpaceX projections, being an investor, a competitor or an industry watcher, one must keep its independence and not fall in this expectations trap. Otherwise, industry’s credibility would be at risk.

Read the full story.

SpaceX’s Shotwell to be Deposed in Whistleblower Lawsuit

Gwynne Shotwell
Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell will be deposed in a lawsuit filed by former employee  Jason Blasdell, an avionics test technician who claims he was fired in 2014 after blowing the whistle on managers for cutting corners on tests.

He received consistently positive reviews from management for his work, his lawsuit states. However, he began seeing safety issues related to the testing procedures of rocket parts, leading him to question the quality of the testing and the risks it posed not just for possible rocket explosions, but for the potential loss of human life as well, according to his attorneys’ court papers.

Blasdell complained to Shotwell, to SpaceX founder Elon Musk and to the company’s human resources department that there were potentially dangerous deviations from protocol that his managers were pressuring test technicians to make, his lawsuit alleges.

Shotwell, 53, told Blasdell during an October 2013 meeting that she would investigate his concerns and hire an outside consultant to investigate, the suit claims. Blasdell followed up in early 2014 when he inquired of Shotwell by email whether the consultant had been hired.

“Ms. Shotwell never responded to plaintiff’s inquiry, but instead wrote a separate email to plaintiff criticizing the manner in which plaintiff communicated with management,” according to the court papers….

In their papers, SpaceX attorneys called Blasdell’s lawsuit “baseless.”

Read the full story.

SpaceX Falcon 9 Return to Flight Set for Monday

Falcon 9 launches the Dragon CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)
Falcon 9 launches the Dragon CRS-9 mission to the International Space Station. (Credit: NASA)

SpaceX plans to launch a Falcon 9 booster with 10 Iridium communications satellites on board from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Monday at 10:22 a.m. PST.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has Tweeted that a pre-flight engine firing conducted on Thursday was successful. The FAA also issued a license today for SpaceX to perform the launch. The approval includes

The launch will be the first Falcon 9 flight since a booster caught fire and exploded on the launch pad on Sept. 1. The accident, which SpaceX says was caused by a breach in a second stage helium tank, destroyed the $195 million Amos-6 communications satellite.

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The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

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Arianespace Signed 13 Launch Contracts in Past Year

Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)
Flight VS13 was the 13th Soyuz liftoff performed from French Guiana since this vehicle’s 2011 introduction at the Spaceport. (Credit: Arianespace)

While Elon Musk and SpaceX have been dominating the media spotlight with their spectacular Falcon 9 first-stage landings and even more spectacular launch pad firexplanomaly, Arianespace has quietly went about the task of putting satellites into orbit and signing new launch contracts.

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Video of 3 SpaceX Employees Being Struck By Car Outside Headquarters

A news report about three SpaceX employees who were hit by a car on Dec. 17 after leaving work. The incident occurred at 2:15 a.m. About three hours later, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk posted the following Tweets:

A source tells Parabolic Arc that traffic on Crenshaw Boulevard where the employees were struck is heavy. During the day, crossing guards help guide people across the street. Musk has wanted a tunnel built under the street to make it easier and safer for employees to cross.

The Tweets set off a wave of media speculation that envisioned a frustrated Musk sitting in LA traffic devising a way of disrupting the tunneling business. Some speculated the tunneling was needed for the Hyperloop rapid transit systems; others thought it would be useful for underground martian settlements.

The source said it was disturbing that Musk was tweeting about how much traffic was bothering him, and talking about a new business venture, while making no reference to the accident or his injured employees in the hospital. The tweets came off as crass and unfeeling.

The three female employees survived the accident. Two of them were back in the hospital on Thursday for additional surgery, according to the NBC News 4 report. You can read more here: http://www.nbclosangeles.com/news/local/Hit-and-Run-Video-Hawthorne-Crosswalk-Search-SpaceX-408680785.html

Trump Adds Commercial Space Advocate to NASA Transition Team

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

President elect Donald Trump has named commercial space backer Charles Miller to the NASA landing team amid reports that similar minded advocates will be added to transition group.

Miller is president of NexGen Space LLC, a company that advises clients on commercial, civil and national security space.  He previously served as NASA’s senior advisor for commercial space.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Trump officials are also working on appointing Alan Stern, chairman of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and Alan Lindenmoyer, who formerly managed NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo Program. Both nominations are in the process of being vetted for conflicts of interest.

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Source: Musk Tweets on Tunneling Unrelated to Mars, Hyperloop

So, Elon Musk’s cryptic Tweets on Saturday about getting into the tunneling business has had yours truly and many others speculating about what he’s up to this time. Is it for the Hyperloop? Underground colonies on Mars?

Nothing so grandiose, apparently. They were inspired by something much darker, actually.

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