Via Satellite: What is SpaceX’s business model to lower the cost of launching?
Musk: I think the major improvement that we will provide is reusability. Currently, the launch service industry is very much an expendable business. There isn’t any launch vehicle out there that is reusable besides [NASA’s space] shuttle, which is only partially reusable and so difficult to reuse that it is actually more expensive than if it were expendable. Some people actually use the shuttle as a counter example of why reusability is bad. They say the shuttle costs $1 billion per flight, has a maximum payload of 40,000 pounds to LEO (low-Earth orbit) and zero pounds to GTO (geostationary orbit). They compare the shuttle to even more powerful expendable rockets like the Delta 4 heavy at a quarter of the cost — $250 million dollars — to put a payload into orbit. But we cannot reach any conclusions with a sample set of one. At SpaceX, we are aiming to have the first stage of Falcon 1 reusable. For Falcon 9, we are going to make the first and second stage reusable. For scheduling reasons, the first flight of Falcon 9 will probably not have a reusable second stage but we’re aiming for it in the second or third flight.
Via Satellite: How do you respond to the criticism of your business and how do you ease concerns of satellite customers?
Musk: I don’t listen to the criticism. Whenever someone new comes along with improvements, the incumbents will always go through their stages of grief. We have a strong supporter in NASA. We’re six years old, and it took us four years to get NASA to believe us. We’re sort of becoming the establishment now, as we are the primary means of getting to the [International] Space Station. Our message to the satellite industry is that we’re trying to design a rocket that is reliable as possible. A lack of reliability is the biggest fear for the satellite industry, and I want to assure them that there is nothing that we have done on this rocket to shortchange it on reliably. I don’t want a single person to die or another payload lost on this rocket due to our error. I want people to know that we haven’t made a single compromise of reliability.
Via Satellite: SpaceX has a successful launch and three failures. How do you plan on promoting your service as reliable?
Musk: Establishing reliability is our emphasis. We don’t want to be one-quarter of the cost and one-quarter of the reliability, which is our record right now. With the first three flights of Falcon 1, the problems were design errors. They were not errors of production or quality assurance. We fixed those errors on the fourth flight. From here on out, it should be a question of quality assurance and consistency now that we are out of the development phase. As far as consistency is concerned, you can’t evaluate our first three launch attempts as part of our reliability equation because they were design-related issues. You can only establish a reliability assessment from flight 4 onwards. We are not going to have the problems that we saw on our first three flights again. Every time we look at a launch we look at the near misses and incorporate that into our future designs. We’ve also got seven launches on contract. If someone were to buy the eighth launch they have got a lot of people going ahead of them. If someone is going to catch a bullet, it’s probably not going to be them.