New SpaceX President Takes on More Operational Responsibilities

[Satellite News 01-15-09] Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) President Gwynne Shotwell will be taking over more of the day-to-day operations from company founder, CEO and CTO Elon Musk, Shotwell said Jan. 13 at the Washington Space Business Roundtable.
    “We are still working under the direction of Elon’s visions for the company,” said Shotwell. “But I will be taking on more responsibility in running the company.”
    Introducing herself to space industry executives and launch competitors, Shotwell outlined the future direction of the company and its Falcon 9 and DragonLab space vehicles.
    “After we secured the NASA space station resupply contract in December, SpaceX has gone from being a half-billion dollar company to a $2 billion company,” said Shotwell. “We will now be shifting our attention from development to expanding production. We have many launch contracts to fulfill.”
    NASA awarded SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corp. contracts totaling $3.5 billion, with a potential of almost twice that amount, to provide logistics and supply runs to the International Space Station after NASA’s space shuttles are retired in 2010.
    Shotwell, formerly of Aerospace Corp. and SpaceX’s seventh employee (the company now has about 650), showcased the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9. While discussing the company’s light-class Falcon 1 launcher, which recorded three failures before performing a demonstration mission in September “I don’t consider Falcon 1 one for four. I consider it one for one — with a lot of practice,” said Shotwell. “We learned from our mistakes. Falcon 9 is being developed foremost as a reliable launcher.”
    The Falcon 9, which SpaceX hopes to launch by the end of 2009, has been raised to vertical at its launch complex at Cape Canaveral, Fla. The operation was a critical step in validating a variety of system interfaces and launch processes in preparation for its maiden flight.
    The cost of insuring SpaceX launches with the company’s current track record also was discussed. “It is obviously hard to speculate on what insurance costs will be until we have established that track record of success. Our next launch customer in Malaysia was able to secure affordable insurance to launch with us. SpaceX does provide a 15 percent spaceflight risk guarantee and we are actively engaged with insurance companies,” she said.
    Displaying a video simulation of how the DragonLab manned spacecraft would be launched and separated from a Falcon 9 vehicle and dock with the International Space Station, Shotwell said that despite the company’s comfortable financial situation, NASA would require SpaceX to participate in a financing round. When asked if this was a hint pointing to the company going public, Shotwell said, “Pay close attention to the videos posted on the Web site.”
    SpaceX would love to provide services to the U.S. military, but that the U.S. Department of Defense has yet to open up to them, Shotwell said.

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