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SpaceX CEO Expects Commercial Deals This Year

By Mark Holmes | March 24, 2009
      SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told a luncheon at SATELLITE 2009 that the company expects to sign deals in the commercial arena for its Falcon 9 launch vehicle this year. The company, which is aiming to revolutionize the launch services arena is set for a pivotal year, as it not only aims for a number of successful launches of its Falcon 9 vehicle, but also hopes to make inroads in terms of commercial contracts.
          Musk said of the company’s aspirations in the commercial sector, “We do feel that the commercial launch market is important. We are in negotiations with some significant players on the commercial side. I expect us to sign some Falcon 9 commercial contracts this year.”
          SpaceX has had its teething problems with its Falcon 1 vehicle, which has suffered numerous launch failures; however, Musk is confident that the company can have a huge impact in the space arena. He said, “I started SpaceX because I believed some good could be done in terms of space transportation. We are going to stagnate in space if we don’t bring these costs down. It is incredibly important to make space transportation much, much cheaper. We started off with a small vehicle, Falcon 1. We have scaled up with Falcon 9, which is called that because it has nine engines.”
          The mantra of SpaceX is to provide low-cost launch services. In terms of the scale of these cost reductions, Musk says, “If we look at the cost reduction in the short term, you will see the Falcon 1 is around $8 million per flight. Falcon 9 is approximately $40 million a flight. That is a fairly significant reduction.”
      The company also hopes to be a pioneer in terms of re-usable launch vehicles. Musk says, “The aspiration is to make the vehicle re-usable. We think that is a critical change. There is also an issue with making customers feeling comfortable with that notion. The Space Shuttle runs at $1 billon a flight. That is the problem we want to try and solve in the long-term. If you consider any motor transport, how often would you use it, if you were not re-usable? Re-usability is the key, but a difficult economic and technical challenge.”


          The  company, however, still has a lot to prove despite some impressive deals made with NASA. Musk admitted these deals have been vital to the company. He said, “We are NASA’s main customer for supplying the Space Station. They give us a pretty good endorsement from a pretty conservative company. We are incredibly grateful to NASA. We are much further ahead than we would be without them.”
          Musk also revealed that the company has now signed a total of 21 contracts for the Falcon 9, with two new contracts recently added.
      While it will be a busy year for the company in terms of signing new contracts, equally important will be the completion of a successful launch of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Musk hopes the company will be successful with its first launch here. He said, “It has a very good chance of being successful in the initial flight. I feel extremely confident about Falcon 9.”

      Falcon 9 Ambitions

          Musk also set out the ambitions for the company over the next 12 months, as it aims for a number of successful launches with both its Falcon 1 and its Falcon 9 launch vehicles. He says, “In the short term, we want to continue to launch Falcon 1. We want to do two to three Falcon 9 flights this year, and then another four to five next year.”
          It also hopes to have its Falcon 9 heavy up and running in around 12 months’ time. The Falcon 9 heavy will be SpaceX’s entry into the heavy lift launch vehicle category.
      Mark Holmes