Fireside Chat with SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell
We had a magical night last night. We watched the second successful launch of the week at a remote mission control node, and then went on stage to talk about the inspirational SpaceX story. (more photos below)
And the Reddit community came to the rescue, transcribing their notes (their words, not mine):
Gwynne Shotwell gave a talk at Stanford on Oct 11 titled "The Road to Mars". Here are a few notes that I made, and hopefully a few other Redditers will fill in more details:
•She started off with a fun comment that she was pleased that they'd made it to orbit today, or else her talk would have been a downer.
•She said that Falcon Heavy was waiting on the launch pad to be ready, repeated December as a date, and then I am fairly sure she said that pad 40 would be ready in December.
•She said that they had fired scaled Raptor (known) and that they were building the larger version right now.
•She mentioned that they were going to build a new BFR factory in LA on the water, because it turned out to be too expensive to move big things from Hawthorne to the water.
•She told a story about coming to SpaceX: She had gotten tired of the way the aerospace industry worked, and was excited that SpaceX might be able to revolutionize things. And if that didn't work out, she planned on leaving the industry and becoming a barista or something. Fortunately, SpaceX worked out well.
On Falcon Heavy
Reaffirmed that the rocket is ready and they are just waiting on the launchpad
Confirmed plan to launch in December (this is not just an Elon-date)
On launch sites
Pad 39a will be used for Falcon Heavy launches and crew flights
Boca Chica launch site under construction is the "perfect location for BFR"
She did not mention anything else about Boca Chica other than its prime suitability for BFR
On Commercial Crew
Reaffirmed timetable for launching crew next year
Extremely proud of Launch Escape System
First manned flight will have two astronauts on board
On "Global Broadband Network"
"Does anybody like their cable company? [Laughs] No one!"
Dragon is a very sophisticated satellite, so in that light, sees internet constellation as a natural extension of their current work
Compared size of global launch market (~8 billion dollars/year) to broadband market (~1 trillion dollars/year) to further explain SpaceX's interest
Perhaps it was just an awkward phrase, but used the term "propellant depot" to describe orbital refueling process for BFR
Talked about tanker BFR and mentioned how Elon wants the fuel transfer to actually be as fast as seen in the Adelaide animation
At this point, it became a Q&A session. Audience members submitted questions online and voted on other questions. Steve Jurvetson sat down on stage with Shotwell and selected top voted questions and skillfully modified them as necessary to make them more sensible. This is perhaps the best SpaceX Q&A I have seen, this format is worth emulating.
Does SpaceX have the resources to do the satellite constellation and the BFR together, or will they need to prioritize?
We can do it, no question. We can fund both developments, depending on the time frame you're talking about. But Elon is impatient to get to Mars, so we'll have to get a bit creative with the financing.
How far can SpaceX take reuse?
The second stage is not designed for reuse on the Falcon 9 or the Falcon Heavy. However, we do want to bring it back slowly. Currently, it reenters but too hot. On missions with extra propellant, we want to bring it back to see how it behaves, not to recover or reuse. This data will be very valuable. Fairings have been recovered. We expect recovery will be good enough to start regularly reusing them in the first six months of next year.
Can normal people tolerate the g-forces of point-to-point BFR flight?
We are designing it so normal people can fly in it. We'll take care regarding the g-limit, but the experience will undoubtedly be sportier than an airplane.
Will SpaceX work with other companies regarding infrastructure on the surface of Mars?
SpaceX is focused on the transportation part of the Mars problem, but people need somewhere to go once they arrive. I don't think it's an accident that Elon started the Boring Company, tunnels will be very important in the first steps of living on Mars, before we build domes and terraform. We want other companies to start thinking about it and working on it, but we'll do it if we have to. I think the BFR might be ready before these other components of actually living on Mars.
Moon base vs Mars?
The moon is to some extent a practice to go to Mars, but given how government programs are, it'll take decades to even get to the moon. If the goal is Mars, then let's not waste resources going to the moon. But a real lunar base would be interesting, that's worth fighting for. Our ship will go to the moon, I'm sure we'll be part of the program that does go to the moon, but it will be designed for Mars.
What is the biggest obstacle to the BFR's success?
The composite tanks will be challenge, but we are doing it already. We are currently building a larger raptor right now, and currently have a scaled version of raptor on the test stands. Harder than the rocket, though, will be where poeple are going to live, what will life be like, what will they do there? Also, while the choice of fuel for the BFR was constrained by resource availability on Mars, it is no accident that the final choice of methane is the cheapest energy source here on earth. This will greatly facilitate the economics side of things.
How many BFR failures does SpaceX expect in development, and how many can it withstand?
I'm sure we'll have failures in the development program. However, as far as the launching piece, I'm going to say none (knocks on wood). Also, [referencing Mark Twain anecdote] we've learned so much from previous development programs, and have already hit all the sandbars, so I'm confident in our ability to design it properly.
Where will the BFR be built?
We're looking at building a facility by the water in LA. We thought we'd build it in our factory in Hawthorne, but we priced transport to the harbor, and it came out to $2.5m per trip. It would require taking down stoplights, and just wouldn't be worth it. So we will build a new facility by the water. We will eventually also have a number of production sites by out launch sites.
What is it like having been a part of SpaceX since the beginning? Both in terms of being this successful, and being able to stay on mission?
I wasn't sure we would make it when I joined SpaceX, but I knew I wouldn't want to be part of this industry if SpaceX didn't make it. I had a lot of experience in the industry before joining SpaceX and was sad at the lack of innovation in the industry. I was very disillusioned and decided to quit industry entirely and perhaps become a hairdresser if SpaceX didn't work out. Government money was being spent in stupid ways, and I wanted to show how to spend money on an exciting way, and it happened to be in space. The first time we went to the ISS, I didn't think we'd make it. If one more sensor had failed we'd have had to abort. But that success, and our first landing success, made it all worth it. Just being a part of that... When you watch the video of the Orbcomm landing, you can feel the energy that went up, the way everyone cheered... That's just not something they do on Wall Street.