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SpaceX Is Raising $500M at a $30.5B Valuation (wsj.com)
565 points by dcgudeman 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 338 comments

People who think Musk is eccentric/unhinged/unstable/etc should consider a much simpler possibility: He's just a regular guy, and simply does not filter himself like his peers do.

Other people in his position adopt the public/private persona and for the most part just plain shut up. They don't tweet anything than platitudes, they don't joke, they don't speak with random people on Twitter. They probably do this to minimize their downside exposure, but that might not be very effective. Bezos's bland Twitter feed hasn't stopped anyone from making into a villain.

Musk OTOH, makes Monty Python references, fart jokes, strikes up random conversations, shittalks randos etc. Ie, things normal people do. So the downside is a deluge of tusktusktusking at his "unstable" behaviour, but the upside is that a lot of people like him because he comes across like a real person rather than a PR bot.

Underlying this perspective is an implicit assumption that conventional social filtering - a practice as old as we can remember - serves no social good; that it's all just smoke and mirrors.

At the very least that's a remarkable assumption. We've been doing this for essentially ever, and it impacts all kinds of stuff. In some sense, musk is to CEO's what trump is to the presidency: all that diplomacy is just nonsense.

And - perhaps there's a kernel of truth to that; after all, the way we communicate has changed more radically than I think we really like to admit. I don't just mean the technology and the means, nor the social fashions: just read (transcripts of) old communication: I think we really think differently now than a few generations back. So perhaps old norms no longer apply completely.

But I'm not quite willing to assume that without at least some careful thought. I think it's at least as plausible that trump and musk (to be fair to musk: they differ in most ways, and trump is way more extreme) simply don't communicate very strategically at all. Despite all the hot air there's little upside; it's mostly mess.

Sure, it's entertaining. And as entertainment, that's fine. But would you want to actually deal with people like that? And if the world has changed in many ways, what hasn't is that you're going pretty much nowhere alone. You need cooperation and help to amount to anything constructive.

So: maybe there's a small chance this is the new norm and humanity has changed in pretty basic ways under the influence of todays pressures and technology. But there's also a considerable chance it hasn't.

>Underlying this perspective is an implicit assumption that conventional social filtering... serves no social good

There's a middle you're excluding here: that some parts of conventional filtering serve a valid social good, and that some parts don't.

Obviously this will vary on a case-by-case basis based on personal values. Which specific filters to accept/reject (and on what basis) make the difference between "abrasive CEO on twitter" and "guy throwing poop in Central Park."

And sometimes it will be simultaneously good for some people and less good for others.

His lack of filter is usually not great for him, for the rest of us I'm not sure it's so bad. We get more of an insight than we might otherwise.

>for the rest of us I'm not sure it's so bad. We get more of an insight than we might otherwise.

Some benefits: Criticism (especially of authorities), skepticism, and tolerance of speech and ideas are actually foundations of the modern world, and were even necessary for the proliferation of science against established power structures and human/scoial biases against eccentric pursuits.

I hope Musk continues to speak his mind.

I don't think we're getting a good deal in terms of signal to noise here. If anything, the irrelevant chatter distracts from important messages; making it hard to tell fact from fiction. And that's not a coincidence: by doing so a person can retrospectively claim that whatever statement turns into a particularly hot potato wasn't to be taken seriously; or that they weren't being precise.

This is definitely true for musk, and even more so for trump. They say all kinds of things in contexts where it really isn't reasonable for the reader to tell how serious they are, that then turn out to be pretty absurd, misleading, and/or self-serving. And those lies matter: e.g. when musk says something like "funding secured" - the only reason he gets away with lies like that with as few consequences as there were is because of all the only noise in his channel.

So while it's amusing to see these know-it-alls spout nonsense about things they just don't know anything about (but might have honestly interesting takes on), it's harmful that that's mixed in with normal communication. I'm skeptical that beyond the entertainment factor it's actually all that helpful to hear all that rambling that may or may not be uninformed - who knows which mode they're in right now? Fine for Musk to speak his mind: but it should be clear when he's vaguely brainstorming, and when he's being precise - and vague rambling should not replace communication you can rely on. So I hope he's held to account for what he says, because noise is harmful, and that's not even accounting for deceptive comments, which he seems to make too (e.g. funding secured).

This. Free speech is so much more important than sticking to the politically correct mode of expression du jour.

To rephraze: sometimes you should focus on diplomacy, but not all the time.

Rather than looking at it in absolutes, you can look at it in terms of Evolutionarily Stable Strategy. In a world populated by PRBot CEOs, the one who speaks and acts like a real person will stand out, get attention, followers, detractors etc. In a world where everybody runs their mouth, the CEO that acts like a "Grownup" will achieve the same outcome.

Amassing a loyal army of followers (and, inevitably, an army of detractors) has worked out very well for him and could be one of the main reasons why Tesla has gotten as far as it has.

I doubt it's quite that simple, but sure: in essence that makes sense. But there's so many factors and interactions and feedback loops going on here...

> In a world where everybody runs their mouth, the CEO that acts like a "Grownup" will achieve the same outcome.

I would have a lot more faith in this theory if I didn't think CEO's and politicians jobs were as similar as they seem to be, and if I thought politicians prior to Trump acted "grownup".

As it is, I considered politicians to be poorly behaved in general, and then Trump was able to double down on poor behavior to his benefit.

I certainly prefer a world where people can be their honest selves and live openly according to their values, regardless of their level of power or visibility. (For better or worse.)

Calling calculated, dulled down communication designed to influence others (as opposed to convey one's views or feelings) as "strategic" is about as nice a way as one could put it.

I can't speak for PR as I have no qualifications there.

I'm brutally honest and open with people who can accept that. I've tried to work that into every relationship I've had (family or significant other). It is a lot of work to culture that kind of relationship, but it is worth it (and it has failed many times, don't get me wrong). Maybe you haven't had a scenario like this, but I'm sure you could imagine it: holding onto your emotions for far too long, not communicating them, until they become a major problem and are blown out of proportion.

It's the strangest thing about the human instinct, we think that we're making things simpler through our actions but we often make them more complicated. If we think about what we truly want, instead of what gives us immediate gratification (revenge), we'd make better decisions. Next time you're about to initiate a fight, step back and think about how you'd communicate exactly what you need.

Occam's Razor doesn't only apply to science, it applies to humanity. Musk is a "simple" person and, despite all his flaws (there are many), that's why he's a role model for this adult. All power to him for this PR experiment.

Edit: paragraphs.

I think we all have different skills and Elon Musk skill certainly isn't social filtering. I agree he is bad at this and this is bad for business. But he is good at other things. So.. maybe you just can't have both.

The practice of “conventional social filtering” of mass media is less than a century old. It’s telling that people’s expectations are to have public figures scripted more like characters than human beings.

>He's just a regular guy

being astronomically rich and being a regular guy are mutually exclusive.

in fact, you listed the actions that he (and maybe his PR wrangler, much like George Carlin did during his career renewal) participates in in order to keep the 'regular guy' charade afloat.

also 'shitttalks randos' isn't something to aspire to want to do, especially in your context where it's being listed as a tool used by Musk to get people to think he's a 'regular guy'.

All that said : I like Musk, and I like his endeavors. What i'm against is painting a world-mover individual as 'another one of the guys'. He's not -- it's nothing but a PR move that capitalizes on his candor and perceived honest; two traits that many nerd/geek types have issues hiding in business context. It just happens to work for him and his wranglers.

Yeah nah: Musk does so much off-the-wall shit that any putative PR wrangler would be having heart attacks on an hourly basis. Consider the whole Thai cave rescue/pedophile accusation saga -- do you really think this was a carefully orchestrated publicity stunt?

> also 'shitttalks randos' isn't something to aspire to want to do, especially in your context where it's being listed as a tool used by Musk to get people to think he's a 'regular guy'.

Everyone does this. At family gatherings, the grocery store, etc. You all do it. I'm sure one or two people will chime in and say they've never badmouthed a random person at the post office who was taking too long, but everyone knows the truth.

I don't recall calling someone a pedophile in front of millions of people.

I can't believe it.

He clearly understands the value of PR. Take Tesla cars for instance, they are certainly good electric cars, but they are even better sold. It is a car you want even if you've never seen one. SpaceX launches are shows, they even managed to make failures look awesome.

How a man that puts so much attention in his companies image can forget about his own. His unhinged nature is his public persona. In fact, the only time I think he messed up was with the "pedo" accusation. It is possible that the joint incident was planned: if you consider it carefully, he smoked where it is legal, just once, and then came out saying that he doesn't like the high. It totally matches the adventurous, laid back but clear minded image he wants to project.

Jeff Bezos on the opposite doesn't really care about PR. His Twitter is generic, I'm not even sure if he actually reads it, let alone write it. For a company dealing directly with consumers, Amazon is rather low profile, they simply deliver, and make money. As for Blue Origin, they are quite secretive, completely unlike SpaceX. That's this lack of PR that made him a villain.

Populism is overtaking this country's feelings about society, government, and wealth. It doesn't matter what rich people do, it is inevitable they will all be made out to be villains who exploit human capital and do nothing good for us.

Gates has avoided some of it but not all. Everyone remembers where he came from and never lets him forget it. There is no atoning for him.

Larry Ellison on the other hand is just the devil incarnate and people treat him as such. At least he expends no energy pretending otherwise.

Musk also replies to user comments all the time and turns their suggestions into reality. He participates in conversations and provides a ton of valuable info on Twitter. That makes him a hell of a lot more interesting than other CEOs.

This is a slightly misguided view given that Musk himself has on several occasions suggested that he might be suffering from a mood disorder. If that’s true, then there is a very clear psychiatric explanation for his behavior. Bipolar disorder may also account for some of what we perceive as “genius”. Kanye West is another excellent example of this.

FWIW I’m not denying he’s a highly intelligent person. But that doesn’t exclude the possibility of bipolar.

"Class clown" is a type that goes back a long ways, online or offline, but the audience appeal of that type isn't "this is a real person," it's because they can often be entertaining.

Where things get interesting is when someone continues to play that role even when in a position with more to lose. Gambling is fairly normal, but people might get worried about you if you're gambling with very high stakes.

Right... and "others" do that because it turns out when you're the CEO of a PUBLICLY traded company, you are subject to being judged by the public.

If he were only in charge of private companies, he'd essentially be free to say/act however he wants. The second you IPO and are CEO, you have muzzled yourself, or you should expect to face the wrath of your shareholders.

Why would you expect people who have millions of dollars invested in your company to expect you to do anything OTHER than act like a professional? If my retirement is in your hands I expect you to act like an adult, not a 16-year-old bruh having a good time on twitter.

There's a limit to how much this can be accepted though - he has broken rules before and this has consequences not just for him but also other stakeholders.

Elon is not regular. He has a combination of intellect, confidence and persuasion that is possibly unparalleled.

That's a fair comment, but it should be noted that with greater power comes greater responsibility.

It's also possible that he's an attention seeker, that this is part of his schtick, and that he can't help himself.

He's attacked the SEC publicly several times, very unprofessionally, if I were an investor I'd be pissed; it's one thing if he were to have data indicating he's being mistreated but mostly it's but Trumpish attacks on the SEC ... which could get him in serious trouble.

Bear in mind that per-kg-to-orbit, the Falcon Heavy is 50 times cheaper than the Space Shuttle.

edit: I think thats based on programme lifetime costs, if you look at incremental costs per launch its about 12 times cheaper -see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18706930

edit: OK maybe not the best two things to compare (although the original vision for the space shuttle was that it would launch all US payloads, due to projected re-usability). But FH is still way cheaper than any contemporary competitors, see https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18706762

edit: I've been looking at old pics of the space shuttle and lamenting that its the only thing we've ever put into space that actually looked like a proper spaceship. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/science-environment-13719297/u...

The Shuttle was expensive, but its abilities are still unmatched. No other spacecraft has ever been able to launch a half dozen people into orbit, capture a satellite, and return it to earth for repairs. That kind of world leading, "best at any cost" mentality is what made the US so technologically dominant globally from the 1950s until recently. Falcon Heavy is definitely more efficient for getting things into orbit, but it still feels frustrating knowing that regardless of cost, we can't actually do the things we used to be able to.

> No other spacecraft has ever been able to launch a half dozen people into orbit, capture a satellite, and return it to earth for repairs.

The problem is that almost everything Space Shuttle could do, could have been done more effectively by a classic modular spacecraft and a large rocket. Even more, Space Shuttle was fairly limited and inflexible in its capabilities due to its complex in-orbit thermodynamics, monolithic design and available delta-v. Jack of all trades, master of none.

Don't get me wrong, the Shuttle was a great engineering achievement and a great pride point for any American. But it's also a huge waste of resources, which resulted from enormously inflated requirements, particularly military ones. Buran was the same. It's better not to repeat such mistakes.

> That kind of world leading, "best at any cost" mentality is what made the US so technologically dominant globally from the 1950s until recently.

And left it without modular space stations, in this particular case. (and many more)

It's abilities at killing astronauts are unmatched too... I don't see why people still think positively of the shuttle program after all the lives that were lost. It's like people fawning over how great the Titanic was.

The shuttle failed at a number of rather important things, that one, price, refurbishment time, etc.

It still managed to do some pretty spectacular things no one else had ever done. I think that's worth something. I think the people who gave their lives thought that was worth something. I think they would rather the program be remembered for its triumphs than its failures.

"The average age the night we had splashdown (Apollo 11) was 28. When Space Shuttle Atlantis left Earth on May 11, 2009, the average NASA civil servant's age was 47." [1]

There were risk takers, now they are protecting their ability to pay for 2 kids to go to Ivy League. Who can blame them?

[1] https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/a4288/4318625/

The shuttle isn't really designed to put basic stuff in space so it's not quite a fair comparison. Better comparison would be other, similar rockets.

> The shuttle isn't really designed to put basic stuff in space

The shuttle was absolutely designed to "put basic stuff in space". By being partially reusable it was meant to be cheaper than all other "expendable" US rockets and replace them all even even for simple satellite launches.

The fact that the original goals couldn't be met was only made clear after the Challenger disaster.

For reference, I interned on the the space station.

Also context, consider cost complexity: manned space flight >> space flight >> aerospace >> automotive.

Each increase in risk implies considerably more expense, and the difference between space flight that includes humans, and flight that doesn't is quite massive. They are different programs entirely.

So if you're putting something in space with 'humans going along' - it will always be way more expensive, no matter what.

The shuttle was supposed to be cheaper than multiple manned rockets, but not cheaper than regular satellite launches.

So for putting out complex things like Hubble, or 'fixing it' 'retrofitting' etc. - the Shuttle might make sense.

But it was never going to be cheaper than regular rockets for putting relatively straightforward satellites in space.

> So for putting out complex things like Hubble, or 'fixing it' 'retrofitting' etc. - the Shuttle might make sense.

Fixing Hubble was one of the most complex operations the Shuttle ever did. Although only the shuttle could do things like repair and retrieval, the large majority of the satellites that ever entered the Shuttle cargo bay were simply launched and released.

More specifically, of the 105 satellites the Shuttle interacted with, only 4 were repaired-and-redeployed (including Hubble) and only 5 were recovered back to Earth.


> The shuttle was supposed to be cheaper than multiple manned rockets, but not cheaper than regular satellite launches.

Do you have cites to support this? It's not consistent with my impression of the expectations for the Shuttle when it first started flying. Your other comments here give the strong impression that you are arguing based on your intuitive knowledge of spaceflight costs that no reasonable person could have thought launching dumb satellites on the Shuttle would have been cost effective. However, I think that's hindsight, and in fact many people at the time expected the Shuttle to cheaply deploy basic satellites, and that this was part of its official mandate. Indeed, Wikipedia says

> the plan was for all future U.S. space launches—space station, Air Force, commercial satellites, and scientific research—to use only the space shuttle. Most other expendable boosters would be phased out.


EDIT: And from another link in this thread (written at the time):

> NASA plans to terminate all throw-away rocket launches as soon as the shuttle is working.


Lacrosse was also redeployed.

Do you have a cite? Wikipedia doesn't mention it.


It was on STS-27. It's mentioned in the Wikipedia page for that mission and also in this article:


Thanks. That sounds like it there was a spacewalk to fix a deployment problem, not a recovery and re-deployment of a previously deployed satellite. That's not really relevant to the current context of "how often was the Shuttle doing something (capture-and-repair or recovery) that an expendable vehicle couldn't?".

I interned on the the space station.

Say what? I didn't know they had interns up there.

Ha :) on the space station project :)

You should learn about how the shuttle was created and sold to the public 1972-1986.

This is the perfect place to recommend "History of the Space Shuttle, Volume Two: Development of the Space Shuttle, 1972-1981" by T. A. Heppenheimer. An excellent account of a nation-scale engineering project and all the myriad engineering, economic, infrastructure, political, and project management pieces that go into it. Eye opening if you've never been involved in true mega-scale projects.

There's also "Space Shuttle Decision, 1965-1972 (History of the Space Shuttle, Volume 1", but I think Volume 2 is far more interesting from an engineering point of view.

> shuttle was supposed to be cheaper than multiple manned rockets, but not cheaper than regular satellite launches

This isn’t how it was sold to the public.

> I interned on the the space station

Thank you. Without the ISS, we wouldn’t have SpaceX.


Manned space flight is known to be way more expensive than cheap, rocket satellite launches. There never was a comparison.

The Shuttle was going to be cheaper than manned rockets, and frankly, probably was. I can't imagine who much it would cost to put up a manned rocket to do some of the retrofitting of Hubble, for example. I don't even think their is proper vehicles for that in existence! So it would be out of the question in terms of cost.

The shuttle did mostly what it was supposed to, it just got old. And there is the space station to do science.

> Shuttle was going to be cheaper than manned rockets, and frankly, probably was

Soyuz + any international heavy launch candidate duplicates the Shuttle’s capabilities at a fraction of the cost.

There's a great graphic I've seen in the past but I can't find that illustrates why there's nothing we currently have that can service Hubble. Hubble is 150 miles higher in altitude than the ISS. The closest thing we could put together would be a Soyuz, Dragon, or Boeing capsule attached to a Centaur stage a la Gemini Agena, but none of these combinations currently exist in any real sense. While we could theoretically glue enough rocket pieces together to perform missions the Space Shuttle (or Apollo and Gemini Agena for that matter) could accomplish, the fact is we do not have those capabilities ready to fly. That is the advantage the Space Shuttle had. It had both the capabilities and the sign off to perform these missions.

Hubble was also designed with that stuff in mind. That the issue with lots of things NASA does. The always make everything depend on each other so they can say that its 'the only way'.

Thats how we ended up with thee uterly insane SLS, Orion, Gateway architecture.

What if I argue that the humans were only on the shuttle to make it re-useable, because that was the only way to land a spaceship in the 80s.

Buran was of similar vintage and could land autonomously. I don’t think there was anything preventing the Shuttle from having that capability, other than a lack of desire. As I recall, the hardware was fully capable of it except for being able to lower the landing gear, which the astronauts insisted on being manual because doing it at the wrong moment would be fatal.

The Space Shuttle's reentry and landing was famously 99.99% performed by autopilot, with the 0.01% being lowering the landing gear[1], ostensibly so that the astronauts felt like they had something to do.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Shuttle#Re-entry_and_lan...

> The fact that the original goals couldn't be met was only made clear after the Challenger disaster.

It only became official after the Challenger disaster, but it was quite clear to everyone who followed the project even before the first shuttle launched.


That's a very long link. Can you please quote the relevant parts that you think support your point?

The main bullet is:

> And, according to The Washington Monthly's sources, flying the shuttle will cost more, not less, than flying those old disposable rockets.

It is explained in the sections titled "Economy at any Cost" and "Turn Down the Volume".

The main argument, which was shown to be correct, is that NASA inflated the launch volume in order to amortized their huge fixed costs on an unrealistic number of flights.

Thanks! However, this seems to be an economic estimate by one guy that sounds plausible enough but can't be fully assessed by a non-expert. Although it's useful evidence, it's not very helpful for determining the actual expert opinion at the time.

The 1973 GAO report[1] mentions the same issues. It does not reach a final judgement, but recommends Congress should examine the planned missions carefully.

The recommendations and conclusions sections is a relatively short and easy read. I get the impression (though it could be my bias) that it is written skeptically.

[1] https://www.gao.gov/assets/210/203748.pdf

Also, it's a great article. Well worth reading.

It withstood the test of time.

The space shuttle was to be America's "pickup truck to space". It was designed to haul everything from polar-orbiting spy satellites to interplanetary scientific missions, as well as being an on-orbit research platform. In fact, naively for the first few years it even looked like it hit those goals. At first.

Shuttle was specially designed to put basic stuff in space. It was designed to be launched 50 times per year (once a week) as a space truck. Shuttle failed spectacularly from the engineering perspective and ate NASA's budget for decades. It was failure turned into success story with clever PR.

* But they developed lots of cool tech is not a good defense. Failing to deliver did not bring the tech. It was inevitable.

* But there were missions that only Shuttle could do is not right either when you think it over.

> * But there were missions that only Shuttle could do is not right either when you think it over.

I can think of two admittedly unlikely mission profiles that only STS or Buran could have pulled off:

* Recovering a satellite already in orbit safely back to Earth.

* Orbital bombing. While you could launch an orbital missile platform, it would have a predictable enough orbit to be vulnerable to ASAT. You would have to execute multiple burns for evasive maneuvers and that’s easier with a manned spacecraft. This, specifically, was the capability the Soviets feared enough to design Buran. This is also a violation of international law, not that such things matter in a scenario where you are dropping hydrogen bombs from orbit.

> Recovering a satellite already in orbit safely back to Earth.

Shuttle was used for recovery only four times. It would have been cheaper to ditch all those satellites and build and send new ones compared to recovering them.

> Orbital bombing

ICBM's do it better.

> Shuttle was used for recovery only four times. It would have been cheaper to ditch all those satellites and build and send new ones compared to recovering them.

I didn't say it was a valuable use case, nor did I say you were recovering your own satellites.

> ICBM's do it better.

ICBM's follow a predictable ballistic trajectory and are more vulnerable to countermeasures. Again, this might not be a good use case, but it is one.

In the words of cosmonaut Oleg Kotov: "We had no civilian tasks for Buran and the military ones were no longer needed. It was originally designed as a military system for weapon delivery, maybe even nuclear weapons. The American shuttle also has military uses....A shuttle is particularly useful for this because it can change its orbit and trajectory – so an attack from it is almost impossible to protect against." Source: https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn20664-cosmonaut-sovie...

> it's not quite a fair comparison

Mass is mass. It’s a perfectly fair comparison. If we were talking about people, sure, that would be unfair.

It's not a fair comparison: You're comparing how much it costs to move 1kg with a Mini Cooper vs moving 1kg with an 18 Wheeler.

I'm not disagreeing with the Falcon 9 being incredibly cheap, and the SpaceShuttle being outrageously expensive - I agree with both statements. I just think the direct price comparison is bad.

> You're comparing how much it costs to move 1kg with a Mini Cooper vs moving 1kg with an 18 Wheeler

Most of the Shuttle’s payloads were aggregates of smaller payloads. For big stuff, sure, the Shuttle retains its mantle. But it simply wasn’t launching that much big stuff.

> But it simply wasn’t launching that much big stuff.

Just most parts of the ISS

This is something people forget or ignore.

Without the shuttle we couldn’t have the ISS, MIR wasn’t much larger than Skylab.


The Shuttle is what allowed us to launch a station the size of the ISS and construct it in orbit.

Skylab was 77 tons and launched on a single Saturn V. The ISS is 420 tons and took, among other things, 27 space shuttle launches to put together[1].

So to a first approximation the ISS could have been over 2000 tons if NASA had just stuck with and scaled up the Saturn V architecture, which history has shown was both more capable and cheaper.

So no, the Shuttle isn't what allowed us to construct the ISS. Except in the narrow sense that the better launch vehicle had been cancelled, so it was the only project left to do the job.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assembly_of_the_International_...

I don’t think you understand what the Shuttle did for the ISS it’s not about it being a launch platform but about it being a huge EVA and construction platform from which in orbit construction operations could be run.

We have no way to do any major service to the ISS now without the shuttle and the ISS retrofit was the main reason for the deferral in the Shuttles retirement.

As the Soviet/Russian Mir showed you don't need some shuttle-like vehicle to construct such a station. Mir was 130 tons, and almost exclusively launched by Proton-K's, which have a 20 ton mass to LEO.

By comparison the Saturn V has a 140 ton mass to LEO, 7x what the Proton-K could carry, and more importantly could have carried modules double the diameter of what the shuttle could put into LEO.

The unique selling point of the shuttle was the ability to return payloads from orbit to the ground for servicing, but as it turns out that was much more expensive than having a cheaper launcher and just launching another module.

Let's not draw the wrong conclusions from history. The shuttle was a failed launch system by any reasonable criteria. History has shown that plain old boring boosters were the right choice. The Soviets/Russians have been able to launch things to the ISS after the US lost its wings.

The only reason we have "no way to do any major service to the ISS" is not because the shuttle was so great, but because it was a dead end. The US has had to play catch-up with the COTS program with SpaceX et al.

No if anything MIR shows us is just how much we needed the shuttle.

MIR wasn’t only 4 times smaller than the ISS in terms of tonnage but it’s design was the same as the Salyut and Skylab the ISS was the first thing we can say we actually constructed in orbit.

There's nothing indispensable in the Shuttle design. All of the ISS construction operations could have been done with a (possibly specialized) traditional spacecraft. Non-autonomous USOS-style module delivery and berthing, truss mounting, EVAs etc. Shuttle has been used in ISS construction just because it was available.

The only thing that could have been somewhat complicated without Shuttle capabilities was returning the Mir solar panels, for detailed analysis of their faster-than-expected degradation.

This article discusses the return of the Mir solar panels:


That payload is small enough that it could have been put on a reentry capsule if it wasn't for the Space Shuttle.

There’s no fundamental reason ISS modules couldn’t autonomously dock with each other. The main reason it wasn’t entirely built that way (though some sections definitely were) is because of the desire to create a PR justification for the Shuttle. In fact, modules have been added to the station since the Shuttle went out of service, and will continue to be added. Anything that couldn’t connect that way you could install onsite using EVA by ISS crew and the ISS Canadarm, which is a level of capability you could easily reach by launching autonomous self-powered modules.

Is it impossible to have both projects? (sincerely asking, maybe it's economically not feasible)

Proton-K could launch 80% the weight of the Shuttle. Note that only 11 Shuttle launches were over 20,000 kg, which is well within the Proton-K weight envelope. (Not to mention the Titan IV.)

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heavy-lift_launch_vehicle

I welcome the change in comparison, Shuttle vs. Proton-K makes much more sense. But back to your point that's being discussed: How many Falcon9 launches would it take to lift a similar share of the ISS? How much would that cost?

> How many Falcon9 launches would it take to lift a similar share of the ISS? How much would that cost?

Most ISS components were less than the Falcon 9's capacity. Given Falcon 9 launches payloads an order of magnitude cheaper (cost per kg) than the Shuttle did, cost savings would almost certainly be realized. The remaining payloads would be more expensive to launch on other platforms, but that extra cost for a few projects is outweighed by the savings across the bulk of what the Shuttle did.

For heavy-lift launches, Titan IV and Proton beat it. For manned launches, Soyuz beat it. Today, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are better options, though they are built (in part) on the lessons of the Shuttle.

> Most ISS components were less than the Falcon 9's capacity.

I want to see the attempt of building the ISS with a Falcon 9. Some assembly launches would be within lift capacity (especially on the expendable configuration). Some payloads would actually fit in the fairing. But when you have it in orbit - what then? The Space Shuttle not only lifted the modules into space, it berthed them to the station, and carried the crew together with the payload to execute the assembly operations and be able to react in time.

As much as I agree that the Space Shuttle was way too expensive, it was irreplaceable for building the ISS, and had it existed back then, the Falcon 9 wouldn't have changed that.

If it was irreplaceable how did the Soviet Union / Russia build Mir? A space station 1/3 the weight of the ISS and incrementally assembled in space from multiple modules.

They built it with a lot of drawbacks: Small modules, complex assembly, requiring modules to have their own propulsion systems, etc.

Plus, since this seems to get forgotten a lot, size matters. I find the best size comparison between the ISS and MIR is with the Space Shuttle attached: ISS [1] vs Mir [2].

[1] https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/styles/full_width_f...

[2] https://apod.nasa.gov/apod/image/0210/shuttlemir_nasa_big.jp...

That's if anything an argument for a Saturn V carrying some platform that would look like the flight deck / cargo bay / Canadarm part of the Space Shuttle to orbit to help with in-orbit assembly.

Sure, you might need some such platform to construct something in orbit. That's basically a space forklift with thrusters.

It isn't an argument for Space Shuttle system as a whole, i.e. propulsion system, heat shield, solid rocket boosters & external tank, being needed.

For what it cost to launch the shuttle such a platform could have been entirely expendable with astronauts returning in capsules, and they'd still have saved money, and been able to take up 3-4x the amount of cargo up on each trip.

Yes it's a fair comparison but it's also a terrible comparison, since the shuttle was crippled in that area due to other requirements tackled onto it.

If you're talking about the one aiming to be best in the field to describe how good it is performing, you usually don't compare it to the broken clock of the group.

> Yes it's a fair comparison but it's also a terrible comparison, since the shuttle was crippled in that area due to other requirements tackled onto it.

It's a fair comparison if the real product of the space shuttle program is compared with the real product of the Falcon Heavy program.

Comparing what the space shuttle could hypothetically have been with what Falcon Heavy actually is would not be a fair comparison.

Again please read my message again, I didn't say the comparison was unfair, I said it was fair but terrible and not providing any value.

No, not at all.

They are totally different configs, for totally different purposes.

It's like comparing a drone to a jet or to a cargo plane.

> for totally different purposes

For every “send things to the ISS” and “put thing in orbit” mission, the two are directly comparable. The Space Shuttle simply wasn’t using its maximum capacity that often for big packages. The Space Shuttle was a boondoggle.

For crew launches, the per-person cost of the Shuttle still compares unfavourably to SpaceX’s projected crew launch costs. But projected isn’t actual, so we’ll let the Shuttle keep its spot for now.

(Special repair projects and ISS boosting are two things the Shuttle can do that SpaceX currently cannot.)

The space shuttle carried up human beings, often to 'do stuff'.

That alone puts it in a completely different category than Falcon.

FYI many (most?) drone missions that the US does right now would not be carried out by manned aircraft for a whole host of reasons.

I agree. One is used to bring supplies to the research station, the other was used to build the research station.

The whole purpose of the Space Shuttle was to put people into space (and bring them back). The only payloads it carried were those requiring human intervention to deploy. The Falcon 9 can only lift payloads that do not require human intervention.

We can pretty much launch anything now without physical human interaction in space. The ISS needs help guiding things into place but tech is getting better so it will not be long until the resupply ships and modules can be automatically guided into place.

You could argue that the humans were on there to make it re-useable. No way to land without humans in the 80s.

Buran (the Soviet version of Shuttle) did land without humans in 1988.


Ballistic reentry doesn't really require any human intervention. The Russians have been doing it that way since Yuri. The craft wasn't reusable but it is so simple that you can build another for probably the same price of recertifying an old one.

Making a manned, multi-purpose vehicle like the Shuttle really starts to get expensive when you just want to launch a big satellite. Sure, they perform a bunch of science up there but that's as secondary goal to getting the main payload into orbit. The Shuttle had good goals in mind but turns out its just cheaper in the long run to make something that won't last more than one launch.

What sounds like a more attractive option, owning and operating a semi to make round-trip deliveries cross country where the driver goes sight-seeing along the way or to buy and ship a shipping container that makes a one-way trip?

> The whole purpose of the Space Shuttle was to put people into space (and bring them back). The only payloads it carried were those requiring human intervention to deploy

This is simply not a true statement.

Here is a good overview of the state of the launch costs: https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2018-rocket-cost/

Are you including the Space Shuttle itself in the payload?

Not trying to say Space Shuttle wasn't extremely expensive, but comparing two different things isn't exactly fair.

Means vs ends.

When you talk about launch costs, you care about the cost to get “the stuff you really want in orbit”.

The formal term for that stuff is “payload”. So cost per kg of payload is the relevant figure of merit.

The mass of the space shuttle is not payload. It is a means of delivering payload. As such, you do not get credit or establish launch efficiency by launching it.

It is not inefficiency to launch without carrying the space shuttle; just the opposite.

So in this figure, do you exclude Dragon weight for resupply missions? And even then, it's apples to oranges, because Space Shuttle was a manned spacecraft which brings millions other requirements into place. So the only fair comparison in this case would be to compare manned Dragon cost per kg of cargo to Space Shuttle's cargo.

There are much more efficient systems for only carrying stuff into space and dropping it there. The Space Shuttle example makes no sense if this is what you care about.

>So in this figure, do you exclude Dragon weight for resupply missions?

I don't know about the Dragon, but, like before, if the Dragon's weight is the thing you really want out of the atmosphere, then yes, but if you only care about the supplies inside, then no.

>And even then, it's apples to oranges, because Space Shuttle was a manned spacecraft which brings millions other requirements into place.

What requirements? But yes, it's fair to break out "human" vs "inanimate" kg of payload. Do SpaceX products for carrying humans perform poorly when comparing to alternate ways of launching human payloads? Do SpaceX products for carrying inanimate matter perform poorly when compared to the same?

> Do SpaceX products for carrying inanimate matter perform poorly when compared to the same?

Absolutely not. Which makes it ever weirder to bring up Space Shuttle.

hmm, you might be right. Over lifetime of the Space Shuttle program, money spent equates to $1.7 billion (2017 dollars) per Shuttle launch. https://www.businessinsider.com/spacex-falcon-heavy-launch-c...

Incremental cost of each Shuttle flight was $18,000 per kg to LEO (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criticism_of_the_Space_Shuttle...). Price per KG of a FH launch is about $1411 to LEO https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Falcon_Heavy.

So on incremental costs its about 12 times cheaper per kg to LEO

Or if you think thats still not fair, and want to treat the shuttle orbiter itself as payload - a bit abstract, but lets go with it - the shuttle launch comes out as about $4400 per kg of orbiter-and-payload, so Falcon Heavy is still 3 times cheaper than that.

edit: And its still not really a fair comparison because Shuttle could do more and carried people etc. But there it is.

It's not fair because a lot of the Space Shuttle missions included a lot more than just simple payload delivery.

Fair point.

Isn’t it? Commercially price per kg of cargo seems like the most relevant metric.

But that figure differs, even for SpaceX, if you are carrying a spacecraft or cargo in a capsule. Or humans.

Space Shuttle was a spacecraft that was much more capable than coupling on 2nd stage. So of course the price point per cargo carried is completely different. It doesn't make any sense to compare it that way. What you can compare is the price of the rocket launch and complete payload delivered to orbit, and that includes the vehicle.

If you only care about economics for satellite launches for example, then yeah, it is much cheaper. But so are many other systems, so why pick Space Shuttle for comparison?

Because that was part of the Space Shuttle's original purpose, but the reusability and cost didn't work out that way:

"The original plan, ridiculous as it was in hindsight, was for STS to be the sole US launcher of all payloads.

However, after the loss of the Orbiter Challenger only seconds into mission STS-51-L, US policy was changed to only allow the Shuttle to launch scientific and military payloads that required human presence. This destroyed any economic rationale for making STS self supporting or a revenue generator.

The first 4 missions were test flights, so omitting them, you can see that 11 of the 21 "operational" missions before the policy change carried commercial satellite payloads, often multiple, up to 3 comsats per mission. A total of 18 commercial satellites were deployed from the Shuttle. "


The original purpose of the Space Shuttle was to be a highly reusable launch system to make frequent launches (including commercial and govt satellites and space probes) with minimal refurbishment time/cost. That sounds an awful lot like SpaceX's current goals, doesn't it?

Yes it had some mission profiles that the current SpaceX fleet can't do (large extended-duration crew missions in LEO, orbiting laboratory, Hubble repair) but there are also profiles that SpaceX can do that Shuttle could not (anything that involves stage 2 going beyond LEO).

Does it matter if it's fair? The shuttle was used for ferrying things to space for decades, so it is kind of a relevant comparison.

Not the same type of things. Space X doesn't dock with space stations or repair telescopes, space shuttle doesn't launch commercial sattelites.

Space Shuttle did launch satellites:



"The original plan, ridiculous as it was in hindsight, was for STS to be the sole US launcher of all payloads.

However, after the loss of the Orbiter Challenger only seconds into mission STS-51-L, US policy was changed to only allow the Shuttle to launch scientific and military payloads that required human presence. This destroyed any economic rationale for making STS self supporting or a revenue generator.

The first 4 missions were test flights, so omitting them, you can see that 11 of the 21 "operational" missions before the policy change carried commercial satellite payloads, often multiple, up to 3 comsats per mission. A total of 18 commercial satellites were deployed from the Shuttle. "


SpaceX also does cargo missions to the space station (crew happening next year) which is probably a better $/kg comparison to the space shuttle for some missions:


Sure the Shuttle had unique capabilities and the Falcon rockets aren't better in all ways, but the Shuttle was originally supposed to be a cheap and reusable way for the US to do the majority of its space launches and that turned out to not be its strong suit.

SpaceX docks at the ISS... (technically berths at the ISS).

So basically the business model is sound so long as the BFR doesn’t blow up

While Musk has personally been a bit odd lately[0], SpaceX as a company seems to be in good hands with Gwynne Shotwell. They're launching very regularly[1], haven't had a customer-impacting failure in years[2] and they've got the market cornered. They have customers lined up for years, and continually make huge gains by reducing costs. They've got a head start by at least 5-10 years over all new entrants (Blue Origin, Electron, etc) and are massively undercutting the legacy competitors (ULA).

If I could invest in SpaceX, I would.

[0] I think he's overworked and burned-out himself out but can't recognize it. Who am I to judge- I've been there.

[1] They were going to launch about 20 minutes ago actually, but scrubbed at the last minute. They'll probably launch it tomorrow.

[2] Two failures recently were Falcon Heavy middle core doing a dive instead of a landing due to running out of igniter fluid, and the much-watched booster 'water landing' recently, where they fully recovered the booster afterwards. Both were successful launches.

While Musk has personally been a bit odd lately

I think Musk has shown something a little higher than eccentricity for as long as he's been in the public eye. I wouldn't want to be his friend, date him, marry him, or have him as a family member.

If we take a step back to look at what Musk has done at scale:

* Tesla has tremendously accelerated electric car deployments. I am going to count Solar City in this bucket as well. It was not a smashing success as Tesla or SpaceX are, but it helped to accelerate solar deployments.

* SpaceX proven out booster re-usability and lowered launch prices.

* Helped start open AI which is pushing limits of building machine intelligence by tackling progressively harder problems.

Whatever you think about the man, you can't ever take away those accomplishments. All of the current controversy looks so small and insignificant compared to them.

It is much easier to accomplish things if that's your sole intent and purpose in life—at the expense of many otherwise valued traits of being a human.

Perhaps only a little easier. I've known so many jerks in my life and none were Elon Musk.

> Perhaps only a little easier. I've known so many jerks in my life and none were Elon Musk.

This would be a classic example of mixing up causation and correlation.

Although your wording is specific enough I can't tell if that's entirely on purpose and there's some joke I'm not seeing...

Edit: lol, actually I think I just missed the "so" in your comment, which noticing it now makes me read it entirely differently.

How much easier is "much easier"?

If this was true there would be astoundingly more world-changing technologies, given the sheer number of people out there who abandon otherwise valued traits of being human.

>>SpaceX proven out booster re-usability

That was proven long ago

By SpaceX

(Parent may be referring to Shuttle solid-rocket boosters. From what I've heard they were as expensive to reuse as to manufacture from scratch. In other words, they found the break-even point, which is something good at least.)

Accusing one of the divers that rescued the kids from the Thai cave of being a pedophile was where my admiration flipped to a much more measured regard.

One can be a great person without being a good person. Something I feel people forget all to often.

We like to idealize those that accomplish much, but we also like to ignore that those accomplishments come with sacrifices that many aren't willing to make and a focus and drive that inverts many peoples optimal live balance on its head.

Agreed. I am often surprised that not more people have learned this. As far back as high school (over 20 years ago), I learned that guys good in football that brought glory to our school were not necessarily the best people to hang out with. Some were idiots, to be frank, but on the field, they were a marvel to watch on the field. Since then I have always separated the man from his heroics.

I agree with this. There are countless examples of this in real life: Lewis Carroll (accusations of pedophilia), Roman Polanski (great filmmaker but charged with statutory rape), Woody Allen (another great filmmaker but cheated on his wife with their adopted daughter who he ended up marrying), Winston Churchill (helped defeat Fascism but many think he caused the Bengal famine that caused death of many Indians).

People have trouble with having two opinions of someone: one in terms of their professional achievements and another of their morality. I think it's a bit similar to doublethink.

Churchill was also largely responsible for the Gallipoli campaign. It’s actually remarkable that anyone could have a political career after a disaster of that scale.

Never meet your heroes.

I suspect that many of the accomplished people are less than sane and pursue things for neurotic reasons but get results. It is a known thing that many political figures lost their father young.

Of course it is possible to be balanced and successful but the obsession leads to over-representation and the examples are outliers by definition essentially - otherwise it wouldn't be worth noting.

I've never heard that politicians thing - do you have any references on that?


It might be a bit spurious but that is a fairly strong trend.

The only person I'd believe hasn't called someone else a bad name is Fred Rogers.

If I judged my friends by that standard, I wouldn't have any.

"Bad name" is pretty disingenuous to describe his repeated insistence of such a horrible thing about a person based on nothing.

Calling him a curse word would have been 'fine'.

Even just coming back after a day or two and saying "I'm sorry, I should have called him [curse word of choice]" would be closer to acceptable.

Coming back to say "no, no, I'm dead serious" has no excuse.

(this exchange was hilarious at least https://1bht2ni6oc-flywheel.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/upload...)

Yeah, because as we all know, most people never have foot in mouths moments or say something dumb.

I don't think Musk is a bad person, I just think he doesn't have a great filter. Musk said something crappy and is getting disproportional blowback from it.

It's a bit like saying "I have nothing to hide because I've never said done anything illegal". If you dig far enough, everyone has done something "illegal" (read: mean / un-PC / etc)

There is nothing disproportionate about the blowback he got. It was not 'something crappy', it was a baseless and extremely disgusting accusation.

Normal people don't accuse someone who risked their life of being a paedo simply because they disagreed with him.

I'm not going to defend what he said, but if you look at the interaction it clearly took two to get into a juvenile Twitter fight, the other guy was no paragon of class himself. That aside, while it wasn't OK for Musk to say that, the blowback was IMO indeed disproportionate. How many other millions of horrible but effectively inconsequential statements on Twitter are routinely ignored? The guy's livelihood wasn't ruined and Musk was roundly rebuked.

How many CEOs have made a public comment like that? Pretty much every other CEO of multi-billion corporations has the self control to stay out of petty Twitter fights. And you're right that it takes 2 to pick a fight, and in this case someone who was involved in the cave rescue and instrumental to its success was calling out someone who tried to swoop in and take credit as a PR stunt. Musk couldn't handle getting called out on his actions and threw a temper tantrum. To me the blowback was entirely justified and I think he's going to pay out a fat settlement for it.

When did the guy risk his life? he was just a consultant for the rescue effort.

I wanted to call you wrong, but it appears that I had confused him with someone else - I had thought that Vern Unsworth, who had this "issue" with Elon Musk, was one of the initial divers laying out the guidelines through the cave as he was quoted as "helping the Thai SEALs with mapping out the cave), however, the actual life-risking guideline setup was done not by him but by other British divers - Richard Stanton and John Volanthen.

What would your reaction be if you spent time, work and money trying to help wiht a rescue, it doesn‘t work out and then this guy tells you to shove your rescue sub up your ass (that‘s what he literally said!)?

Not calling them a pedophile?

Additionally, what kind of hubris is it to imagine you can help with a rescue you know little to nothing about, especially in a way that could be viewed as a PR stunt for one of your companies?

The proper response would have been for Elon to say: 'We were only trying to help. I am glad everyone got out ok, and respect what the divers did to make that happen. Perhaps what we built could be used in future situations and we are prepared to work with rescue organizations to see if that is feasible.'

If he had said that, everyone would have cheered him. Instead, he really began his slide off the cliff. Happily, he seems to have calmed down lately. At least, I haven't seen any serious missteps in the last few weeks.

If EMTs are treating a person who's severely bleeding and I come up and try to help I'm just going to get in the way. Musk should have let the professionals do their job. The sub was not remotely workable since it was too rigid for the cave's narrow passages, and Musk should have let it go.

One life lesson that I wish I'd learned earlier: people who didn't ask for your help don't owe you anything. It is often presumptuous and unhelpful to assume that you know what is best.

The sun was a stupid idea that would have never worked. A simple fuck off would have so much better than calling him apedo.

My reaction would be to show some respect and humility when actual cave diving experts told me that I was on the wrong track.

Again, Musk's reaction to being told to shove the sub up his ass by this guy was over-the-top. I am _obviously_ not defending unfounded accusations of paedophilia.

But one of the two lead British divers did tell SpaceX in an e-mail to keep working on the sub, in case other plans to safely extract the youngest kid failed. There is an image of this e-mail interaction somewhere. So one of the world's most experienced cave divers had indeed given the team the thumbs-up; the guy telling Musk to shove the machine up his ass was thankfully not representing the rescue leadership.

There was apparently some sort of misunderstanding at the time. It would have been completely impossible for any sort of rigid submarine to fit through the cave restrictions. It was a total waste of effort.

While this doesn't take away from your point, I'd just like to mention that Vernon Unsworth isn't actually one of the two British divers who saved the kids (contrary to what the media seems to be implying). He is just one of the many divers who tried to save them.

Also, the diver was unnecessarily aggressive and condescending toward Elon Musk (who was just trying to build a submarine to save the kids), which is what actually prompted Elon to insult him.

It's like we're completely ignoring the role that CA's clean car requirements and incentivies have had on the EV market, including making it possible for Tesla to exist in the first place, and for financially keeping Tesla afloat for the many years of failed execution under Elon's leadership.

SpaceX owes its success to Gwynne Shotwell, not Elon Musk. It's her ability to execute that has SpaceX on top.

AI has been a thing for decades. But it's cool to see Elon Musk take credit for yet another thing he didn't actually do.

I think the parent is talking about OpenAI[0] the company, not AI the academic space.

[0] https://openai.com/

Damn unlucky for everybody but him not to reap all those low-hanging fruits, I guess.

How did CA state alone keep Tesla afloat?

Tesla has relied on CA ZEV credits to stay afloat at several points in its lifespan.

It has also relied on the CA clean car incentives to sell the Models S and 3. One of the major factors in the current popularity of Teslas is that a lot of its competition are no longer eligible for those incentives. This is why Wall Street has been so concerned about the end of the federal incentives in 2019.

This is like saying some company that was barely profitable only survived because of lower corporate taxes at the time. While technically true, it's just stating the economic reality that everyone dealt with at the time, and doesn't really impart much useful information. Any other company in the same market with a similar offering could just as easily have taken advantage of the incentives offered.

> Tesla has relied on CA ZEV credits to stay afloat at several points in its lifespan.

What are you trying to express here? I think you believe it is self explanatory, but it's not to me. Tesla took advantage of government incentives just as any other company with a similar offering could have (and did!). The original statement was that Tesla accelerated electric car deployments. CA definitely deserves a lot of credit for spurring that with incentives, but Tesla goes hand-in-hand with that. The incentives are also to encourage the market to provide good offerings in that space, which it responded and did. The reality shows that the major auto makers have been slow to respond with lackluster offerings until very recently (if even then).

While I agree with the gist of your argument, corporate taxes (mostly) apply to profits, and therefore have no influence on profitable/not profitable.

(Payroll, VAT, and some other taxes do have the effect you describe. To excuse my nitpicking: that confusion over corporate taxation has a somewhat outsized effect on typical discussions of tax policy)

> One of the major factors in the current popularity of Teslas is that a lot of its competition are no longer eligible for those incentives.

This is exactly backwards. Tesla was the first to use up its 200000 credits, back in July. GM is the second, in December. Everyone else has a long way to go before running out of incentives.

No, you have mixed up the incentives. The federal tax credit incentive expired. The California incentives, some of which are not tax related, still apply to Teslas.

> I wouldn't want to be his friend, date him, marry him, or have him as a family member.

There are people great for depending on, and there are people great for following. Even if from far away. They are still great. Just in a different way.

That's an interesting perspective, one I had never thought about yet rings absolutely true.

Agreed. Also, it reminded me of that quote by Colin Powell - "you'll know you're a good leader when people follow you if only out of curiosity"

For better or for worse, a lot of those less-good parts of his public life are public, and made public by him.

That's not accidental.

I think the flaws actually help him. It protects the ego of his followers. (Musk is more succesful, hard working, .... but he is an asshole) Many people are already irratioanlly triggered by him because their ego compares themselve to Musk. Would be way worse if he would act normal in Puplic ... and less PR of course

> I wouldn't want to be his friend, date him, marry him, or have him as a family member.

Which is perfectly fine as long as he keeps inspiring employees (and the world at large) so that they are even ready to "follow him into the gates of hell carrying suntan oil..." (https://www.quora.com/What-is-it-like-to-work-with-for-Elon-...)

> I wouldn't want to be his friend, date him, marry him, or have him as a family member.

I fail to see the merit of such a condemnation without additional context.

Though I question the validity of it to begin with unless you at least also claim that there are people who you have a similar level of optics on (i.e. "I see them on TV") and actually DO want to have them in one of those roles based on this perception.

Date him, or marry him, okay. Friend, dunno -- people are complicated. But family member? That's a bit harsh.

One of my previous managers worked with Elon Musk. He was a CTO at one of his past companies.

When I asked him what he was like to be around, he said it's been over 10 years and all I remember about him is thinking "this guy is fucking weird".

You can't make that judgment without actually knowing Elon without being completely superficial and willing to be swayed by media reports of him.

> I wouldn't want to be his friend, date him, marry him, or have him as a family member.

Your life wouldn't be boring.

I hope you're not implying that my life is boring, as that would be rude.

And wrong.

You seem pretty defensive for someone who made rude and probably wrong implications about Elon in this same thread.

If A implies B, it does not follow that notA implies notB.

I've seen what's happened to Musk happen to people who have seen the dark side of life.

"took him for a cool $1 billion" is quite a way to spin it. https://jezebel.com/5637920/the-special-hell-of-being-a-star...

...why wouldn't you want to be his friend?

Do you know him? He is the subject of constant hit jobs from his enemies.

Where "hit jobs" means "critical reporting," and "enemies" means "journalists."

I'm not talking about journalists, I'm talking about you Andrew :)

They call themselves "$TSLAQ" and spend all day fantasizing about Tesla going bankrupt.

This is a great example of exactly what I'm talking about.


I generally agree, but I also think it's important to note that SpaceX has underperformed its target on launches and therefore revenue in 2018: It had a target of 30 launches, and has only seen about 20 this year, roughly the same as 2017. The increase of $3billion+ dollar on it's valuation since its last round therefore appears to be despite underperforming targets rather than actual increase in either revenue or profits (to the best such are publicly discernible for a private company)

That's a good point. Still, I can see reasons for raising it's perceived value over last year.

A year ago, Falcon Heavy still hadn't launched. Will that happen in 2018? Ever? We didn't know.

A year ago, we were still barely a year since the 2016 pad explosion- is this going to happen again? How often? What if it happens tomorrow?

And most importantly, we've doubled (ish?) the number of landings. With more data, we've got a better estimate on the expected future success rate.

SpaceX is becoming a less risky investment. There was always a valuation hit because of that risk.

Given the advances they've made in the past year I think 10% is a conservative estimate of the change in valuation. And, as others have said, if Starlink pans out then they will effectively corner the market on broadband internet, which is a massive multi-billion dollar industry.

The increased valuation also has to do with its Starlink satellite-based network access service, quite possibly a larger and much more profitable business than rockets, making huge strides.

How do you say they have a 5-10 year advantage over Electron/Rocket Lab? They've already done a commercial launch and have 11 launches scheduled for 2019. They could very well be a viable competitor with a strong cost and time flexibility advantage in 2020.

SpaceX has a huge payload advantage over Rocket Lab, but small satellites currently pay a lot of the bills at SpaceX...

> but small satellites currently pay a lot of the bills at SpaceX

No, they really don't. SpaceX makes most of their money launching 3-ton+ geostationary satellites. The second-most important workload has been launching the Orbcomm and Iridium constellations. Iridium satellites won't fit on Electron. Orbcomm ones would, but the constellation is complete.

Of all their commercial launches, on only one would the Electron rocket have undeniably been better: The SmallSat Express was a kind of a clusterfuck because there were too many customers on one launch, each with their own problems and delays.

In any case, hypotheticals about SpaceX losing customers in the future always need to be answered with this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0IU41zpzWUE&t=75s

As of IAC2018, they had a $12B launch manifest. They can afford to lose a few smallsat payloads.

I am eagerly awaiting a future larger Electron. The principle of 3d-printing a rocket using only parts that are cheap to make is quite interesting, and might have room to move up to payloads larger than smallsats.

SpaceX has been launching the Falcon 9 for the past 6 years straight with only two launch failures and one partial failure out of 65 flights. Their older Falcon 1 didn't do great, only last flight survived out of five tries. However, SpaceX has had near consecutive launch success for the past 10 years. They threw themselves into the deep end with space. They do things the cheap and quick way and hope that it works. When it fails, they can quickly reconfigure and try again, their investment is low. This model helps you get really far really quick, so much so that they are now competing with ULA. ULA's tech has heritage all the way back to the Convair days when slapping a satellite onto an ICBM was a new idea. All of those small companies like Rocket Lab are just starting their success but this is literally where SpaceX was 10 years prior, launching small stuff with mixed results. If SpaceX can get off the ground with 20% success rate of their first design, I doubt Rocket Lab will have trouble with 80%.

Falcon 1 launched successfully on the last 2 flights (F1-4 & F1-5). But only F1-5 had a paying customer. F1-4 was a dummy test payload.

Despite a lot of small satellites going up on SpaceX rockets, they aren't the ones pulling in large amounts of money for SpaceX. Most of the small satellite launches (with the exception of the recent SSO-A mission) are secondary payloads on a larger launch.

There is a lot of demand for smaller launchers. With smaller launch vehicles you can get more flexibility in what orbit you want to go in to. On the larger launches, the small satellite manufacturers have to adapt somewhat to the launches that are available. There is demand from both the commercial and DoD [1].

[1] https://spacenews.com/pentagon-procurement-chief-ellen-lord-...

Since spaceX’s first commercial launch was in 2013, I’d say GP was not entirely wrong

Electron and Falcon 9 have have entirely different capabilities. Electron may be more flexible but it's unable to launch geosynchronous satellites, which are by far the most profitable in the launch industry.

An interesting part of the article says

"SpaceX’s existing business faces headwinds. It expects to see declines in launches of its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket for 2019 and perhaps 2020. Global demand for launching commercial satellites, its core business, is stagnant, with some satellite manufacturers and customers looking to permanently exit the market segment."

Commercial satellites is broad - does the above mean that the market is stagnant for high orbit geosynchronous? If that's the case, then the advantage would be to Electron - but that assumes something about the profitability of low orbit.

A reference, where the WSJ got this information, would have been nice.

Otoh there are capabilities - and many distinctions between SpaceX and Electron. On the other though is the market and demand and you could have something great but if its market isn't likewise then you're going to be hampered not on the, shall we say, supply side of the rocket you offer, but rather the demand side.

Commercial GEO is declining. Cell networks are becoming good enough that they can beat out satellite network providers. Same with TV networks, why bother with a satellite uplink when you can stream 4K over the internet?

I was going to say something similar. I love Electron, they have an awesome rocket and have made it to orbit so they are winners in my book. That said, they are poking at a different market than SpaceX is, which is the small rocket, small payload to orbit. Yes it's a market, no it isn't particularly high margin (at this time, these tend to be cube sats with more modest budgets).

What is worse, they still throw away the rocket once they launch. A "gas only" Falcon 9 rocket (which is to say they have the means to launch and relaunch over 10 times) is ultimately going to be the most cost effective path to space. Not sure Electron can get there from here.

I don't know if a re-usable Electron will ever make sense, but it's an interesting engineering problem to think about.

As lithium-ion batteries improve the potential mass fraction for each Electron stage gets better: lighter batteries mean more propellant. In a decade (maybe sooner) it might become feasible for the first stage to retain enough propellant for a propulsive landing like the Falcon 9. And in this case I think there's a big pay-off with the electric pumps: there's no need for a hoverslam, since the engines should be able to deep throttle to an extreme degree that's not practical with conventional rocket engines.

In a shorter time-frame the Electron first stage, because it is so small, is probably air-recoverable using the same approach that ULA is considering for recovering Vulcan engines.

Along those lines I think the hypersonic parachute work is also a potential game changer. High strength, low mass, materials with high thermal coefficients (like graphene) might one day be able to spread enough of the re-entry energy across a large enough surface to make it something you could do to recover. The steerable parafoils that SpaceX is putting on the payload fairings for terminal guidance.

A fun engineering problem to be sure.

Electron is not reusable, each is expended.

Reusability will eventually give SpaceX such an edge that they'll be able to launch BFR at Electron-level prices. Same cost, an order of magnitude more capability.

This is quite a ways out, however, so Rocketlab will enjoy being the only dedicated provider at the $6M price point for quite a while.

More like four order of magnitude more payload...

Electric motor fuel pumps simply cannot scale any larger than they already are on the Electron craft. Rocket labs is not going to be taking any of SpaceX's profitable marketshare.

I wouldn't be surprised if they start working on an expander cycle engine while keeping the electrics as a starter/regulator.

Electron is a tiny rocket and the market for large launchers is already overstacked. Electron will stay in the microlaunch market for a long time.

Electron is roughly equivalent to SpaceX's Falcon 1. Falcon 1 flew its first (and only) commercial flight in 2009. That's ~10 years, by my math...

What if electron is already near its final form? That would put them near parity with Falcon 9 in terms of development, but without the proven track record yet. Just saying the goals are different and progress toward them has to be measured based on those goals.

Cessna doesn't compete with Boeing, and it's not clear Electron and SpaceX are playing the same game either.

In that case they are not competitors. Either they are 9+ years behind or they are not even in the same race.

That’s not a bad thing. Boeing for example is also a profitable aerospace company, but they don’t launch to GEO. You basicly pay a near constant rate per lb to orbit and most of the money is from the large side of thing.

Well they do kinda launch to geo in their partnership with LM in ULA.

I think the company is great and it's been a big inspiration.

I'm a bit worried, however, about the CEO using it as a piggy-bank for other projects only partially related to SpaceX, and whether I'd see any payback on that risk if I were an investor (See: Boring Company using SpaceX folks to dig tunnels).

I'm perfectly fine not being an investor and instead just being a fan.

If you want to perform at the absolute limit of your ability, you must regularly go past your limits. If you want to bring your whole self to that job, you must push limits in every aspect of your life.

It's not for everyone, but it's the reason why Musk is so successful. He goes right up to the line, and then tries to step just a tiny bit over. Sometimes he ends up flagrantly in the danger zone, but just as often he finds out the line was much further out than anyone suspected.

You can do the same thing socially, by letting crazy people randomly test boundaries, and then using a social network to filter best practices down to you. That way you get the benefit of random testing, without risking any of your personal health or reputation. But that takes decades, whereas Elon's strategy gives immediate feedback.

He has so much privilege that he can be quite risky without actually "betting the farm" so to speak. If he was a little less mentally healthy, a little less white, a little less male, a little less rich parents, a little less educated, etc he'd probably have flamed out with this strategy. Having that intersection of privilege gives him a nice safety net when his experiments blow up. There's a whole other layer of support beyond the business fundamentals.

That’s demonsratably a bad idea when it comes to exercise and likely most other things in life. Limits are not binary, you are causing harm when you approach them. Going over just means the injury is more noticeable.

What’s really interesting is if you study the absolute top athletes is they treat down time as both nessisary and productive.

Absolute peak performance is simply not sustainable, you need to adjust to a huge range of tradeoffs.

I agree 100%. The expected outcome is not good. But the range of possible outcomes goes higher than being smart about it.

But top athletes also exercise far more than other people.

Most people don't exercise enough, so that's no surprise. The important thing is that top athletes don't exercise as much as they possibly could because doing so would be counterproductive.

They have also spent years building up the capacity to exercise as much as they do. If you go straight from an office job lifestyle to top athlete levels of effort, you'll get injured.

If you want to perform at the absolute limit of your ability, then knowing where you might benefit from pushing your limits is far more useful than mere recklessness.

And a 47 year old tweeting about "420" and his critics being "pedos" isn't someone with a "strategy" seeking "immediate feedback" where others "take decades", even where their tweets are in a sufficiently harmless space for them not to lose a measure of control over their company and find themself on the end of bad press and lawsuits as a result. It's someone who somehow managed not to learn something the majority of other 47 year olds learned three decades ago and/or someone who has failed to exercise control of their behaviour in an arena where they had little to gain and everything to lose.

You can make a case for assholery over details being integral to getting results even at the expense of relationships, but not self-destructive social media tomfoolery Musk didn't even indulge in for most of his career.

I guess above all I'm just glad nobody hero worships me enough to rationalise my own acts of utter stupidity as next-level, boundary-pushing genius. (I guess the flip side is I didn't found SpaceX, but you win some, you lose some :-)

The thing I’ve always liked about him, is he actually did bet the farm when he could have had a very easy life. Not sure I could have done it.

And he keeps betting it!

You can invest in SpaceX. They regularly are available on secondary market places.

Can you elaborate? I assume you have to be an accredited investor?

Fundnel, a Singaporean crowdfunding platform was assisting spaceX with a recent raise[1]. The minimum investment value is 250k on the website now but if I recall correctly it was as low as 50k a few months back.

[1] https://fundnel.com/investor/deal-feed/funded

Often in these sorts of scenarios you can find an investment fund that has a stake in the non-public company that you are interested in and invest in the company by proxy by investing in the fund.

Wow! Do you happen to know any reputable ones where it'd be possible to single out (as much as possible, probably not possible completely) the investment into SpaceX?

the issue would now be that you're investing in everything else in that fund.. i'd have to believe in the fund, not just SpaceX.

You could design a portfolio of short and long positions that exactly cancelled out everything else the fund had.

Good luck with that considering most if not all of the other investments would be private investments that would be difficult, if not impossible to replicate in public markets.

Maybe you could find a bunch of other funds with slightly different positions in the same companies, and then form a linear combination that cancelled out the differences.

You'd end up with an "error portfolio" that was somewhat random that you'd be investing in proportionally with your SpaceX investment.

If I started a few listed companies and bought carefully constructed portfolios of unlisted securities specifically so that this would be possible, I wonder if the SEC would get mad.

I smell a SaaS product…

I smell financial regulation. The secondary market is generally only available to accredited investors. If you're investing in a fund, that's one thing, but if a product is unwinding all of that to allow unsophisticated investors to essentially buy secondary stock in private companies, the SEC is going to have something to say about that.

Just because SpaceX is doing well doesn't mean it's a good investment. The valuation seems fair or even too high considering the profit opportunities.

Depends entirely on whether you think Starlink will succeed or not. (And by proxy, BFR, because Starlink cannot be economically deployed on F9.)

SpaceX is a lot bigger than just Starlink... I'd say you'd have to buy into the whole vision to consider it a good investment.

If Starlink succeeds, it can easily deliver recurring revenues of >$5B yearly. This will dwarf all the other revenue sources SpaceX will have in the next few decades, and easily justify the current valuation (and even a substantially higher one, for that matter).

The moment Musk made the call on Starlink, he made all the other ambitions of SpaceX conditional on it. If Starlink succeeds, they can fund Mars colonization out of petty cash.

20 million global Internet access subscribers would mean at least $15-$20 billion in revenue (assuming Starlink can't fetch the prices globally that they will be able to in the US access market). Starlink will definitely be a large business if it's successful, although their early projections on potential were outlandish. Comcast is a reasonable target for scaling comparisons.

Comcast access + tv is essentially a US only business. They have something like 26 million access subscribers and 22 million cable tv subscribers. The access business alone is good for $25-$30 billion per year in sales. They've accomplished that scale just in the US market. A bunch of medium income and developed nations still have relatively slow Internet access, including France and Australia. There are an easy ten million Starlink customers waiting just in the giant US market.

Starlink will never fund a Mars colony out of petty cash though. It'll take nearly every dollar of profit the business generates to establish a Mars colony.

You are estimating the average Starlink customer at 1000 USD/year? That seems significantly above average mobile and landline Internet fees, so it would seem hard to acquire 20 million customers while competing with those?

The average cost in US for land-line Internet seems to be 66USD, and is among the highest in the world. Source: https://howmuch.net/articles/cost-of-broadband-internet

Apparently the average phone bill is 80USD/month. Again some of the highest in the world. https://www.moneysavingpro.com/cell-phone-plans/comparing-us...

“Basic” cable internet where I am is $90/mo, after the initial contract runs out. That’s $1000/yr.

Where I am 150MB/s fiber internet is for ~$12 a month :)

edit: what I was going for is, you can't take that number and extrapolate it to the whole world

>If Starlink succeeds, they can fund Mars colonization out of petty cash.

I would be interested in reading about the economics of this. Can you point to such an article?

People said the same about Iridium. It's entirely possible that Starlink could work as advertised but not have subscribers to deliver that level of profitability.

> If I could invest in SpaceX, I would.

I wouldn't because I don't trust Elon Musk's honesty with investors.

Also, I don't understand the argument "I would invest because positive thing X" - how does it imply that buying the company at market price is more profitable than buying a stock index?

I should rephrase: if I could buy SpaceX with the company valued at only $30B, I would buy stock in it. That seems undervalued to me, given the above. I believe the company will be worth more than that in both the short and long term and therefore it's a solid investment.

For the same reasons that some people choose to divest themselves from companies which they have personal moral disagreements with, some people want to invest in companies that directly or indirectly align with their views. I don't believe the comment above was meant to be taken as a purely financial move.

Most recently he diverted SpaceX resources to the boring company without board approval....

I dunno, I don't think he's "burned out" in the same sense that you or I get burned out, but I do think he's "over exposed", which for him is probably basically the same.

It just looks like he's gotten comfortable expressing the thoughts and feelings that most of us try to apply at least a small filter to, and it's hard because he's the boss of his world, so there's no one to reel him in.

On [2] note that they still technically consider landings "experimental" or at least "beta." Launch success is mission success.

Is that true? They used to label it something like “experimental landing” on the timeline, but lately it’s just been “landing”.

>> massively undercutting the legacy competitors (ULA)...

I think that has been a mistake. Undercut them sure, but if they charged more they might not be seeking funding right now. They should be optimizing profit at this point (to fund new developments) and it's not clear that's what they're doing. I've never heard them talk about pricing other than what they charge and how they hope to lower those costs.

They are deemed as far riskier.

If you are flying a $20 million dollar satalite, do you fly with the 6 million dollar proven launch, or the 5.999 million dollar unproven launch?

Now if the unproven guy cuts the price to 3 million dollars, the math changes (insurance can step in, etc).

I don't think they could have charged much more and gotten to where they are.

The price difference between ULA and SpaceX is much larger than that. In 2018 it was $200M (ULA) to $83M (SpaceX).


They've also increased prices now that they're proven.


Add to that ULA was forced to drop their prices, so Space-X doesn't really have much room to increase more. And they obviously can't increase on existing contracts.

I'm always shocked when a keyboard warrior on ycombinator thinks a company that size doesn't have a considerable workforce dedicated to figuring out what they can charge for their product... I doubt they just picked a number out of thin air. It was likely a combination of estimating how low they think their competitors go as well as where they need to be to win new business.

Plus, if you are going to bring the BFR online with much lower launch costs, you want people to start thinking about that reality sooner rather that later. SpaceX will have lots of their own satellites to launch, but if they are hoping to do a launch or more a day they will need to have a lot more people putting things into space. A lower price now can jumpstart lots of money into building businesses that with need those lower prices.

Atlas V prices are listed at $109 million.


Falcon 9 is $62 million (and I believe that’s the expendable version, you get a discount if the mission allows for booster recovery).


The fact that these prices are publically available on their websites tells you something about the state of competition in the launch industry.

But the price of satellites is also much higher. A GEO commset made to common specs is going to be costing something north of $100 million. A custom DoD spysat might be in the billions. SpaceX is making very good inroads in the former but not the later.

What's the comparison on insurance rates between the two?

Hard to sell your workers on changing the game when you've got that mindset. They get some of the best because they actually want to change the way access to space works.

> They get some of the best because they actually want to change the way access to space works.

Are they really that concerned with getting "the best"? From what I've heard, they expect you to work insane hours. That pretty much limits potential employees to those without a family or a life outside of work.

Won't they just end up with the majority of their employees without significant experience this way?

In many ways though I guess it operates very much like a startup. They sell dreams to get employees.

I know a lot of current and former SpaceX employees, and can say that while they definitely used to get the best people (including a number of steals from JPL), the sheer hours has definitely negatively impacted their ability to hire the best.

A number of truly genius engineers won't even consider SpaceX anymore because they're married/have children and simply won't put up with the hours.

SpaceX still does a good job of bringing in stellar new graduates, but the lack of experience among so much of their workforce has definitely hampered their R&D.

Anecdata and probably subject to some sort of bias, but of the only two people I know who have interned there (one personally, and one via open source contributions), the first was specifically called out as "the smartest person I've ever met" by our founders when we were acquired, and the second is Sergio Benitez[1].

[1]: https://sergio.bz/

> of the only two people I know who have interned there

I don't think you're disagreeing with me. I assume those people were relatively young since they interned there?

I was not at all trying to imply they don't have talented people working there. It sounds like a great opportunity and honestly anyone who is willing to spend so much time on their craft should get good at it over time.

I am just trying to say that they are also probably missing out on many talented people who don't want to commit so much time to work.

I mean it's working out for them clearly. It seems they consider dedication to be more important than "talent" and I wouldn't necessarily say that's wrong. I only work in software which may be different but it's rare to encounter problems which require some sort of ingenuity. Most of the time work just involves.. putting in time and effort to get things done.

I suppose in a broad sense we agree then. My point was that if that's the kind of person you're bringing through the door, it's a bit academic to point out that there are other good people who disagree with how you've organized the place and won't work there. The way I'm thinking about it, that disagreement only actually matters if it's the constraint on your organization's ability to get the people you need (however you choose to define that).

I would not work SpaceX hours even though I'm a big fan. They're hiring engineers better than I, though, so I think that's a shrugworthy footnote from their perspective.

>> Hard to sell your workers on changing the game when you've got that mindset.

I don't think the workers would care if a launch cost $10-50M more than it does. If I worked there it would make me uneasy that they're looking for more funding for a mere $500M. It already makes me uneasy (and I don't work there) since I really want them to succeed with BFR and their Mars ambitions.

Electron (RocketLab, actually) is chasing a wildly different market segment.

> If I could invest in SpaceX, I would.

So true! I would love to invest in SpaceX

See Bloomberg today: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&c...

Still sure?

Genius, yes. Ambitious, yes. Good governance, no!

Any evidence of actual investors being upset about this? The only actual quote from the wsj article:

"Founders Fund in a statement said it has been briefed on the relationship between SpaceX and the Boring Co. “and we have no concerns whatsoever."

Why at this valuation do you think it's attractive? $30.5 billion is a hell of a price to pay for a business with only around $2 billion in revenue.

Because you expect the revenue to go up dramatically in the future.

The main reason for that belief, at least for me, is Starlink.

that + mining asteroids w/ boring company tech

If that is their projected revenue source, I think most of us would agree that SpaceX is over valued

maybe most of HN, but i'm not so sure about the majority of small dreamers on reddit who like investing

I'm not sure that is who I want valuing companies

> burned himself out

I'll say. hits blunt

“I think he's overworked and burned-out”

It’s just PR he’s not sleeping under desks or delusional from sleep deprivation or etc

It’s just PR to get to this moment, raising a huge round for SpaceX.

Delivering a 100(starting a billion USD company successfully ? ) times smaller projects on time can give nightmare for years. What he is doing is borderline impossible.

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