SpaceX CEO Wants Better NASA Deal


Elon Musk

SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk appeared before the House Science Committee on October 28 to negotiate a contract with NASA to provide private space taxi services in place of the defunct Space Shuttle.

If NASA does not present a more favorable deal, however, SpaceX may back out of the contract completely, Musk told Popular Mechanics.

Some of the the points of contention, according to Popular Mechanics:

…this early version of the contract allows NASA to exert more control over the hardware design than many in the industry are comfortable with. It installs NASA staff into the companies' facilities and leaves open the question of how many changes the agency can force companies to make.

That is a big deal, considering the contract is fixed-price. That means the company does not get more money if the design changes—other contracts, called cost-plus, compensate for these increases.

Musk is "increasingly optimistic that the agency will change some of the rules that dictate the design," though. Could NASA need Musk more than he needs them?

After all, NASA is just too slow:

…all the players told Congress they could launch by 2015, while the NASA contract states a 2017 flight date. With adequate funding they can be ready to go in 2015, they all agreed. "Six years seems like infinity," Musk said.

NASA already pays $63 million per astronaut for flights on the Russian Soyuz, and Musk say he will bring that down to $20 million.

But if taxpayers are investing in SpaceX, couldn't Big Space be the next big bailout? Musk says no—he "'will personally guarantee' that taxpayers won't have to bail out his company." 

Musk also says that SpaceX's "approximately $3 billion backlog of launch contracts is about evenly divided between NASA and private-sector customers" which establishes his company's commercial independence from NASA. 

Reason on Musk and SpaceX

Link via the noble Lord Humungus.

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  1. Noble? Now they’re just screwing with us.

    1. There’s nothing noble about taking guzzoline from helpless, dare I say incompetent, foes.

      1. Wow. Noble.

        1. He does seem pretty nonreactive.

          1. Oh, good point.

  2. he “‘will personally guarantee’ that taxpayers won’t have to bail out his company.

    That sounds nice, but I don’t really buy it. I’m pretty sure that if he suddenly found himself bankrupt, he’d take a “too big to fail” bailout and maintain his lifestyle.

    “Noble”? Really? A guy who dresses in a jockstrap and a metal hockey mask? Just walk away, dudes. Just walk away.

    1. As long as we have multiple companies that NASA depends on, then no, we do not care if one dies off. And the fact is, that with CCDev, NASA is looking to have at least 2 (though the house is trying to kill it to be just one: ULA/Boeing).
      But for us to move forward, we NEED multiple cargo and multiple human launchers. Dragon/F9, Boeing/Atlas, Dream Chaser/Atlas, and Blue Horizons unknown entry appear to give us 3 different launchers and 4 vehicles. If we get Bigelow going with a private space station, then we can support all of these.

      1. I agree. We need lots of competition. Not just competing companies but competing ideas.

        One company could provide heavy lift. Another could focus on smaller, multiple launch options, employing fuel depots, etc. And so on.

        The real key right now is cheap access to space. Both for equipment and for humans. Once we have that, the whole solar system will open up.

        1. Yup. While I want to see NASA continue to do the edge R&D, I would also like to see them continue to do things like another COTS. Only this time, for a COTS-SHLV for 2 SHLVs (5 billion each, .5 B to launch).
          Or perhaps NASA should do the R&D that Obama wanted, but CONgress killed. We are now at a point where NASP is more than possible.

  3. NASA should leave manned space exploration to the experts.

  4. Here’s talk about modifying the “Secretive X-37B Space Plane” to carry astronauts.…..nauts.html

  5. It installs NASA staff into the companies’ facilities and leaves open the question of how many changes the agency can force companies to make.

  6. That’s squirrels 1, me nothing.

  7. While NASA would be a useful client for SpaceX to have, I think they’re past the point where they can’t operate just fine serving other clients.

    1. Nope. First off, SpaceX is using NASA’s pads. In addition, NASA accounts for over half of their launch schedule. Musk need to work closely with NASA (and will).
      What he does not want to do is have NASA make all decisions for him. That is what L-Mart, Boeing and ULA want. That approach will escalate SpaceX’s costs. As it is, NASA wanted a traditional escape tower. Had SpaceX done that, he would have less humans going to space, but also much higher costs.

      1. I don’t agree. Earlier on, I think that was true, but I think SpaceX could manage to go it alone. NASA is an obvious client that they correctly want to keep, but they’re aware that all of their eggs can’t stay in that bureaucratic basket.

        There are alternative launch options, if it comes to that, but I think NASA would be foolish to not support SpaceX and other NewSpace to that extent.

        1. Oh, I would not sweat this current stuff. I think that what is happening is that several groups inside of NASA, but mostly from outside, are pushing for this nightmare on SpaceX. Sadly, that includes the idiots in the house. The reason is so that costs can be driven up to equalize with SLS. THEN ppl can point to spacex, SNC and Blue horizon and say that they are doing a Rossi.

          Core NASA would rather NOT be doing launches or the launch vehicle. They simply want to get to space and KNOW that they can get there. Back in 1994-96, NASA came up with a plan to move launches to private space. CONgress killed that then. NASA knows that CONgress is in the way.
          I would not be surprised if Bolden had a discussion with Musk PRIOR to this little stunt and suggested that he take this attitude. Bolden has NO desire to regulate SpaceX OR any other company.
          Instead, they need multiple launch vehicles that meet their needs and then they can drop SLS.

          NASA NEEDS SpaceX, but SpaceX also needs NASA, and in fact, the US gov.

          1. Whether SpaceX can go it alone right now or not is, of course, speculation. However, the sane goal should be that SpaceX isn’t dependent on NASA. No business should put all of its eggs in one basket.

            When this will get really exciting for me is when SpaceX and others are launching entirely private crews into space. Be nice to see Bigelow be a major client, too.

            1. In a start-up, it is common to have one large group that you are initially dependent on. That is NASA. SpaceX REALLY does need NASA to grow fast and maintain profits as well as get help.
              HOWEVER, SpaceX is quickly diversifying.
              In about 3 years, SpaceX likely will want NASA, but not NEED them. Big difference.
              And the reason is a diversified base.

              1. That’s the grail. I don’t expect them to dump NASA, of course. Just so long as they can avoid losing their independence, it should all work out.

  8. But if taxpayers are investing in SpaceX…

    “Investing”? Nice word, Pelosi.

    1. Didn’t you know buying a service from a company is investing in it?

      1. I really don’t get that. SpaceX is different in that it’s not just some subcontractor doing NASA’s bidding. It’s providing access to space for all comers. Big difference.

        1. Industry is passing them by (at last!) and they don’t like being left in the rearview mirror.

    2. Given that NASA is giving them money to build a COTS, and now a human launcher, I would say that we ARE investing in them.
      Look up COTS and CCDev.

  9. We all knew Elon Musk sounded too much like some kind of Bond villain. Moonraker sucked, NASA!

    1. I would have expected Elon Musk to be a Kessel spice smuggler, probably in the employ of the Hutts.

      “$1.6 billion?! We could buy our own launch vehicle for that!”
      “Yeah, but who’s gonna fly it, NASA? You?”

  10. I’m looking for investors in SpaceXXX, which gives you something to do while you’re floating around up there. Main obstacle thus far is the relative shortage of prostitutes with engineering degrees.

    1. That’s Bigelow. Space whoretels in orbit.

    2. 1) You don’t need the whores to understand the engineering.

      2) Just find girls in engineering and offer them trips to space. You’ll get enough that are willing to float back and think of Earth.

  11. If I wanted to bring in a team of “consultants” to help me establish a space program, I’m pretty sure NASA wouldn’t even be in the running.

    1. The problem is the amount of money NASA brings with it. SpaceX would not have been able to develop their vehicle to this stage without the guaranteed money from their NASA contracts. The commercial space market can potentially cover operating costs but probably not development. The problem of course is that NASA is a bureaucratic beast and they make working efficiently impossible with all their rules and regulations. I’m not joking when I say that a hardware build that one of my technicians could do in his own garage in a couple of hours can take over a month when forced to follow NASA’s operating system. I wish SpaceX well and I hope they can navigate through all of NASA’s hurdles especially since I have hardware that’s supposed to fly on their demo flight in January. If they have many more delays I might end up having to recertify my hardware again for a different vehicle.

      1. I worked for one of their less-flashy commercial space competitors. Dealing with NASA could be a pain, but I found at least some of their requirements are justified in trying to protect the ISS. For example, testing visiting-vehicle-to-station CDH compatibility was maddening but revealed a lot of potential problems. Our friends in Hawthorne apparently were reluctant to submit to those tests; I hope they’ve changed their mind. I admit I’m biased but I detect a certain arrogance on their part. I desperately want commercial space to come into its own but right now I don’t think they’re the ones to make it happen. For me it started when they declared Falcon 1 “operational” before it had made orbit- that seemed to be putting PR/marketing over basic engineering sense, and it wasn’t surprising that the next launch failed. Kudos to them for eventually succeeding, but they could’ve saved some customers’ payloads by sticking with the testing. Amidst this we have Elon saying he’ll land men on Mars: ambition is awesome, but learn to crawl before you vow to win the Boston Marathon. Recent news hasn’t been great either: they tried to get out of implementing certain software controls/practices (not my specialty) by asserting at a review that their software simply had no errors(!), and acknowledged an engine anomaly on the F9/Dragon flight only about a month ago after trying to sue the guy who broke the story. Let me be clear: I don’t fault SpaceX for failures, which are a fact of life in the industry, especially given the kinds of things they’re trying to do. I fault them for their attitude and reaction to failures, past and potential.

        1. If you’re in the industry you know there are plenty of other established commercial aerospace companies that aren’t too happy about SpaceX. If there is any one company in aerospace with a big fat target painted on their back it is SpaceX.

          I actually watched the entire congressional hearing and was amazed at the attacks on the commercial space program. Some congress people were suggesting it would be much better to keep paying the Russians because US industry isn’t capable of doing the job. It was easy to see that as long as the voters in their state had a big fat NASA contract the SLS, they didn’t want any other commercial companies to jeopardize the SLS project.

          I can understand SpaceX not wanting to give it’s enemies any ammo to try to attack it with.

    2. If you did not, then you would be a fool. The fact is, that Musk brought in NASA to get to where he is today. And NASA was a VALUABLE consultant. They have far far more experience than any other agency save ROSCOSMOS (they are similar in experience).
      What Musk does not want, rightly, is for NASA to call all the shots. There is a big difference in the two.

      1. Here’s the deal: NASA has some brilliant people working for it. NASA, as an institution, is a totally politicized and bureaucratic institution.

        One of the main reasons I’m a lawyer and not something useful is that I saw no real opportunities in space when I went to college. The shuttle, even then, was an obvious dead end.

        1. NASA has issues, but the REAL issues is CONgress. CONgress is trying to control them so that they can have large jobs bills in their district.
          NASA is the one that I will trust to get us to Mars. However, we need private space going, to avoid having CONgress be able to force money into jobs bills in their district (shelby, wolfe, hatch, hutchinson, coffman and nelson being some of the worse). Instead, if private space is doing launches, space stations, etc, the jobs that NASA HAS done for some time and shown how to do it, then it forces NASA to be where they REALLY want to be: out front with cutting edge R&D.

          1. I’m not saying that NASA is the problem all by itself–it isn’t. If it just got $15 billion/year with no political shenanigans by Congress, maybe it wouldn’t have so many problems (though federal acquisition rules and the like are still a big flaw in the system).

            However, the two can’t be separated. A NASA that was more on the R&D side and maybe paying private companies for access would be more effective, I agree, but NASA–and, more importantly, Congress–isn’t willingly accepting the diminished role.

  12. This Musk guy is pretty cool.

  13. Am I free to gambol in Zero-G?

    1. +1 I LOLed

  14. A very good friend of mine works at SpaceX (lucky bastard with his dream job). Seems that SpaceX is having issues with NASA regarding pad rental at the Cape. NASA wants to charge a lot of money to launch from essentially unused mothballed pads just so they can keep thousands of people on their staff. SpaceX on the other hand can get by with a few hundred people and less than 1/3 the cost per launch. They’re even beating China’s pricing. I’m just worried they’ll get sucked into the quagmire of waste and spending that is the government. I wish them the best of luck, and hopefully next time I’m in Florida I can get a tour of their facilities.

    1. This is not an issue. Musk is looking into land in southern texas for building his own pad. I suspect that NASA will re-think this through, but even if not, then I suspect that we will see SpaceX, Blue Horizon, and perhaps others making use of it.

    2. I’ve been disappointed that Florida didn’t get more into enticing companies for launch services. A lot of infrastructure is in place, and that part of Florida has lots of locations that could be used.

      1. I am guessing that you live in Florida. personally, I am happy that neither Florida or NASA did much on that until just recently.
        Both of these groups are now trying to fleece SpaceX on prices. If so, then it makes sense for what is happening in Texas. And I suspect that if SpaceX announces it, then both Florida and NASA will be VERY happy and accommodating for ALL private space.

        1. Florida, like NASA, got cocky. But it’s the best place in the U.S. to launch from. Missed opportunity.

    3. NASA wants to charge a lot of money to launch from essentially unused mothballed pads just so they can keep thousands of people on their staff.

      Of course. What do you think the purpose of NASA is?

  15. Musk says no — he “‘will personally guarantee’ that taxpayers won’t have to bail out his company.”

    …cough… Tesla …cough…

    1. Why? Did we bail out tesla? I was only aware of a LOAN to help them develop with. And in fact, tesla is gearing up nicely with that loan. google for tesla manufacturing plant robots. They are ahead of other companies here.
      Likewise, more roadsters sold than was expected.
      So, what news do you have that Tesla has been bailed out by the feds?

      1. Bailed out in advance doesn’t count?

        1. Tesla never got bailed out. It was a loan. You might want to take something for that cough of yours.

          It would be the failure of all the other commercial companies that would create a situation where SpaceX was too large to fail. SpaceX is the company that is going to “right size” the industry. The smart and most innovative companies are going to emerge and the old dinosaurs companies will have their equipment placed in the museums.

      2. Tesla got government loans which charge less interest then banks, investment companies, really rich people.
        So that is a subsidey. Plus, that is not what our tax dollars should be spent on.
        Oh, and Mush is a billionarie, so if Tesla is such a sure fire hit, why doesn’t he use his own money?
        Because it isn’t and he found a sucker, the feds.

      3. Windbourne where did you go to school?

        Investment? Really, how does taking taxpayer money, average houseold income 50K, to build two seater cars for 100k help the economy? Benefit the taxpayer?

      4. “Likewise, more roadsters sold than was expected.”
        How many have been delivered? Have the cars been tested by independent observers like “Popular Mechanics”?
        Tesla advertises itself as a car company, what are they doing manufacturing plant robots?
        Oh, Tesla is behind schedule on deliveries and they are not getting the mileage they promised.
        So if they are falling short on their reason for existence, how can you trust other products they produced?
        BTW: Maybe they are saying they are producing plant robots as a deversion from them fucking up?

        BTW: Does Musk have an interest in Google or one of the Google founders in Tesla?
        LOOK IT UP

        I don’t like you windbourne.

        1. I can say with authority that my boss rides a tesla, and regularly parks it in the “hybrid-only” spots in our parking lot.

  16. NASA is the one that I will trust to get us to Mars.

    *Guffaws, slaps knee*

  17. Ugh. What they need to get rid of is the NASA minders in the company. That will fuck the place up.

    Problem is that NASA administrators are driven by politics, and what they did with the space program was cut it up into little slices and distribute it to contractors all over the country, so they could ocunt jobs in every congressional district.

    But that’s exactly the bullshit that made the space shuttle program so complex and inefficient. If they do that to SpaceX I will cry.

    1. I recently finished my master’s degree in aerospace engineering while working on a satellite project. All my colleagues worshipped the shuttle and thought I was crazy because I viewed it as a complete waste of time and money that couldn’t be shut down soon enough.

      1. Hey auric, you think you can build a microsat with a miniaturized ion drive that goes to the moon?

        I’m convinced one can retool auto parts (spark plug) to make an ion drive.

      2. How is the job market in the space industry at the moment? I’m finishing my doctorate and I’d like to get back in.

  18. The NASA is so amazing.

  19. Elon — I know you’re running a business, but we’re talking about NASA here…the odds of getting a government agency in this budgetary environment to grant you a deal is somewhat unrealistic. Also, we’re talking a vital national resource here Elon…let’s maybe put country before profits here. Your product is far superior and let’s be honest, NASA isn’t seriously considering anyone else for the job….think long-term here buddy…don’t worry…you’ll see plenty of green over the years..

  20. Fun Fiction peppered with facts.
    Space X and Elon save the world from destruction. Can be seen at Amazon and Barnes and Noble e book websites
    Book Title: God Shuffled His Feet
    Author: Mark Ellenbogen.

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