The Elon Musk Story Is One of Big Promises and Tempered Expectations

It’s hard not to like Elon Musk. With his infectious enthusiasm for progress and his odd-yet-charming quirkiness, Musk is an easy character to root for.
It’s hard not to like Elon Musk. With his infectious enthusiasm for progress and his odd-yet-charming quirkiness, Musk is an easy character to root for. He intends to change the world by bringing about everything from self-driving cars to a human colony on Mars. His promises are so big and so bold that people can’t help but want him to succeed.

And that’s what makes Musk’s largely mediocre results all the more frustrating. It seems that the story of Elon Musk is one of grand promises, followed by tempered expectations.

On August 5, 2019, Musk’s aerospace company SpaceX quietly rolled back statements it had made about one of its most promising ventures — the Crew Dragon rocket. Following the Dragon’s first successful parachute water landing in 2010, Musk announced his vision for the future of the capsule. In the coming years, the Crew Dragon would no longer need parachutes to soften its fall. Instead, it would make precision landings using just its thrusters and landing gear.

True to form, Musk’s promise was certainly an ambitious one. If successful, the Crew Dragon’s landing technology would revolutionize space travel. But now, nearly a decade following the rocket’s initial touchdown, Musk’s promise has not only failed to materialize; it has been broken completely.

Following the well-publicized April 2019 Crew Dragon explosion, in which SpaceX’s shuttle erupted into a fireball during testing, Musk’s aerospace company conducted an internal investigation into the cause of the incident. The audit uncovered a dangerous mistake within the capsule’s propellant delivery system, a design flaw that ultimately caused Crew Dragon’s undoing. Rather than take the time to address the concern, SpaceX decided to scrap the landing feature it had touted for years. With the rocket’s most recent design adjustments, the Crew Dragon will no longer have the potential to execute its game-changing propulsive landing.

Unfortunately, this trend of disappointing performance isn’t limited to merely the Crew Dragon incident.

When it comes to Musk’s enterprises, the need to temper one’s expectations is all too common. SpaceX, a company heralded as a revolutionary force in the aerospace industry, has largely struggled to live up to the lofty expectations it set for itself.

In late 2018, for instance, SpaceX failed to secure a critical launch contract under the first phase of the Air Force’s Launch Service Agreement program. Rather than being the impetus for change within the aerospace community, SpaceX was outcompeted by longstanding industry stalwarts. Musk would later admit that his company “missed the mark” in preparing its contract bid, a sloppy mistake incongruent with SpaceX’s promise to bring about a space revolution.

It’s this incongruence that has led some to defend Musk’s enterprises to the point of absurdity. Rather than accept the fact that SpaceX tends to overpromise and underdeliver, certain people have turned to the federal government to ensure the company’s success.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith epitomizes this type of behavior. Undoubtedly, Smith is a true believer in the vision that Elon Musk offers. And Smith is willing to provide Musk with the resources SpaceX needs to succeed, even at a cost to the American taxpayer.

In early June 2019, the HASC Chairman introduced a provision into the House-passed 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would provide SpaceX with a substantive advantage over its competition. The “SpaceX earmark” would supply the company with $500 million in federal funding to make up for the money the company lost in the first phase of the Launch Service Agreement.

The NDAA would make a number of other substantial changes to the LSA program, including diluting the Air Force’s competitive standards for launch services to help companies like SpaceX. However, the half-a-billion-dollar earmark, tailored specifically to benefit SpaceX at the expense of its opponents, clearly tilts the competitive landscape in favor of Musk’s company. Smith’s provision may be entirely unfair and antithetical to honest and open competition. Nevertheless, it makes sense as a tool to ensure that Musk doesn’t once again fail to meet expectations.

The desire to see Elon Musk succeed is certainly understandable. His promises are so extravagant, and his goals are so impressive that it’s no wonder why people like Adam Smith would pull strings to support SpaceX.

But Musk must rise and fall on his own merits, as providing his companies with exclusive benefits merely incentivizes their subpar performance. It may be frustrating when Musk overpromises and underdelivers, but we must adjust our expectations accordingly.

Julio Rivera is a small business consultant, political activist, writer and Editorial Director for Reactionary Times. He has been a regular contributor to Newsmax TV and columnist for Newsmax.com since 2016. His writing, which is concentrated on politics, cybersecurity and sports, has also been published by websites including The Hill, The Washington Times, LifeZette, The Washington Examiner, American Thinker, The Toronto Sun and PJ Media and many others. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Launch Experiences Setbacks

However, the SpaceX Demo-2 mission was postponed for October, at the earliest. Right now, SpaceX is thinking of scheduling the demonstration flight …

Recently, Nasa published a blog post that led readers to believe the agency is going through some changes in the leadership department, within the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate, that might have a negative impact on the plans to return astronauts to the International Space Station. This is not the only setback that slows down the schedule of launching SpaceX Crew Dragon.

In the first instance, the demonstration flight meant to simulate the mission will carry astronauts Bob Nehnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS was supposed to take place this summer. However, the SpaceX Demo-2 mission was postponed for October, at the earliest. Right now, SpaceX is thinking of scheduling the demonstration flight no earlier than December. Both SpaceX and NASA believe that a Crew Dragon launch involves a set of preparations that cannot be carried out in a few months, so a 2019 launch seems impossible.

SpaceX Crew Dragon Capsule Launch Experiences Setbacks

Jim Bridenstine, the NASA Administrator, asked the Human Exploration and Operations Directorate to reevaluate the flight schedule once new leadership is established. He said: “It is very likely that these new schedule plans will push the Demo-2 launch target into 2020.” Another element that interferes with the timeline is the in-flight abort test that SpaceX needs to conduct to assure that the Crew Dragon capsule’s abort system is perfectly functional.

That is a crucial step since the original Crew Dragon capsule (C201) got destroyed during an earlier test. After the loss of C201, it was found that the SuperDraco thruster abort system was faulty and it needed to be replaced for all capsules currently in production at SpaceX. The launch date for the in-flight abort test is expected to be announced sometime this month.

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Emmy Skylar started working for Debate Report in 2017. Emmy grew up in a small town in northern Manitoba. But moved to Ontario for university. Before joining Debate Report, Emmy briefly worked as a freelance journalist for CBC News. She covers politics and the economy.

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See SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Parachutes in Action in This Epic Video Compilation

If a parade of space parachutes popping open is your thing, SpaceX has you covered. The company — which is developing a Crew Dragon spacecraft …

If a parade of space parachutes popping open is your thing, SpaceX has you covered. The company — which is developing a Crew Dragon spacecraft to bring astronauts to the International Space Station — recently released a YouTube video showing a series of successful parachute tests for its spacecraft.

The compilation shows the spacecraft being dropped from anywhere between 8,000 to 50,000 feet (roughly 2,400 to 15,000 meters) using a helicopter, a high-altitude balloon or the back door of a cargo plane. In various high-definition shots, the spacecraft falls through the air, is stabilized by a drogue parachute or two, and then the main parachutes pop open.

Cameras mounted on Crew Dragon show the performance of the three or four main parachutes as the spacecraft drifts to desert ground or — in one case — water. The spacecraft needs to pass a series of qualification tests before NASA and other authorities deem it safe enough to fly astronauts.

Related: SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Demo-1 Test Flight in Pictures

Four Crew Dragon parachutes deploy during a test in this still from SpaceX's video compilation. 

Four Crew Dragon parachutes deploy during a test in this still from SpaceX’s video compilation.

(Image credit: SpaceX)

“More than 25 successful tests have been completed to demonstrate performance in various deployment conditions,” SpaceX saidin the video. (The company did not mention a failed parachute test in April. Both SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner have experienced parachute issues while preparing for commercial flights.)

While the SpaceX video focused on parachute deployment, SpaceX is pursuing many other tests to pursue its human-rating qualification for the Crew Dragon. One of these trials was putting an uncrewed spacecraft in space. The first Crew Dragon launched successfully on March 2 and later berthed with the International Space Station. Boeing’s spacecraft will do a space test of its own later this year, if all goes to plan. Launches of astronauts on both spacecraft may follow late this year, or in 2020.

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow uson Twitter @Spacedotcomand on Facebook.

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SpaceX and Boeing Will Have To Wait For Approval From NASA

NASA seems to have wiped the August schedule off the board and changed it with a message that SpaceX and Boeing flight test dates for the …

In case you had August circled in your calendar to watch Boeing send its first Starliner to the International Space Station, you may be dissatisfied.

NASA seems to have wiped the August schedule off the board and changed it with a message that SpaceX and Boeing flight test dates for the Commercial Crew Programare now “under review.”

The two private corporations are both engaged on crew capsules designed to launch astronauts from US soil to the International Space Station. NASA has depended for years on Russian rockets and spacecraft to transport personnel.

NASA had been making an effort to supply more timely updates on flight test schedules. However, that strategy managed to highlight the delays. Space developments hardly ever happen on clean, linear timelines. Tests go wrong. Tools need changes. Delays are normal.

The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) has already seen its share of triumphs and stumbles. SpaceX easily and successfully accomplished its first uncrewed Demo-1 test flight to the ISS in March. However, a Crew Dragon capsule later exploded throughout a ground test in April.

“NASA and our partners need to fly astronauts as rapidly as we will without compromising the safety of our astronauts and at all times will give safety precedence over schedule,” NASA mentioned within the launch on Tuesday.

The space agency simply went via a vital leadership shakeup in July. Former astronaut Ken Bowersox took over because the administrator for the human exploration office, changing long-time leader William Gerstenmaier. NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has directed the workplace to reexamine flight dates and “ship realistic schedule plans” as soon as the new leadership is in place.

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SpaceX retracts Falcon 9 booster’s landing legs a second time after speedy reuse

Following the Falcon 9 booster’s second successful NASA launch in less than three months, SpaceX recovery technicians have once again rapidly …

Following the Falcon 9 booster’s second successful NASA launch in less than three months, SpaceX recovery technicians have once again rapidly retracted B1056’s four landing legs, also reused from the booster’s May 2019 launch debut.

On the heels of Falcon 9 B1056’s first speedy, leg-retracting recovery, a repeat of the booster’s impressive landing leg retraction debut – using the same legs, no less – serves as an excellent sign that whatever hardware changes were implemented are on the right track. As part of SpaceX and CEO Elon Musk’s interim goal of launching the same Falcon 9 booster twice in 1-2 days, a speedy recovery is an absolute necessity, and landing leg retraction is just one of the dozens of ways the company will need to optimize recovery and reuse to lower average turnaround times from weeks to days.

Great photos all around by TJ, though I feel everyone’s going to really pay attention to the second pic. 🙂

B1056.2 is once again getting its legs folded after its second launch and landing on Thursday. Also: #DeltaIV awaits its final flight from SLC-37 on Aug. 22nd. 🚀 https://t.co/6jadLEMJR8

— Tyler Gray (@TylerG1998) July 28, 2019

Falcon 9 B1056 completed its successful launch debut on May 4th, 2019, landing on drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) to preserve an ongoing Crew Dragon failure investigation at Landing Zones 1 and 2 (LZ-1/2). Situated just a few dozen miles off the coast of Florida, OCISLY returned to port with the booster barely a day after the landing, easily the fastest drone ship return yet.

SpaceX hits new Falcon 9 reusability milestone, retracts all four landing legs in porthttps://t.co/0pZWp2zJzC

— TESLARATI (@Teslarati) May 7, 2019

Less than two days after arriving at Port Canaveral, SpaceX technicians had already begun the landing leg retractions in what was the first actual attempt in months. Falcon 9 Block 5 debuted back in May 2018 with comments from Musk indicating that retractable legs were one of several major reusability-focused changes, but SpaceX recovery technicians never got beyond a handful of partial tests in the second half of 2018.

This ended with a truly flawless full retraction of all four landing legs on May 7th, confirmed when booster B1056 was flipped horizontally, loaded onto a powered transporter, and driven back to a SpaceX refurbishment facility with all four scorched legs installed.

SpaceX has completed the first landing leg retraction, crews locked it in place and removed the cable.

This is one of the upgraded features on Falcon 9 Block 5, for rapid reusability.

Here’s a quick video of the lift. @Teslarati@SpaceX#Falcon9Block5pic.twitter.com/59vhkcy02J

— TomCross (@_TomCross_) May 7, 2019

Even more impressively, although it’s impossible to know if the retracted legs were removed, inspected, and reattached during refurbishment, all four of those legs were unambiguously flown again on B1056’s second launch less than three months later. Some cursory analysis of photos of CRS-18 taken by SpaceX, NASA, and others definitively identifies all four landing legs as the same ones that flew on CRS-17 – installed in the same positions, no less.

The white, chalk-like features on the outside of Falcon 9 B1056’s landing legs are the incontrovertible scorch-marks of reuse. (SpaceX)
Falcon 9 B1046 displays its own scorched legs after supporting SpaceX’s first launch of a twice-flown booster in December 2018. (Pauline Acalin)

At least in the context of the Falcon family of rockets, SpaceX’s ultimate goal is to dramatically lower the cost of Falcon 9 and Heavy launches by quickly, easily, and safely reusing every part of the rocket except its orbital upper stage, which makes maybe 10-15% of hardware costs. A magnitude reduction in costs is thus out of the question for the Falcon family – a challenge that will be tackled instead by Starship and Super Heavy, a new clean-sheet launch vehicle.

Nevertheless, it’s entirely possible that Falcon 9 missions will be able to launch for 3-5 times less than their current list price ($62M) within a year or two and definitely before the family is replaced by its successor(s). In fact, according to CEO Elon Musk, SpaceX has already lowered the average base price nearly 20%, cutting it to $50M to communicate some of the financial rewards of efficient reuse to its customers.

Falcon rocket reentry from space with double sonic booms pic.twitter.com/6DDPjcOgQH

— e^👁🥧 (@elonmusk) July 28, 2019

Of course, it’s important to remember that even if SpaceX gets to a point where it could technically cut its launch prices in half (or more), breaking even on a marginal cost basis does not account for SpaceX’s desire to recoup some of the $1B+ it has spent perfecting Falcon reusability. The fact that prices have (at least according to Musk) been lowered a decent amount is a good sign that SpaceX will choose market expansion over greed, but one can never be certain and Falcon 9 and Heavy pricing may very well never reflect their true reusability.

For now, SpaceX’s rapid progress from zero landing leg retraction to retracting the same booster’s same four landing legs twice in less than three months is an excellent sign that Block 5’s capabilities continue to be refined. In terms of milestones, the first launch of a thrice-flown booster is up next for Falcon 9, as is the first reuse of a recovered Falcon fairing half (or two).

Check out Teslarati’s newsletters for prompt updates, on-the-ground perspectives, and unique glimpses of SpaceX’s rocket launch and recovery processes.

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