Musk on Falcon 9, COTS-D, and protests

Elon Musk was the luncheon speaker Tuesday at the Satellite 2009 conference in Washington. His speech was a general overview of what SpaceX is doing on both the Falcon launch vehicles and Dragon spacecraft, but he did offer a few new and interesting items:

  • Musk said that SpaceX has 19 Falcon 9 orders (12 of which under NASA’s commercial ISS resupply program), a number that he said would “soon” be 21. He didn’t offer any details on the two new orders other than that they are not for US Government customers. He did add (given the audience of primarily commercial satellite professionals) that the commercial launch market was “important” to SpaceX, and that the company was in negotiations with several potential customers.
  • The first Falcon 9 launch is scheduled for this summer. Musk said after his speech that the biggest obstacle to an on-time launch this summer is the fairing and fairing separation system for the rocket, which SpaceX is doing in-house. He also said that SpaceX hopes to do 2-3 Falcon 9 launches this year and 4-5 next year.
  • The next Falcon 1 launch is scheduled for April 21, when it will launch Malaysia’s Razaksat from Omelek Island; the satellite arrived in Kwajalein just within the last few days. Musk did note that the launch might slip towards the end of the month.
  • Musk noted in passing that he hopes that NASA will “turn on” the option for Capability D (human space transportation) in its COTS agreement with SpaceX this year, but didn’t go into further details about the prospects for getting that done.
  • After his speech he said that SpaceX is not affected by PlanetSpace’s protest of the commercial resupply contracts NASA awarded in December to SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation. Musk said that PlanetSpace has dropped its protest of the SpaceX award but is continuing to pursue its protest of the Orbital award: SpaceX scored better than the other two companies on technical and financial merits, but PlanetSpace did better than Orbital. Thus, he said, even if the GAO sides with PlanetSpace in its protest, it should not affect the SpaceX contract.

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