While the cause of last week's Flacon 9 explosion is still unknown, we do have four articles in this issue about the incident - each with careful analysis. You will also find news about the Model 3, Tesla's push to achieve GAAP profitability in Q3, and more.
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"Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy taught me that the tough thing is figuring out what questions to ask"
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Elon Musk has declared the Falcon 9 disaster, which made headlines earlier this month when it destroyed a Facebook satellite, SpaceX's "most difficult and complex failure" in its 14-year history. Early Friday, Musk took to Twitter and reached out to NASA, the FAA, the U.S. Air Force and anyone else who may have information relating to the disaster. Anyone who took a recording of the event has been invited to send the footage to email@example.com.
Although the explosion remains a mystery, Musk may have a lead. Noting a quiet bang that can be heard moments before the incident, Musk tweeted that he is seeking to find out the origin of the noise, presumably in the hope that it would lead to an explanation.
In the absence of further hard facts, rumors have swirled. Critics of private space ventures and those with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo are celebrating and embracing timidity. They are pointing to this launch failure and those of other commercial firms (Orbital ATK, Virgin Galactic) as evidence that space entrepreneurs are "moving too fast." Such pessimism is ironic coming from a launch industry that is supposed to be all about the future but that has, in fact, been stuck in the same operating mode for decades.
Much ado has been made over the destruction of the $200 million Amos-6 satellite but, as is routine, that payload was insured against this sort of event because, well, bad stuff happens to spacecraft. Rockets are perhaps the most complex machines ever developed. The engineering challenges are so staggeringly complex that setbacks are inevitable. In fact, industry experts are fond of saying "space is hard" and often use a 10 percent failure rate as a "rule of thumb."
What caused the failure remains unknown. In a statement late September 2, just before a three-day holiday weekend, SpaceX said it was "in the early process of reviewing approximately 3000 channels of telemetry and video data covering a time period of just 35–55 milliseconds" around the time of the explosion (or "fast fire," as SpaceX founder Elon Musk described it on Twitter.) An accident investigation team that included SpaceX, the FAA, NASA, and the Air Force were studying that data, the company said.
Ground crews could face months of cleanup and repairs to SpaceX's primary launch pad at Cape Canaveral after a rocket explosion wrecked the facility last week, but officials said that other pads in Florida and California could support Falcon 9 flights when the booster is ready to blast off again.
Robert Cumberford, a long-time car designer turned design critic, turned his sharp critical skills to the Tesla Model 3 for his 'By Design' column this week. While Cumberford had a prolific career as a rcar designer, he is now best known as a respected car design critic writing for Automobile magazine.
He was particularly impressed by the front-fascia: "There is a lot of equally carefully considered and beautifully executed sculpting ahead of the front-wheel centerline. An unobtrusive little crease in the front fascia skin just below the headlamp openings gives some direction to the plain surface, with more thrust provided by the headlamp covers ending in a point inboard and forward."
Last week, we reported on comments made by Elon Musk in a company-wide email obtained by Bloomberg. The publication had only published excerpts from the memo at the time, but now that we have the full email, we learn that Elon Musk actually thinks that Tesla could be GAAP profitable in the current quarter – something the company hasn't achieved in over 3 years. Here's the important excerpt from Musk's email:
"Right now, we are tracking to be a few percentage points negative on cash flow and GAAP profitability, but this is a small number, so I'm confident that we can rally hard and push the results into positive territory."
Tesla has announced that it will be launching a fleet of mobile Design Studio galleries across North America through its new "Explores" tour. Unlike popup showrooms that the company has been installing across malls and smaller venues, the new program will see Tesla-branded Airstream trailers converted into showroom centers and towed by the company's all-electric Model X crossover SUV.
The new program is presumably another way for Tesla to extend its brand reach to consumers and stimulate sales without having to take on traditional advertising. If the program proves to be successful, we expect Tesla will be using this as a way to test the waters in markets where the Silicon Valley automaker has seen resistance from state law makers, preventing the company from selling direct to consumers.
Tesla (TSLA) announced that it secured a loan of up to $300 million with Deutsche Bank for its direct lease program. The company disclosed that the deal "significantly reduced" its cash requirements for its direct leasing program and therefore, it could reduce the amount of capital the company was planning to raise on the public market.
Last week, the company disclosed that it was currently planning another round of financing for Model 3 and Gigafactory. Tesla never disclosed how much they were planning to raise, but it has now apparently gone down because of the deal with Deutsche Bank.
Last January, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) announced it had filed permits with Kings County in California to build "the world's first passenger-ready Hyperloop system." But the company never completed its planning application, according to a recent feature story in Wired.
In an email, HTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn said that all the necessary work, like mapping and surveying, is already underway. "At the moment we are finishing the environmental studies and expect to be able to break ground later this year," he said. "These are buerocratical [sic] procedures we don't influence."
SolarCity has its own "Gigafactory" for solar panels going up in Buffalo where it plans to produce at least 1 gigawatt of capacity per year. The plant, which is largely being funded by the state of New York through Gov. Cuomo's "Buffalo Billion" is almost ready to start production just as Tesla is about to close its acquisition of SolarCity.
For the occasion, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo visited the factory yesterday and came back impressed. "I am just blown away by this facility. When you see it, you are just blown away by the reality of it." SolarCity will take control of the 1.2 million-square-foot factory as soon as next week.