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♦ Note From The Curator ♦
The top three stories in this issue of Elon Musk News are:
In this issue I have news on SpaceX's successful Falcon 9 launch, a report from the NHTSA which shows that Tesla's autopilot reduces crashes by 90%, SpaceX's hyperloop pod competition, mining Lithium close to home, and much more!
Thanks so much for being part of this newsletter, and enjoy issue 67!
♦ Featured Quote ♦
"When starting SpaceX I thought the odds of success were less than 10%, and I just accepted that I would probably just lose everything. But that maybe we would make some progress. If we could just move the ball forward, even if we died some other company could pick up the baton and keep moving it forward. So that would still do some good."
Descending from the cloudless sky and touching down in a burst of flames and cloud of gas, the first-stage booster of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket landed safely on the droneship landing pad Just Read the Instructions (named for one of the starships in Iain M. Banks' novel The Player of Games) Saturday at just after 10 a.m. Pacific time.
In addition to SpaceX's ongoing attempts to recover and reuse their rockets, the mission of this launch was to deploy ten Iridium Communications satellites. The mission was the first of seven scheduled launches, creating a satellite communication network that will cover the entire globe.
On April 8, 2016, SpaceX completed its Falcon 9 Dragon cargo mission to resupply the International Space Station (ISS), and the first stage of its booster made history by successfully landing on a droneship for the first time. The same core recovered from that mission is now scheduled to make history once again and launch SES-10 no earlier than February 22, 2017.
The next scheduled launch for Falcon 9 has been tentatively set for January 26th from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Its cargo will be EchoStar Corp's EchoStar 23, a satellite providing Ku, Ka, and S-band communications capacity for direct-television broadcast services in Brazil.
NASA also has another ISS cargo mission on the books with SpaceX, currently scheduled for February 8th. This will be the 10th Dragon cargo mission that SpaceX has been contracted for.
SpaceX plans to start a business to provide Internet using satellites, and based on financial documents obtained by the Wall Street Journal, SpaceX hopes it can gain enough revenue from the satellite-internet business to finance missions to Mars.
SpaceX has high hopes for this business. The company projected that the business would have over 40 million subscribers by 2025, bringing in more than $30 billion in revenue. Even though the business is still in the planning stages, SpaceX expects that the revenue from the business will overtake SpaceX's core launch division in three years. The company plans to launch over 4,000 satellites for a constellation that provides global Internet access — and the first phase will be online in 2018.
The U.S. Department of Transportation has closed its investigation into a May 7 collision with a tractor-trailer that killed a driver using Autopilot. The agency found no indication of a safety problem with it. In fact, the evidence provided by Tesla included crucial data that's been missing from the safety debate surrounding automated cars: crash rates. It turns out that, according to the data Tesla gave investigators, installing Autopilot prevents crashes—by an astonishing 40 percent.
Though the increase in range on the 100D is minimal when compared to the company's performance-based P100D with 100 kWh battery pack, the price difference is substantial. A Model S P100D starts at a base price of $137,800 and bundles in the Smart Air Suspension feature while the non-performance 100D is priced considerably less at $95,800, but does not include the Smart Air Suspension. The $42,000 price difference buys unprecedented acceleration but with a minimal increase in range of 20 miles. The same story can be told for the Model X. A Model X P100D costs $37,000 less than the P100D version and offers 6 more miles of range.
Tesla's Gigafactory will soon produce more than just lithium-ion battery cells for the company's line of energy storage systems and fleet of electric cars. Nevada governor Brian Sandoval announced on Tuesday, during his State of the State address, that Tesla will be investing an additional $350 million into the Sparks, Nevada-based factory to expand production to include motors and 'gearboxes' for the upcoming Model 3.
Sandoval also noted that Tesla is expected to bring an additional 550 skilled labor jobs to the Gigafactory. The factory has over 1,000 full-time employees at this time and 2,000 construction workers working on the facility.
Morgan Stanley's analyst Adam Jonas is one of the few analysts covering Tesla capable of moving the needle with his commentary on the company, which he did Thursday morning. Tesla's stock surged 4% in pre-market trading after Jonas issued a new note in which he is much more optimistic about his delivery estimates for the Model 3 and it resulted in an upgrade to an 'outperform' rating and a price target of $305.00 – up from $242.00.
"We are deeply interested in Tesla's self-driving system," Kazuhiro Tsuga, Panasonic CEO, said in an interview on Thursday. "We are hoping to expand our collaboration by jointly developing devices for that, such as sensors."
Tesla is already shipping cars with self-driving sensors. Its Hardware 2 platform, which launched in October, is a combination of sensors designed to support autonomous driving when the software is ready in the future. But Panasonic is confident that, by collaborating instead, it could help improve the quality of images supplied to the software.
Panasonic believes it could help supply a number of parts, including image sensors that can sense objects at higher speed without distortion. Self-driving cars need an incredible amount of data to make a decision, so any reduction in distortion will be a welcome benefit. The company hopes to expand its car part business, a sector that includes navigation systems, to $17.43 billion by March 2019, over $6 billion more than the business was worth in 2016.
Electric GT, an all-Tesla racing championship, recently announced that they will use the Tesla Model S P100D instead of the Model S P85+ for their race car. They unveiled their modified version at the annual Autosport International Show in Birmingham on Saturday and claimed some impressive new specs.
60 mph could easily be reached in 2.0 seconds and it would make the vehicle untouchable up to that speed. They claim to have reduced the vehicle's ~2,250 kg weight by about 500 kg to achieve that kind of performance. Of course, stripping the interior accounts for the bulk of the weight reduction, but they also claim to have changed parts of the suspension and brakes.
Tesla seems to be well on the way to securing a supply of lithium much closer to home. As part of the incentive package that Nevada granted to Tesla for building the Gigafactory, it extended a road connection to US Highway 50 (known as "the loneliest road in America"), which shortens the route between the Gigafactory and major lithium deposits at Silver Peak, the location of the only active lithium operation in Nevada. A year later, according to Seeking Alpha, Tesla entered into a lithium supply agreement with Pure Energy Minerals, which has developed a new solvent extraction process to separate high-purity lithium chloride from brine sources in the area.
Get ready to see Hyperloop concept pods fire through the 1-mile test track located outside of SpaceX and Tesla's Design Studio in Hawthorne, California, next week between January 27-29. SpaceX's sponsored Hyperloop Pod Competition is an incentive prize competition created to inspire university students and independent engineering teams to design and build a subscale prototype transport vehicle (a "Hyperloop pod") that will demonstrate technical feasibility of various aspects of the high speed transportation concept. To support this competition, SpaceX has constructed a test track outside of its headquarters.
In an interview published Monday, transport secretary Anthony Foxx said that the vacuum-sealed Hyperloop train system may find itself up against regulations that mean it's easier to get started in other countries first. "The technology, the science behind it, is very sound, but it's one of those examples of, the technology may be there before the government is. Will it happen some place? Absolutely, I'm sure it will. Not even sure it's going to happen first in the U.S. to be honest, but I think there'll be some proof points out there to show that Hyperloop is a real thing."
The problem is that currently rail regulations are unsuitable for the 700mph train. Foxx compared applying current regulations to the train as "like putting a square peg in a round hole." Unlike self-driving cars that act similarly to current cars, rule changes that would suit Hyperloop would require Congress' seal of approval.
On Wednesday, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies signed an "exploratory agreement" with the Czech city of Brno, which wants to examine the feasibility of a hyperloop line to Bratislava, Slovakia, where HTT also is working with the government. Being fired through a tube will cut the 80-mile trip, which takes 90 minutes by rail, to 10 minutes.
"The world is ready to embrace the hyperloop," says CEO Dirk Ahlborn. Ahlborn claims his engineers have made serious progress. "We have solved all the technical issues," he says. They know how to make pods levitate, maintain the necessary air pressure within the tube, and accelerate human beings to frightening speeds—and, more importantly—bring them to stop. Ahlborn says he'll have a prototype system under construction in California or Slovakia by the end of the year.
On Sunday, Musk shared on Twitter the entire version of the 1970 science fiction film Colossus: The Forbin Project. The film chronicles the implementation and advancement of a military supercomputer named "Colossus" which is tasked with control of all the nuclear missiles in the United States. The fictional U.S. President in the film calls it "the perfect defense system." Eventually, by the end of the movie, Colossus gains not only sentience, but total control of the entire Earth, telling its creator — Dr. Forbin (Eric Braeden) — that freedom is an "illusion."
Nevertheless, even if it eliminates freedom, Colossus does in fact eliminate the threat of war. In response to a question from one of his followers on Twitter about whether or not Elon Musk believed Colossus has a sad or happy ending, Musk replied, it's "not the ideal ending."