May 08 2015

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SMC and SpaceX on track for USAF launch certification

The Cooperative Research + Development Agreements ‘Tween SMC + SpaceX Has Been Amended. Anytime any govt process is streamlined, that’s a good day.

I’m pretty sure the CRADA process needed tweaking because the US Air Force has never run across a beast like SpaceX before. I’ve walked the production lines of all the major legacy space players: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrup, MDA, etc). Their production lines feel like they’re making FabergĂ© eggs…everyone in booties and smocks, things done one at a time, careful and slow…

I visited SpaceX in Feb 2012 and wrote the following on a game-community bulletin board (FANgamers, if you’re interested in joining a 2A, libertarian-leaning 18-and-older game community) when I got home:

Totally bitchin’!

They know they’re the shit, they know you know they’re the shit, but they’re super laid back and cool, ’cause they know they’re better than anybody else in the business.

After our meeting, they took us on a tour of the production facility. Check off bucket-list item, aye.

When we walked in, I was immediately drawn to their Mission Control room which you could see through a huge glass panel. Then I realized everyone’s attention was directed behind me over my shoulder. I turned around, and there hanging from the ceiling was the first Dragon Capsule ever in orbit, complete with scorch marks!

I saw the new Merlin 1D rockets, and the first 1D assembly for a Falcon 9 — due for launch this fall. The 1Ds are COMPLETELY different that the 1Cs — so much so that I said that they should have called the 1Ds “Merlin 2”, but then our guide told me that they’re already working on a “Merlin 2” that will leave the 1Ds in the dust just as much as the 1Ds leave the 1Cs in the dust. The 1Ds have about 50% more thrust than the 1Cs do — I can only image what the Merlin 2s will bring to the table.

I saw some of the preliminary work on the Falcon Heavy. That’s still a few years down the pike, but it is very much a priority for SpaceX management.

But the biggest take-away I drew from the experience is that this didn’t feel like a space assembly plant. I’ve been to Hughes/Boeing and Lockheed assembly plants, with everyone in booties and smocks and all. SpaceX feels like a Ford truck assembly line…er…without the union BS work practices that slow things down. They are turning and burning rockets out of there WAY faster than anyone else in the industry can possibly hope to.

I walked out of there thinking, “Well, now I see how they can launch so much cheaper than anyone else.” In 10 years, SpaceX is going to be the only place people will go to launch stuff. All the other launch companies trying to compete with SpaceX are dead dinosaurs walking.

But no gift shop!

I haven’t seen anything over the past 3 years that would change my mind.

Permanent link to this article: http://www.newspaceraces.com/2015/05/08/smc-and-spacex-on-track-for-usaf-launch-certification/

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