ArticlesBlog

SpaceX’s plan to fly you across the globe in 30 minutes | Gwynne Shotwell

SpaceX’s plan to fly you across the globe in 30 minutes | Gwynne Shotwell


Chris Anderson: So two months ago,
something crazy happened. Can you talk us through this, because
this caught so many people’s attention? Gwynne Shotwell: I’ll stay quiet
for the beginning, and then I’ll start talking. (Video) Voices: Five, four,
three, two, one. (Cheering) Woman: Liftoff. Go Falcon Heavy. GS: So this was such
an important moment for SpaceX. With the Falcon 9
and now the Falcon Heavy, we can launch into orbit any payload that has previously
been conceived or is conceived right now. We’ve got a couple of launches
of Falcon Heavy later this year, so this had to go right. It was the first time we flew it, and the star of the show, of course, brother and sister side boosters landing. I was excited. (Laughter) Thanking my team. By the way, there’s maybe
a thousand people standing around me right there. And Starman. Starman did not steal the show, though — the boosters did. CA: (Laughter) CA: There had to be some payload —
why not put a Tesla into space? GS: Exactly. It was perfect. CA: Gwynne, let’s wind the clock back. I mean, how did you end up an engineer
and President of SpaceX? Were you supernerdy as a girl? GS: I don’t think I was nerdy, but I was definitely doing the things
that the girls weren’t doing. I asked my mom, who was an artist,
when I was in third grade, how a car worked, so she had no idea so she gave me
a book, and I read it, and sure enough, my first job
out of my mechanical engineering degree was with Chrysler Motors
in the automotive industry. But I actually got into engineering
not because of that book but because my mom took me
to a Society of Women Engineers event, and I fell in love with
the mechanical engineer that spoke. She was doing really critical work, and I loved her suit. (Laughter) And that’s what a 15-year-old
girl connects with. And I used to shy away
from telling that story, but if that’s what caused me
to be an engineer — hey, I think we should talk about that. CA: Sixteen years ago, you became
employee number seven at SpaceX, and then over the next years, you somehow built a multi-billion-dollar
relationship with NASA, despite the fact that SpaceX’s
first three launches blew up. I mean, how on earth did you do that? GS: So actually, selling rockets
is all about relationships and making a connection
with these customers. When you don’t have a rocket to sell, what’s really important
is selling your team, selling the business savvy of your CEO — that’s not really hard
to sell these days — and basically, making sure
that any technical issue that they have or any concern,
you can address right away. So I think it was helpful
for me to be an engineer. I think it was helpful to my role
of running sales for Elon. CA: And currently,
a big focus of the company is, I guess, kind of a race with Boeing to be the first to provide
the service to NASA of actually putting humans into orbit. Safety considerations obviously
come to the fore, here. How are you sleeping? GS: I actually sleep really well.
I’m a good sleeper, that’s my best thing. But I think the days leading up
to our flying crew will probably be a little sleepless. But really, fundamentally,
safety comes in the design of the system that you’re going
to fly people on, and so we’ve been working for years, actually, almost a decade,
on this technology. We’re taking the Dragon cargo spaceship and we’re upgrading it
to be able to carry crew. And as I said, we’ve been
engineering in these safety systems for quite some time. CA: So isn’t it that there’s one system
that actually allows instant escape if there’s a problem. GS: That’s right. It’s called
the launch escape system. CA: I think we have that. Let’s show that. GS: We’ve got a video
of a test that we ran in 2015. So this simulated having
a really bad day on the pad. Basically, you want the capsule
to get out of Dodge. You want it to get away from the rocket that had a bad day right below it. This is if there was an issue on the pad. We also will be doing
another demonstration later this year on if we have an issue
with the rocket during flight. CA: And those rockets have another
potential function as well, eventually. GS: Yeah, so the launch escape system
for Dragon is pretty unique. It’s an integrated launch escape system. It’s basically a pusher, so the propellant system and the thrusters
are integrated into the capsule, and so if it detects a rocket problem,
it pushes the capsule away. Capsule safety systems in the past
have been like tractor pullers, and the reason we didn’t want to do that is that puller needs to come off before
you can safely reenter that capsule, so we wanted to eliminate, in design,
that possibility of failure. CA: I mean, SpaceX has made
the regular reusability of rockets seem almost routine, which means you’ve done something that no national
space program, for example, has been able to achieve. How was that possible? GS: I think there’s a couple of things — there’s a million things, actually — that have allowed SpaceX to be successful. The first is that we’re kind of standing
on the shoulders of giants. Right? We got to look at the rocket industry
and the developments to date, and we got to pick the best ideas, leverage them. We also didn’t have technology
that we had to include in our vehicle systems. So we didn’t have to design
around legacy components that maybe weren’t the most reliable
or were particularly expensive, so we really were able to let physics
drive the design of these systems. CA: I mean, there are other programs
started from scratch. That last phrase you said there,
you let physics drive the design, what’s an example of that? GS: There’s hundreds of examples,
actually, of that, but basically, we got to construct
the vehicle design from, really, a clean sheet of paper, and we got to make decisions
that we wanted to make. The tank architecture —
it’s a common dome design. Basically it’s like two beer cans
stacked together, one full of liquid oxygen, one full of RP, and that basically saved weight. It allowed us to basically take
more payload for the same design. One of the other elements of the vehicle
that we’re flying right now is we do use densified
liquid oxygen and densified RP, so it’s ultracold, and it allows you to pack
more propellent into the vehicle. It is done elsewhere, probably not to the degree that we do it, but it adds a lot
of margin to the vehicle, which obviously adds reliability. CA: Gwynne, you became President
of SpaceX 10 years ago, I think. What’s it been like to work
so closely with Elon Musk? GS: So I love working for Elon. I’ve been doing it for 16 years
this year, actually. I don’t think I’m dumb enough
to do something for 16 years that I don’t like doing. He’s funny and fundamentally without
him saying anything he drives you to do your best work. He doesn’t have to say a word. You just want to do great work. CA: You might be the person
best placed to answer this question, which has puzzled me, which is to shed light
on this strange unit of time called “Elon time.” For example, last year,
I asked Elon, you know, when Tesla would
auto-drive across America, and he said by last December, which is definitely true,
if you take Elon time into account. So what’s the conversion ratio
between Elon time and real time? (Laughter) GS: You put me
in a unique position, Chris. Thanks for that. There’s no question that Elon
is very aggressive on his timelines, but frankly, that drives us
to do things better and faster. I think all the time
and all the money in the world does not yield the best solution, and so putting that pressure on the team
to move quickly is really important. CA: It feels like you play
kind of a key intermediary role here. I mean, he sets these crazy goals
that have their impact, but, in other circumstances,
might blow up a team or set impossible expectations. It feels like you’ve found a way
of saying, “Yes, Elon,” and then making it happen
in a way that is acceptable both to him and to your company,
to your employees. GS: There is two really important
realizations for that. First of all, when Elon says something,
you have to pause and not immediately blurt out,
“Well, that’s impossible,” or, “There’s no way we’re going
to do that. I don’t know how.” So you zip it, and you think about it, and you find ways to get that done. And the other thing I realized, and it made my job satisfaction
substantially harder. So I always felt like my job
was to take these ideas and kind of turn them into company goals,
make them achievable, and kind of roll the company over
from this steep slope, get it comfortable. And I noticed every time
I felt like we were there, we were rolling over,
people were getting comfortable, Elon would throw something out there, and all of a sudden, we’re not comfortable and we’re climbing that steep slope again. But then once I realized
that that’s his job, and my job is to get the company
close to comfortable so he can push again
and put us back on that slope, then I started liking my job a lot more, instead of always being frustrated. CA: So if I estimated
that the conversation ratio for Elon time to your time is about 2x, am I a long way out there? GS: That’s not terrible,
and you said it, I didn’t. (Laughter) CA: You know, looking ahead, one huge initiative SpaceX is believed to be,
rumored to be working on, is a massive network of literally
thousands of low earth orbit satellites to provide high-bandwidth,
low-cost internet connection to every square foot of planet earth. Is there anything
you can tell us about this? GS: We actually don’t chat very much
about this particular project, not because we’re hiding anything, but this is probably
one of the most challenging if not the most challenging
project we’ve undertaken. No one has been successful deploying a huge constellation
for internet broadband, or basically for satellite internet, and I don’t think physics
is the difficulty here. I think we can come up
with the right technology solution, but we need to make a business out of it, and it’ll cost the company
about 10 billion dollars or more to deploy this system. And so we’re marching steadily along but we’re certainly
not claiming victory yet. CA: I mean, the impact of that,
obviously, if that happened to the world, of connectivity everywhere,
would be pretty radical, and perhaps mainly for good — I mean, it changes a lot
if suddenly everyone can connect cheaply. GS: Yeah, there’s no question
it’ll change the world. CA: How much of a worry is it, and how much of a drag
on the planning is it, are concerns just about space junk? People worry a lot about this. This would a huge increase in the total
number of satellites in orbit. Is that a concern? GS: So space debris is a concern,
there’s no question — not because it’s so likely to happen, but the consequences of it happening
are pretty devastating. You could basically spew
a bunch of particles in orbit that could take out that orbit
from being useful for decades or longer. So as a matter of fact, we are required to bring down
our second stage after every mission so it doesn’t end up being
a rocket carcass orbiting earth. So you really need to be
a good steward of that. CA: So despite
the remarkable success there of that Falcon Heavy rocket, you’re actually not focusing on that
as your future development plan. You’re doubling down
to a much bigger rocket called the BFR, which stands for … GS: It’s the Big Falcon Rocket.
CA: The Big Falcon Rocket, that’s right. (Laughter) What’s the business logic of doing this when you invested all that
in that incredible technology, and now you’re just going
to something much bigger. Why? GS: Actually, we’ve learned some lessons over the duration where we’ve
been developing these launch systems. What we want to do is not introduce
a new product before we’ve been able to convince the customers that this
is the product that they should move to, so we’re working on
the Big Falcon Rocket now, but we’re going to continue
flying Falcon 9s and Falcon Heavies until there is absolute
widespread acceptance of BFR. But we are working on it right now, we’re just not going to cancel
Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy and just put in place BFR. CA: The logic is that BFR is what you need
to take humanity to Mars? GS: That’s correct. CA: But somehow, you’ve also found
other business ideas for this. GS: Yes. BFR can take the satellites
that we’re currently taking to orbit to many orbits. It allows for even a new class
of satellites to be delivered to orbit. Basically, the width, the diameter
of the fairing is eight meters, so you can think about
what giant telescopes you can put in that fairing,
in that cargo bay, and see really incredible things and discover incredible things in space. But then there are some
residual capabilities that we have out of BFR as well. CA: A residual capability?
GS: It’s a residual capability. CA: Is that what you call this?
Talk about what the heck this is. Oh wait a sec — GS: That’s Falcon Heavy. That’s worth pointing out, by the way. What a beautiful rocket, and that hangar could just fit
the Statue of Liberty in it, so you get a sense of size
of that Falcon Heavy Rocket. CA: And the fact that
there are 27 engines there. That’s part of the design principle that you, rather than just
inventing ever bigger rockets, you team them up. GS: It’s exactly this residual capability. We developed the Merlin engine
for the Falcon 1 launch vehicle. We could have tossed that engine and built an entirely new engine
for the Falcon 9. It would have been called
something different, because Falcon 9 is nine Merlin engines, but instead of spending a billion dollars
on a brand new engine, we put nine of them together
on the back end of Falcon 9. Residual capability:
glue three Falcon 9s together and you have the largest
operational rocket flying. And so it was expensive to do, but it was a much more efficient path
than starting from scratch. CA: And the BFR is the equivalent
of how much bigger than that, in terms of its power? GS: BFR is about, I believe,
two and half times the size of this. CA: Right, and so that allows you — I mean, I still don’t really believe
this video that we’re about to play here. What on earth is this? GS: So it currently is on earth, but this is basically
space travel for earthlings. I can’t wait for this residual capability. Basically, what we’re going to do
is we’re going to fly BFR like an aircraft and do point-to-point travel on earth, so you can take off
from New York City or Vancouver and fly halfway across the globe. You’ll be on the BFR for roughly
half an hour or 40 minutes, and the longest part —
yeah, it’s so awesome. (Applause) The longest part of that flight
is actually the boat out and back. (Laughter) CA: I mean. Gwynne, come on,
this is awesome, but it’s crazy, right? This is never going to actually happen. GS: Oh no, it’s definitely
going to happen. This is definitely going to happen. CA: How? (Applause) So first of all, countries are going
to accept this incoming missile — (Laughter) GS: Chris, so can you imagine
us trying to convince a federal range, Air Force bases to take the incomers? Because we’re doing it now,
regularly, right? We’re bringing the first stages back, and we’re landing them
on federal property on an Air Force base. So I think doing it, I don’t know, 10 kilometers out from a city, maybe
it’s only five kilometers out from a city. CA: So how many passengers
can possibly afford the fortune of flying by space? GS: So the first BFR is going to have
roughly a hundred passengers. And let’s talk a little bit
about the business. Everyone thinks rockets
are really expensive, and to a large degree they are, and how could we possibly compete
with airline tickets here? But if you think about it,
if I can do this trip in half an hour to an hour, I can do dozens of these a day, right? And yet, a long-haul aircraft
can only make one of those flights a day. So even if my rocket
was slightly more expensive and the fuel is
a little bit more expensive, I can run 10x at least
what they’re running in a day, and really make the revenue
that I need to out of that system. CA: So you really believe this is going
to be deployed at some point in our amazing future. When? GS: Within a decade, for sure. CA: And this is Gwynne time or Elon time? GS: That’s Gwynne time.
I’m sure Elon will want us to go faster. (Laughter) CA: OK, that’s certainly amazing. (Laughter) GS: I’m personally invested in this one,
because I travel a lot and I do not love to travel, and I would love to get to see
my customers in Riyadh, leave in the morning
and be back in time to make dinner. CA: So we’re going to test this out. So within 10 years,
an economy price ticket, or, like, a couple thousand dollars
per person to fly New York to Shanghai. GS: Yeah, I think it’ll be between
economy and business, but you do it in an hour. CA: Yeah, well, OK,
that is definitely something. (Laughter) And meanwhile, the other use
of BFR is being developed to go a little bit further than Shanghai. Talk about this. You guys have actually developed
quite a detailed, sort of, picture of how humans might fly to Mars, and what that would look like. GS: Yeah. So we’ve got a video,
this is a cropped video from others we’ve shown, and then
there’s a couple of new bits to it. But basically, you’re going
to lift off from a pad, you’ve got a booster as well as the BFS,
the Big Falcon Spaceship. It’s going to take off. The booster is going to drop
the spaceship off in orbit, low earth orbit, and then return just like
we’re returning boosters right now. So it sounds incredible,
but we’re working on the pieces, and you can see us achieve these pieces. So booster comes back. The new thing here is that we’re going to actually land
on the pad that we launched from. Currently, we land on a separate pad,
or we land out on a boat. Fast, quick connect. You take a cargo ship full of fuel, or a fuel depot, put it on that booster, get that in orbit, do a docking maneuver,
refuel the spaceship, and head on to your destination, and this one is Mars. CA: So, like, a hundred people
go to Mars at one time, taking, what, six months? Two months? GS: It ends up depending
on how big the rocket is. I think this first version,
and we’ll continue to make even bigger BFRs, I think it’s a three-month trip. Right now, the average is six to eight, but we’re going to try to do it faster. CA: When do you believe SpaceX
will land the first human on Mars? GS: It’s a very similar time frame
from the point-to-point. It’s the same capability. It will be within a decade —
not this decade. CA: In real time, again, within a decade. Well, that would also be amazing. (Laughter) Why, though? Seriously, why? I mean, you’ve got a company
where this is the official stated mission. Has everyone actually
bought into that mission, given that, I mean,
there’s a lot of people around who think, come on,
you’ve got so much talent, so much technology capability. There are so many things on earth
that need urgent attention. Why would you have this escape trip
off to another planet? (Applause) GS: So I am glad you asked that, but I think we need
to expand our minds a little bit. There are plenty of things to do on earth, but there are lots of companies
working on that. I think we’re working on one of
the most important things we possibly can, and that’s to find another place
for humans to live and survive and thrive. If something happened on earth, you need humans living somewhere else. (Applause) It’s the fundamental risk reduction
for the human species. And this does not subvert making our planet here better
and doing a better job taking care of it, but I think you need
multiple paths to survival, and this is one of them. And let’s not talk about the downer piece, like, you go to Mars to make sure
all earthlings don’t die. That’s terrible, actually,
that’s a terrible reason to go do it. Fundamentally,
it’s another place to explore, and that’s what makes humans
different from animals, it’s our sense of exploration
and sense of wonderment and learning something new. And then I also have to say, this is the first step
in us moving to other solar systems and potentially other galaxies, and I think this is the only time
I ever out-vision Elon, because I want to meet other people
in other solar systems. Mars is fine, but it is
a fixer-upper planet. There’s work to do there
to make it habitable. (Laughter) I want to find people,
or whatever they call themselves, in another solar system. CA: That is a big vision. Gwynne Shotwell, thank you. You have one of the most
amazing jobs on the planet. GS: Thank you very much. Thanks, Chris.

Comments (36)

  1. @14:24 I know she said falcon but I can't unhear the other F word.

  2. "Mars is a fixer upper planet". After we fix it, we can flip it to the Centaurians πŸ˜‚πŸ‘

  3. In 2002 I created a hydrogen powered pressure washer. Then a hydrogen powered boat in 2011. Next year, a hydrogen powered Dam!

  4. after the Big Falcon Rocket… the Mother Falcon Rocket!

  5. Felicitaciones from Argentina Buenos aires πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸŒ·πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ‘πŸ’–πŸ’–πŸ’–

  6. It would take you 30 minutes long to ease up to that velocity and another 30 minutes to slow down for safe landing. Plus the time to get from point a to point b.

  7. wow.. lets go space x!!!!

  8. What a huge waste of money to send people to a place where they either wont make it alive or wont last long on mars.

  9. Don’t see it for replacing even very long flights but as Space tourism could be huge. Bet could book 100 people each week for a two orbit, 3-4 hour flight for $25k? Many people could save that much as a bucket item, to see earth from space, float weightlessly for hours. Eventually even maybe a orbital hotel?

  10. Skip to 15:00 if you want to hear about the subject in the title folks .

  11. Well Elon Musk is Tony Stark. Gwynne is Captain Kathryn Janeway of the Federation Star ship Voyager

  12. We don’t live on a spinning globe. Start reporting the truth.

  13. I full heartedly wish you luck, guys. This is future of mankind you’ve been working on.

  14. Sweet Jesus. . Employee number 7? WOW! Your name as well. And MARS…… POWERFUL… Congratulations on your promotion! Love Elon. 17 years now. Elon TIME πŸ•°οΈβŒ›πŸ”­πŸŒ πŸŒ™β˜€οΈπŸŒ β˜„οΈπŸŒ‘πŸ‡ΊπŸ‡ΈπŸŒΉ Ms. TREE! Eclipse of the MOON on July 27, 2018
    My birthday! FALCON. Love it! They called Uncle Tommy Mr. Falcon of the Atlanta Falcons.

  15. Who else can’t wait to come back to this video in another decade or so to comment about whether or not any of this happened?

  16. Amazing! I too believe we will find others out there in the stars!

  17. The dangerous oxygen surplus must be burned.

  18. Wow I can't believe that spacex people dont know that the earth is flat.

  19. 12:07 big FALCON rocket

  20. I like the way she describes "old technology" – legacy systems…

  21. No one talking about the interviewer, he did an amazing job.

  22. carbon no longer an issue ? ?

  23. Fast travelling on Earth is destructive, we dont NEED to travel, we have the internet to exchange information. All it does is using ressources for comfort. The only travel we NEED is space travel, at this point.

    Tourism is destructive consumerism, as is shipping wares instead of producing them as locally as possible.

  24. what a fantastic woman. girls, stop playing with barbies.

  25. I don't think anyone could afford a ticket…………

  26. Sorry, but the planet doesn't need this crap. We even need to fly less to save the atmosphere. Just because we can do something technically difficult doesn't mean we should do it. I'm not a Luddite either, I'm an engineer but our first priority should be to protect the planet.

  27. You're gonna need to be pretty rich to afford a ticket. Like 50 million rich.

  28. How amazing. Love Elon and now also Gwynne πŸ™‚

  29. This was a year & half ago,
    1.5 yrs ago. A lot has happened since then. Like a hop of the short BFR. & many other things.
    I'll be 90yrs old in ten yrs, so I guess I cld take a flight to Japan in 30 minutes, go have late supper tomorrow in Japan, then come back to Florida in the BFR into yesterday for lunch. If I left Florida at 6:00 am on Tuesday it'd be 6:00 PM on Wednesday in Japan, so, I go have supper there, get on the BFR go back to Florida into yesterday for lunch at 12:00 noon. Wldn't that be a great trip.

  30. I find the argument about fixing Earth first to be so moronic..!!!
    The irony of making this argument against arguably the only company on earth who’s mission is to save it..

  31. There is more to it then that. I believe i found out that an underground army obtained classified information from that project and plans to use it on the american people to take power

  32. i would like to know how about the seating arrangement in rocket..

  33. Are there any humans in the audience?

  34. If I am grenade then she is nuclear fission if you may

  35. meanwhile it takes me 2 hours to get to college.

    YES we need an Elon.

  36. We got to beat China and Russia going to space! We cant let them beat us!

Comment here