The SpaceX (and Tesla) masterplan (Part 1) –

(This can be a followup publish to (now) 4 earlier posts on forecasting.

  • The first in Might 2015 forecast each blimp-based and devoted building-based drone deployments (later patented by Amazon);
  • The second in October 2015 largely predicted Elon Musk’s Tesla Masterplan Half Deux by 9 months
  • The third in July 2016 amongst other things appropriately hypothesised using Mannequin X falcon wings for future attainable Tesla bus designs.
  • The fourth was yesterday on SpaceX telecoms plans. That is the expanded version.
  • I attempt to get it principally proper however I primarily love the idle hypothesis).

In the mode of Elon, I suggest to outline what I feel SpaceX will do over the subsequent decade, how that intersects with Tesla’s strategy of constructing a sustainable power future (mixed with sustainable transport) and finally how that fits in with making humanity a multi-planetary species.

There are a selection of shifting pieces to this strategy and I can’t cowl them multi functional blog publish, however I will try to distill it down to 3 distinct elements.

  1. Create a space firm to scale back the cost of orbital supply
  2. Deploy an orbital ISP and get billions of consumers (The X in SpaceX?)
  3. Use meta-material antennas all over the place (together with Mars), creating synergies with autonomous transport methods/sustainable transport

There’s much more to this, and as ever with making forecasts like this, it carries numerous provisos.

Half one

This part of the plan is already nicely underway.

SpaceX continues to efficiently get well its first stage when the flight configuration allows it. It is growing its stock of used-at-least-once first levels. These first levels may even double as boosters for its heavy raise rocket the Falcon Heavy when it’s as a consequence of launch later this yr.

Landed first stage Falcon 9.

The cadence for launches is already impressive this yr, after a few launch failures. All of this contributes to decreasing the overall value of delivering payloads to orbit.

Over the coming decade you possibly can anticipate that the cost of delivering anything to orbit is going to fall significantly. It is going to develop into extra like catching a flight — and it will create an awful lot extra capacity to deploy tons more automobiles. But what demand will meet the plentiful new capacity?

Part two

Right here is where issues get fascinating over the subsequent 10 years. Up to the top of 2016 there have been 1,459 satellites in orbit around the Earth. SpaceX have a backlog of launches within the dozens.

However it’s a must to marvel: even when SpaceX captured 100% of the complete international launch market, would the margin — even with re-use — be sufficient to make sufficient cash to continue building expensive automobiles like the Mars Transporter? I might guess no — there’s less than 100 launches per yr globally.

Even if SpaceX had 100% of the launch market, and the market was rising at say 20% per yr, and SpaceX was making say, $30m revenue per launch (an honest margin you’d guess), then that may still solely be $3bn profit — hardly enough to build a fleet for transporting 1 million individuals to Mars and building a colony.

And if all this launch capability and reduction in value was only for Mars functions, how does SpaceX suggest to pay for the Mars Transporter(s)?

So what’s the alternative?

Build a worldwide Web Service Provider (ISP) that requires almost 12,000 satellites to be put into orbit. Let’s call this new ISP ‘X’ for the needs of this piece. (it might be a spin-off company from the launch half— SpaceX).

But how do you build a worldwide ISP? First you scale back to value of delivering satellites to orbit. You then:

  1. Establish an operation in Washington State (a centre for area talent) with the aim of mass-producing satellites as efficiently as potential using methods like 3D printing and advanced manufacturing — just like methods developed in rocket manufacture / battery manufacture / automotive manufacture. Satellites primarily turn into standardised moderately than bespoke — decreasing the price of manufacture by way of economies of scale.
  2. Rent engineers specialising in constructing beam forming / phased array know-how. Looks like Area Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGA) for in-orbit configuration on the fly and custom Software Particular Built-in Circuits (ASIC) can be needed (as they are with most satellite companies I assume).
  3. Combine new beam forming and phased array technologies into the orbital automobiles. Propose a dual system of Low Earth Orbit (LEO) and Very Low Earth Orbit (VLEO) automobiles utilising Ka-band spectrum for communications between satellites and floor gateways, and Ku-band spectrum for communications between satellites and consumer terminals (and later probably Ka to terminals too).
  4. Using the big, rising (and considerably redundant) Falcon 9 launch capability start launching the mass-produced satellites into orbit. Goal to make the satellites as small as bodily attainable so that as many automobiles might be delivered per launch as potential.
  5. Scale it to 12,000 satellites in VLEO and LEO. Promote it to each human and enterprise on the Earth (but achieve this progressively as you construct your capability). Cost excessive costs to start out with after which decrease costs as you scale. Also sell backhaul capability by way of the LEO network — through the use of lasers in a vacuum to communicate between satellites in orbit you possibly can radically scale back latency — arguably even in comparison to present land-based fibre optic cables.
  6. Construct gateways (ie methods to direct web from a ground station to the satellite tv for pc network and vice versa) on multiple continents. Construct the gateways close to internet backbones for max discount in latency. You may only need a number of gateways per continent.

Part three

But what does the product seem like and the way do you go market?

Within the type of how Tesla launched the Mannequin S, Model X, Mannequin three and the Tesla Powerwall / Tesla Photo voltaic Roof, X will launch a product to sell access to the X network. It is going to be introduced by Musk on stage as an enormous leap ahead in broadband communications. It can also be introduced as easy, nicely designed and built-in.

What type will this are available?

  1. Within 5 years all Tesla automobiles will include an elective additional. An integrated connection to the X satellite tv for pc broadband network. These will probably be built-in into the roof (or trunk/bonnet — since electrical automobiles have extra obtainable floor space than fossil automobiles) and are available within the form of a non-mechanical meta-material antenna. Automobiles will have the ability to be in fixed communication with the network, delivering quick broadband to each automotive within the fleet (the antenna can hold in constant communication with the community even when shifting at velocity). And here’s an necessary point: if Tesla need to have tens of millions of autonomous automobiles on the street in the future they may want fast knowledge options for their automobiles. It seems debatable whether the prevailing cellular infrastructure might deal with the load.
  2. Within 5 years, Tesla will launch non-compulsory extras for its solar house product. Will probably be an built-in X “tile” within a photo voltaic roof. The tile may have a everlasting connection to the X community. Primarily each photo voltaic roof might each be amassing photo voltaic power whereas additionally appearing as your internet entry. In fact it is going to be bought stand-alone too.
  3. X may also promote the meta materials panels across business as soon as the orbital community has expanded. This can embrace plane (no shifting elements and flush with the fuselage, saving gasoline), ships, authorities, army and so forth. This will even embrace backhaul selling to different networks.

In the event you assume I’m loopy, take five minutes and try the video under from January 2016.

Last yr Toyota invested within the Redmond Washington-based (yes!) and five yr previous Kymeta (who embrace Bill Gates as one in every of their buyers too).

The X network will look broadly comparable, but in contrast to Kymeta, X won’t only sell terminals — they are going to be constructing the whole ISP answer — end-to-end. And of course X won’t simply be limited to automobiles — it should apply to any location, shifting or static.

Right here’s some key slides from Kymeta’s presentation:

Certainly you would argue that X can buy Kymeta. Kymeta boast that their system might handle 1Tb of knowledge per 30 days per car (seemingly utilizing the Intelsat network).

For those who consider that Tesla/SpaceX aren’t going to pursue this kind of know-how then I might argue that this is underestimating Elon Musk.

In the direction of the top of the speak Kymeta founder Nathan Kundtz even appears to have a dig at a attainable SpaceX network.

With 50 [Intelsat] satellites each the dimensions of a bus, and new satellites going into area all the time, this is not some community that will probably be ready in 2025, that is the community of now.

And let’s take a look at who SpaceX is hiring in Redmond proper now:

When you’ve built this technique, and hopefully overcome regulatory hurdles; obtained your first 100,000 clients; constructed the most important ISP in orbit over time; built-in your whole automobiles to the community — then you should use that know-how and kn0w-how and scale to deploy the identical system to Mars.

You’d do this prematurely of the colony being established. It makes more sense to pre-position a communications community at Mars than it does to construct it in tandem or after astronauts have already landed there.

In summary:

  1. Sometime this yr or early next yr Musk will announce the plan for the “X” network. He will define a broad schedule for launches and coverage areas and embrace high-level pricing.
  2. SpaceX will seek permission for numerous bands, and search to beat any regulatory hurdles. It’s going to meet resistance from incumbents.
  3. Musk will later announce the launch of Tesla automobiles with built-in antennas to access the orbital community. Tesla will launch house merchandise for broadband and promote X by way of its Tesla showroom network globally. These merchandise will integrate will with photo voltaic roof/photo voltaic storage products.

I’m completely happy to guess an entire €100 that this can, in large part, be attempted. Whether or not or not it’s successful is one other thing.

And if I’m right, Elon Musk owes me a number of pints of Guinness 😂.

(Disclosure: I’m a *very* small shareholder in Tesla. I’m the founder over at Vizlegal (in Ireland!) where we’re constructing a worldwide API for regulation — a sorely needed factor if you would like autonomous machines (and even a Musk Mars colony wants legal guidelines too!). I’m on Twitter when you’ve got any questions)