🚀 SpaceX Crew Dragon: the 4 launches that shaped its success

Musk Reads+ #42

Crew-2 breaks new ground; Tesla’s earnings report approaches; Starlink at sea? It’s your special subscriber-only Musk Reads+ #42.

To commemorate SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission, we’re giving all our readers a sneak peek at the full benefits of Musk Reads+. Our regular Friday email — exclusive to paid subscribers — is your weekly rundown of vital stats, anniversaries, upcoming dates, reader-submitted messages, and more. 

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Today’s top stats

  • Tesla’s stock price at market close on April 21 was $744 per share with a total market valuation of $714 billion.

  • On April 20, the contiguous United States generated 22 percent of its electricity from solar, wind, and hydroelectric power. A further 57 percent came from natural gas, coal, and petroleum. These figures typically exclude sources like rooftop solar panels. See here for more info.

  • SpaceX has launched 122 missions.

  • There are 11 people in space right now and zero people on Mars.

Friday’s further thoughts

Liftoff! SpaceX launched the Crew-2 mission to the International Space Station on Friday. The Falcon 9, with a Crew Dragon capsule on top, lifted off at 5:49 a.m. Eastern time from Launch Complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Following the launch, the Falcon 9 successfully landed on the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship.

The Crew Dragon launched with four astronauts on board: NASA’s Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough; the European Space Agency’s Thomas Pesquet; and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Akihiko Hoshide.

It’s a big moment for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, which has undergone an impressive journey from hopeful project to launching astronauts on a regular basis. This is the first time SpaceX has flown astronauts using either a reused booster or a reused capsule. The capsule first flew on the Demo-2 flight in May 2020, and the booster first flew on the Crew-1 flight in November 2020. 

As regular readers will be aware, rocket reuse is a key feature of SpaceX’s goal to make spaceflight more affordable. In Musk Reads+ #37 earlier this month, we took a look at how SpaceX has fine-tuned this technology into a reliable method ever since its first successful drone ship landing five years ago.

The Crew-2 launch also marks the first time that the Crew Dragon has flown a European Space Agency astronaut. When the capsule docks with the ISS, it will also be the first time that two Crew Dragon capsules will be docked to the station — the Crew-1 capsule is expected to depart with all four passengers on April 28.

So how did we get here? It took four launches before SpaceX was able to reuse both capsule and booster for a crewed mission:

  1. SpaceX’s first test flight of the Crew Dragon capsule, Demo-1, took place March 2, 2019. In lieu of crew, the capsule carried around 400 pounds of equipment to the space station, plus a test dummy called “Ripley” wearing a SpaceX suit.

  2. The in-flight abort test on January 19, 2020, demonstrated that the Crew Dragon could successfully escape a malfunctioning Falcon 9 rocket during a failed launch. The capsule’s SuperDraco thrusters enabled the capsule to reach an altitude of 131,000 feet and a speed of Mach 2.2, or more than double the speed of sound.

  3. The first crewed flight on May 30, 2020. The Demo-2 launch sent NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station. In an Inverse interview, Hurley hailed the moment as an example of how public agencies and private firms could work together to achieve more.

  4. The first non-test crewed flight on November 16, 2020. The Crew-1 sent up NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, plus JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

On November 10, 2020, NASA certified the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon for regular flights with astronauts. It was the first system to receive such a certification since the space shuttle around 40 years before.

But SpaceX isn’t stopping with astronauts. All eyes are on the upcoming Inspiration4 flight, which will break new ground later this year by sending the first all-civilian flight to space.

Got any thoughts or comments? Send us an email at muskreads@inverse.com.

What’s come before…

  • On April 17, 2009, Musk wrote an article for The Guardian declaring that “the democratization of electric cars is speeding up.” Musk revealed that Tesla had already delivered 350 cars, and around 1,000 customers were on the waiting list for a Roadster. Just over a decade later, in March 2020, Tesla announced that it had sold its millionth car.

  • On April 18, 2018, SpaceX launched the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, or TESS, for NASA. The satellite uses a camera to capture areas of space in order to identify planets that orbit stars other than the Sun.

  • On April 22, 2020, the Falcon 9 became the most-flown operational rocket in the United States, with 84 flights versus Atlas V with 83. 

...and what comes next

  • Tesla will release its first quarter 2021 earnings report after market close on April 26, 2021. The firm will hold a live question-and-answer webcast at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time that day.

  • SpaceX will launch a batch of Starlink satellites on April 28, 2021 at 12:05 a.m. Eastern time. The Falcon 9 rocket will launch from Space Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida.

  • The firm will launch the SXM-8 satellite for SiriusXM on June 1, 2021, at 12:25 a.m. Eastern time. The rocket will take off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

  • SpaceX will also launch the 22nd Commercial Resupply Services mission on June 3, 2021. The rocket will take off from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Photo of the week

SpaceX’s Crew-2 astronauts prepare for launch. NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur are joined by ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

Got a photo or video you'd like to see featured? Send it to muskreads@inverse.com!

Musk Reads mailroom

Steve Etienne Rioux writes:

Elon, this would be a nice project for your Starlink company. There are roughly 200,000 merchant Marines Seafearers on the high seas and most of them have not been home for over a year. As you all know, communication equipment is rare on merchant marine ships. It would be a great gesture from Starlink to help get them set up at a reduced rate. Once the pandemic is over rates can be readjusted because the merchant Marines will be able to go home like all of us.

Indeed, there is an ongoing crisis of seafarers stuck at sea. The International Maritime Organization found that around 400,000 seafarers were waiting for repatriation after finishing their contracts in September 2020. By March 2021, that figure had dropped to 200,000. The Guardian reported earlier this month on the Ever Given crew, who made headlines after their ship got stuck in the Suez Canal, and who fear joining those 200,000.

SpaceX clearly has ships in mind with Starlink. Last month, SpaceX’s director of satellite policy David Goldman wrote a letter to the FCC as part of an application, asking the FCC to authorize “a new class of ground-based components for SpaceX’s satellite system that will expand the range of broadband capabilities available to moving vehicles throughout the United States and to moving vessels and aircraft worldwide.”

Following the news, Musk clarified over Twitter that the terminal is “much too big” for Tesla cars. Instead, this would be used for aircrafts, ships, trucks, and RVs.

Could SpaceX offer a reduced price for these stranded seafarers? Musk stated on Twitter that the service is “meant to be the same price in all countries,” meaning somewhere around $99 per month plus a $499 one-off fee for the connection equipment. 

Musk did indicate that he would like costs to “improve every year.” Documents in February 2021 indicated that SpaceX planned to participate in Lifeline, which offers a subsidy so low-income consumers can still access broadband services.

Bringing Starlink to these ships could bring support amid an ongoing crisis — although a previous attempt by Musk to assist in a crisis did not end well.

Got any comments or queries? Send them over to muskreads@inverse.com!

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The ultra-fine print 

This has been Musk Reads+ #42, a new, subscriber-only report about the worlds related to the futurist and entrepreneur Elon Musk. I’m Mike Brown, an innovation reporter for Inverse.

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