Elon Musk’s Big Bets on Space X Launch and EV Batteries

Photo: Space X via Recode

Elon Musk’s company Space X is behind the latest NASA chapter, in which the Dragon Capsule launched by the Falcon 9 rocket will deliver astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley in style (wearing Tesla emblazoned custom-made Space X pressure suits) to the international space station – liftoff is set for today 4:33 pm ET.  Next month, Musk will roll out Tesla’s “newest developments in powertrain and battery technology” on what he calls “Battery Day” — but in a brilliant marketing move, no one is sure what is making its debut.

Why This Matters:  When it comes to the future, for better or worse, we are in Elon Musk’s hands, even as he argues rapidly re-open the economy right away Space X is NASA‘s “preferred launch partner and now handles about two-thirds of the agency’s launches under government contracts worth billions, plus a low cost “rideshare” option that will carry smaller satellites for as little as $1 million,” according to Vox This “ride” for Behnken and Hurley cost NASA only $55m each, kind of like Uber for space.  After the U.S. shut down its Space Shuttle program in 2011, NASA astronauts had to ride with the Russians to the Space Station and they charged $86m per astronaut.  Meanwhile, car batteries have never elicited this much excitement and anticipation.

Space X Is a Historic Day For NASA

NASA is now largely privatized when it comes to launches and rockets — getting to space.  Perhaps that is for the best because outsourcing technology development may indeed be better (cheaper and more advanced) than buying the same thing using the government’s prescriptive purchasing process.

The NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said yesterday, “Our country has been through a lot. But this is a unique moment where all of America can take a moment and look at our country do something stunning again.  This is a unique opportunity to bring all of America together in one moment in time and say, ‘Look at how bright the future is.’ That’s what this launch is all about.”

But this has not always been an easy partnership between NASA and Space X — according to Vox, “NASA investigated and scolded him after he smoked pot while appearing on a podcast in 2018.”  But if the launch and then the space station run goes off without a hitch, it will be hard to deny the magnitude of Musk’s accomplishment.

Battery Advances

The key to EVs is batteries.  And Musk understands that.  So for a while he has been teasing this battery announcement. He pitched it during Tesla’s Q1 2020 earnings call with investors, saying “Yes. Actually, we don’t want to preempt Battery Day. We want to leave the exciting news for that day, but there will be a lot of exciting news to tell. And I think it would be one of the most exciting days in Tesla’s history and we’re just trying to figure out the right timing for that.” He recently had to push back the rollout by a month, but that does not seem to phase anyone given that it is happening during the pandemic.

To Go Deeper:  This Washington Post profile of the two astronauts heading to the International Space Station is worth your time.

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