Science and Exploration

SpaceX Reliability Key to Dragon Contract: SpaceX President

By Elizabeth Howell
April 17, 2012
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SpaceX Reliability Key to Dragon Contract: SpaceX President
SpaceX Falcon 9

Gwynne Shotwell says she’s looking to change the perception of SpaceX from a mere low-cost rocket provider to one that is designing spacecraft capable of carrying humans.
The president of SpaceX, in an exclusive interview with SpaceRef Tuesday at the National Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, said that focus on reliability has allowed the company to achieve the broad business base that it has today.

Its customers include NASA, Space Systems/Loral, Macdonald, Dettwiler and Associates and SES, among others.

“We want to launch everybody’s satellite, so we have been very energetic, let’s say, in working with the commercial providers, the international government providers, and our own (satellite) government providers as well,” Ms. Shotwell said.

“The key is to make sure they’re comfortable with the way that you approach a business, especially if you are selling your vehicles before you’ve flown, which we’ve done many times. So what’s key is does the company have the ability to produce reliable launch vehicles, and launch them reliably.”

SpaceX is currently converting the Dragon spacecraft, which it is developing under a Commercial Orbital Transportation System agreement with NASA, into one that is capable of carrying humans, from a spacecraft tested in orbit carrying cargo.

The next iteration will include upgraded avionics and software, enhanced communications and an added power generation system, she said in a panel to delegates just prior to the interview.

Meanwhile, the company is also working towards an April 30 launch date where the spacecraft, on a test mission, is slated to dock with the International Space Station.

This will be a first for SpaceX in terms of targeting an “instantaneous” launch date, Ms. Shotwell said, not to mention the requirements for autonomy.

SpaceX, which has $3 billion in backlog extending to 2017, says one of the most rapidly growing areas of its business is in Asia.

Ms. Shotwell told SpaceRef that the Middle East will be the next frontier, with several procurements expected next year for launches of Earth observation satellites and geosynchronous “combirds”, or communications satellites.

The company’s challenge now will be to prove itself of taking on the next step, which is establishing a larger foothold in an industry dominated by much older competitors such as Arianespace and United Launch Alliance.

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