Interview of ELON MUSK,
CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors
Conducted by LINCOLN P. BLOOMFIELD, JR.,
Chairman of the Board, Henry L. Stimson Center
BLOOMFIELD: Well, good afternoon everybody. Welcome to the Chairmanís Forum.
Thanks for coming to Stimson on a rainy day. Iím Linc Bloomfield. Maybe somewhere in
the outer galaxies thereís intelligent life that knows how to come into our orbit and then
safely land on the surface of the Earth. But in all of human history only one human being
has ever done this without a government sort of leading the way, and heís sitting next to
me. So welcome, Elon Musk.
MUSK: Thank you.
BLOOMFIELD: Itís an honor. One of Americaís real pioneers and entrepreneurs. Here
at Stimson we talk a lot about policy. We talk about governments, we come from ... some
of us our old enough to come from a 20th century mentality that governments seem to set
policy. But in the 21st century weíre realizing that non-governmental actors often are out
in front changing things. And as weíll hear, Iím going to give a little bit of your
background before we start to talk about space.
Youíve actually changed things in the way we use the internet, youíre changing
the game in space, youíre changing the way we use energy, and all of those are things that
Washington people find themselves chasing the policy implications. So to have an
innovator entrepreneur, I think, fits right into the theme of Chairmanís Forum. So again,
weíre honored to have you. Thank you for taking the time.
MUSK: Absolutely, thanks for having me.
BLOOMFIELD: I know that you made an important announcement an hour ago, and
Iím going to get to that. But first let me just introduce our guest. Mr. Elon Musk was born
and raised in South Africa, came to Canada as a teenager and then came to the United
States, where he is a US citizen. As a youth computer programmer at the age of 12, [he]
created and sold the software for a space game, and made a little money off of it. And
then, just to quickly touch on the other innovations, a company called Zip2, which
created online content publishing software for news organizations, you co-founded
X.com which became PayPal Secure E-commerce Logic, which of course is used
everywhere now. In 2002 [he] founded Space Exploration Technologies, known as
SpaceX. Youíre not only the CEO but the Chief Technology Officer which is, I think,
very interesting. Weíll talk about the line of rockets, we knew about the Falcon 1 and the
Falcon 9, [and] weíre going to hear a little bit more in a moment. And then, in 2004 [he]
founded Tesla Motors ... co-founder, chairman, and CEO [of] the electric vehicle
company in California. And [he] is also chairman of SolarCity, a photovoltaic products
and services company started in 2006. So you see some themes here: internet, video
games, e-commerce, energy efficiency technologies, and space. And so before we talk
about the announcement, Iím curious: What was it that captured your imagination, as a
young person, about space? What did space mean to you?
MUSK: Well, when I was very young, space just seemed really cool. But I didnít expect
to be involved in space when I was young. But when I was in college, I decided I wanted
to be involved in things that would have a significant impact on the future of humanity.
And the three things I could come up with were the internet, sustainable energy (both
production and consumption), and space exploration, particularly the extension of life
beyond Earth to multiple planets. As it turns out, Iíve been fortunate enough to get
involved in all three of those areas.
BLOOMFIELD: Thatís quite interesting. So thereís a geographic reach to your interest
in space. Right now youíre involved in doing contract activities. We can talk about that
with the space station and whatnot. But you see a future vision. Do you think that the
United States, or even private sector entities, will be accessing outer space at some point
in the future? And how far are we from that vision?
MUSK: Yeah, I think in order to ... well in order for humanity to become a true space-
faring civilization, and ultimately become a multi-planet species, I think we have to
harness the power of free enterprise, because otherwise it will simply be unaffordable. Itís
important to appreciate that there is a very fundamental cost barrier to life becoming
And if you donít mind me exploring that issue a little bit, if you break it down and
first say: ďWhy is it important that life become multi-planetary?Ē If you look at the nature
of importance itself, and use the lens of history as a guide ... and generally the lens of
history, the further you zoom out, the more the important milestones remain and the less
important ones disappear. Things that may seem important in the moment, if you think
about them, are not going to be really important in the long-term.
On the grander scale, on the evolution of life itself, you can look at the major
milestones and say, thereís the advent of single-celled life, multi-cellular life,
differentiation of plants and animals, life going from the oceans to land, mammals,
consciousness, those are kind of the big ones. But I think, also on that scale, would fit life
becoming multi-planetary. It would be at least comparable to life going from the oceans
to land. And if thereís something that is important enough to arguably fit on the scale of
evolution of life itself, itís fair to say that it should be considered important, and deserves
some small portion of our resources to accomplish. And Iím not talking about a huge
portion, but perhaps we can bound it quite easily by saying it should be much less than
what we spend on healthcare, but more than what we spend on lipstick. I like lipstick.
I think lipstickís very important. But maybe itís .2 or .3 percent of our GDP, something
like that is warranted.
And I do think that we should not delay this action, because this is the first time in
the 4 billion year history of Earth that itís been possibleóat allófor life to extend
beyond Earth. And itís possible, just barely, for humanity to create a self-sustaining
civilization on Marsóextraordinarily difficult, but possible. And it is hard to say how
long that window will be open. That window could be open for a long time or it could be
open for a short time. But I think the wise thing to do is to not assume it will be open for
a long time, and to take action to make life multi-planetary while we can.
BLOOMFIELD: Well people who have had a similar aspiration, and a vision, and
attachment to the vision of space and the continuum of human and planetary evolution,
have generally joined into sort of governmental efforts until this point, because thatís
where the action was. If someone were sitting in this audience, a young person who
shares a similar aspiration, my expectation is they might think, ďcan I get a job at
NASA?Ē Or, ďcan I work for the air force?Ē Youíre a businessman, you have an MBA ...
MUSK: I actually donít have an MBA. I have a dual undergraduate in physics and
BLOOMFIELD: Physics and economics.
BLOOMFIELD: Well, I think youíve, in so many ways, demonstrated the MBA
capability. And the question is ... That wouldnít appear to have been something you
would naturally do; do you think that private sector is on a par with the government and
their capacity to aspire to these kinds of accomplishments? Where do the government and
non-government come together? Which one has the more ... Why would you invest in
one more than the other?
MUSK: Well, I think that government plays an important role in funding things that have
a small amount of benefit to a large portion of the population. Sort of, basic science, the
frontiers of exploration, that kind of thing, where thereís not an obvious direct economic
feedback loop. But itís nonetheless an important thing to do thatís helpful to everyone,
like the Hubble, for example. We gained a lot of knowledge and understanding of the
universe from the Hubble. It didnít necessarily translate to economics for one particular
company, so it made sense that it would be funded by the government. But funded by the
government just means funded by the people. Government, by the way, has no money. It
only takes money from the people.
Sometimes people forget that thatís really what occurs. So when there is a benefit that
accrues to the people as a whole, then itís fair that the money should be drawn from the
people as a whole to match that benefit.
But government is inherently inefficient. So it makes sense to minimize the role
of government such that government does only what it has to do, and no more. There are
obviously very clear examples of this in comparing something like East and West
Germany and North and South Korea. Places where you have essentially the same
people, but two different systems of government. And East and West Germany, for
example, the economic outcome per capita was about five times higher in West Germany
óarguably more than five timesóbut at least five times higher in West Germany than in
East. And itís not as though West Germany was particularly capitalist. I mean, theyíre
sort of a lot more socialist than we are, and yet they had that huge output difference. Or
North and South Korea is an even more stark example, where North Korea, people
undergo starvation, and South Korea is incredibly prosperous. And so you want to always
watch that dialóthat allocation of resources dialóand make sure that government
doesnít become too large a portion of the economy.
BLOOMFIELD: Well in the space sector, if you look back in the last ... going back to
the 60s, if you will, where NASA was in its heyday, we put a man on the moon in 1969
... a lot of studies in Washington have talked about how the space industrial base is
shrinking in the United States, how weíre sort of losing our lead in space. After certain
events in the 90s involving US companies in China, there was more restrictive export
controls on satellites, commercial satellites, which remain, I believe, under review in the
White House, as they were under the previous administration. ... but restrictive. And so
thereís an international space industry. Do you have a view on whether the industrial base
... are we shrinking? Is Americaís lead shrinking, in your view, and where does your
activity fit into that picture?
MUSK: Well itís certainly true that over the past few decades Americaís lead has really
... well it went away like 20 years ago and returned last year, thanks to SpaceX. In the
80s ... America used to do almost all the commercial launches. And with the former
Soviet Union and their action becoming, in a lot of ways, more capitalist than we were ...
and then, between Europe and Russia and, to a lesser degree China and India, they
absorbed almost the entire commercial launch market. There are a lot of commercial
satellites launched every year. There are more commercial satellites launched every year
than there are US government satellites, by at least a factor of two or three. And yet the
United States has assured that market has been, sort of, negligible to zero.
But last year, the United States won more launch contractsócommercial launch
contractsóthan any other country, due almost entirely to SpaceX. Now thereís a lead
time of anywhere from two to four years between when you win the contract and when
you do the launch. So in about two to four years, weíll be doing more commercial
launches than any other country. But I think thatís because at SpaceX weíre really
harnessing the power of American free enterprise, which is the most competitive system
in the world, and applying a mode of operation that is closer to Silicon Valley than typical
BLOOMFIELD: So in economic terms, who are the bigger users, looking forward a few
years? Is it commercial use of space? Is it government and military use, or scientific use?
Whereís the market, looking forward in the near- to mid-term?
MUSK: Well, like I said, there are actually more commercial launches even today than
there are US government launches. So I expect that, as we are able to lower the cost of
access to space, which weíre doing in a very significant way, that there will be more
commercial satellite business plans that work than was previously the case. We will see
some market expansion occur. So I would expect that the percentage of SpaceX activity
that is commercial will increase over time. Government will still play a very important
role, particularly permissions, like I said earlier, that have a small amount of benefit to a
large number of people, but where isnít the direct economic feedback loop. So
government will still play a very important role, also in pushing the frontier of
exploration. But in terms of market size, I would expect the commercial market to
actually increase, on a percentage basis.
BLOOMFIELD: Youíve just come from an announcement. We knew about the Falcon 1
Rocket, the Falcon 9 was just depicted in the film. Can you tell us whatís coming next?
MUSK: Yeah, so the big announcement we just made today was for our Falcon Heavy
Launch Vehicle, which is going to be the most capable vehicle of any kind on Earth. Itíll
put more than twice the payload capability of the space shuttle into orbit, and has twice
the thrust of the biggest Russian rocket and the biggest US rocket. So, [itís] twice as big
as the Russian Proton and Boeing Lockheed Delta IV Heavy. So itís really quite an epic
vehicle. In fact, itíll have more payloads to orbit than any rocket apart from the Saturn V
BLOOMFIELD: And what kind of a payload do you expect to be launched off of this
vehicle? I mean, what are the potential uses?
MUSK: Thereís a wide range of potential uses. Certainly Falcon Heavy can launch the
largest government and commercial satellites with ease. In fact, you could arguably do
two of the largest satellites at a time.
BLOOMFIELD: Is that conceivable, technologically?
MUSK: Oh yeah, we expect this to be on the launch pad at [unclear] next year, and then
launch probably in 2013. So this is not speculative, or ...
BLOOMFIELD: But could you deploy two satellites with one launch?
MUSK: Oh sure, absolutely, no problem. We can deploy ... Well in fact, we have the
launch contract to do the next generation Iridium Constellation, where weíre doing eight
or nine satellites per flight.
BLOOMFIELD: Per flight?
BLOOMFIELD: Well youíre the Chief Technology Officer. Iím curious, because I have
a bit of a background in export controls, and wish I had known a lot more about the fine
details. How sensitive is the information that your engineers have when they marry a bus
to a rocket launch, a payload to a launch vehicle? How much do they need to know about
whatís on the bus in order to make sure that they donít destroy it, or that they deploy it
properly? Is it highly sensitive information?
MUSK: Well ... I think ... Itís only providing enough information to know how to
integrate the satellite onto the rocket. I donít think that necessarily reveals anything
particularly proprietary. However, certain countries have a track record of absconding
with intellectual property. And so I think itís perhaps not a good idea to put them in close
proximity to anything thatís any advanced US space technology.
BLOOMFIELD: So there needs to be ... I mean the export control regime looks at the
nationalities of the workers, their access to certain work areas, there are monitors often ...
And so after the space shuttle endeavor takes its mission at the end of this month, thereíll
be no more space shuttle. Your company will be the cargo delivery vehicle to the
international space station, if Iím not mistaken, youíll do twelve resupply missions. And
so thatís been somewhat privatized. Does the US, from a policy standpoint, need to worry
a little bit about whether it has ... whether it can control its technology and still get it
MUSK: Well, I think ... I wouldnít worry about US satellites being launched on any
vehicles except maybe China is a bit dodgy. So thatís really the only meaningful concern.
And Iím not releasing the Russians, [who] tried to steal US rocket technology. And
actually, thatís because, at least until SpaceX, their rocket technology has been better than
ours, so Iím not sure exactly what they would steal. In fact, the Boeing Lockheedís Atlas
V vehicle uses a Russian main engine, and theyíve not yet figured out how to make that
engine themselves. So the Russians are obviously not too worried about that. With the
advent of SpaceX and our Falcon family of rockets, thereís now for the first time in a
long time, a vehicle that is better than the Russians. So we would certainly be cautious
about exposing our technology to the Russians, but thereís little danger of that.
BLOOMFIELD: If your engineers in California can come up with a bigger and better
launch vehicle, are there entities around the world who could be doing the same thing,
and doing it within a cost-level that competes as well with SpaceX and with others? Is
this a one-off, a unique situation, or might there be a new baseline, if you will, of
competitive launch technologies emerging?
MUSK: Iím not aware of anything that has the potential to beat our technology. As far as
I can tell, weíre better than anything else that exists, or anything else thatís under
development by a significant margin. There could be some secret development that Iím
not aware of, or there could be some organization that starts up thatís new, but at least Iím
not aware of anything that poses a threat to SpaceX. Particularly given that our rate of
evolution of our technology is very fast. I mean, in Silicon Valley, youíre sort of very
used to this mentality of ďyou innovate fast, or die.Ē If you think of the national
championsóor the international championsóthat have grown out of Silicon Valley:
Google, Facebook, Intel, Cisco, Apple ... Who are their international competitors? Can
you name one?
BLOOMFIELD: Thatís a different language. In this town, itís ďyou innovate fast, and
BLOOMFIELD: Thereís a bit of a cultural difference here.
BLOOMFIELD: Your operations are just outside of Los Angeles. Roughly, how big is
the work force at SpaceX?
MUSK: Weíre just under 1,300 people.
BLOOMFIELD: 1,300. And where do you find space capable engineers? How do you
grow a space company in America?
MUSK: I was in Silicon Valley for ten years before moving down to L.A. to start
SpaceX. And the reason I did it in Southern California is because Southern California has
the biggest concentration of space engineers in the world.
BLOOMFIELD: Who have been laid off? Or who are moving from one thing to
MUSK: SpaceX hires at the top two or three percent of the space profession. So think of
SpaceX like special ... you have regular army, and then there are the Special Forces.
BLOOMFIELD: Special operations...
MUSK: SpaceX is Special Forces.
BLOOMFIELD: I see.
MUSK: So, itís possible that weíd hire someone who was laid off if they were laid off
for reasons of seniority and not merit. But not otherwise.
BLOOMFIELD: I mean, itís curious to me ... it strikes one as a high-risk profession. If
a rocket goes awry ... weíve seen films of Chinese launches in the past, and others. And
while they make fascinating viewing, theyíre probably highly expensive, they make
insurance companies very nervous. Is it high risk to have a rocket company? Do you test
launch things and let them blow up just to find things out?
MUSK: [Laughs.] No, we never intentionally blow up a rocket.
BLOOMFIELD: Or does it all just come down to one vehicle, and itís supposed to
work, and hope it does?
MUSK: We always aim for success. And weíve been fortunate in that; our last four
missions have been four consecutive successes. And particularly, the last one was
particularly complex because it was a test of our Falcon Heavy Launch Vehicle and our
Dragon Spacecraft, which orbited the Earth a couple times and then touched down just
off the coast of California. That was the first time that a private company has brought
something back from orbit. And thatís tough; there are only half a dozen nations that have
BLOOMFIELD: Right. Thatís where we began. I want to just mention the military side
of space, and get your view on this. A lot of work is done in the Pentagon, in the
Congress, in the Executive Branch, and thereís been doctrinal development that says
space is a domain, we have security interests in space, our economy is tied to space, our
ability to conduct military operations is integrally tied to space, thereís no going back.
And so, some will say space must be defended, it must be protected. Thereís a lot of
effort that isóthat is not irreversibleóbut itís to prepare for contingencies in which we
are threatened in space. And I guess my question is, as a private sector space player, do
you have a view on whatís happening with the military reliance on space, and sort of the
substantial effort thatís put into it in Washington? Is that something SpaceX would
potentially contribute to, the air force effort?
MUSK: Yeah, absolutely. We certainly see the launching of air force NRO-type satellites
as an important part of our future business. We donít have any air force under our launch
contracts yet, but Iím very optimistic that we will soon have such contracts.
Theyíre just a very conservative organization. But now that weíve had two
successes with our Falcon 9 vehicle, and now that weíre coming out with Falcon Heavy
... And Falcon Heavy is twice as powerful as anything the air force currently has access
to. It allows them to launch bigger satellites, or potentially do multiple satellites on a
single flight. And then as far as civil space missions, in terms of sending probes to outer
planets, perhaps doing something like a Mars sample return, these are really enabled by
our Falcon Heavy capabilities, since it is a capability the world doesnít have yet, and
hasnít had since Saturn V.
BLOOMFIELD: So itís both a civil and potentially military and intelligence use.
MUSK: Yes, civil, military, and commercial. I think itís really going to open up a world
of possibilities in all of those arenas.
BLOOMFIELD: Well, one of the things military planners talk about is, sort of, the
worse case in which assets are either being degraded or denied or, in the worst case,
destroyed, which can obviously create debris in orbit with very long term consequences.
And they talk about the ability to reconstitute a capability very quickly, in these fast-
moving crises. If you have a launch vehicle that could potentially put several assets up
quickly, is that something you would look at from a SpaceX perspective?
MUSK: Yeah, absolutely. At SpaceX weíre very supportive of national security goals as
well as civil space and commercial goals. I think in terms of, sort of, anti-satellite
capability, I think we really need to pay closer attention to having defense systems on the
satellite. Basically being able to dodge missiles, you know? Because I think you can build
ground-based anti satellite missiles a lot faster than you can launch satellites. So just
replacing them fast is not going to really do the trick. You really need to have satellites up
there that can effectively dodge incoming missiles.
BLOOMFIELD: Iím a little concerned about laser beams, which can be turned on on
very short notice.
MUSK: Yeah, thereís a solution to that, too, which is to have a powerful heat shield. So
thatís something that can ... because I agree, you need to deal with missiles as well as
directed energy weapons. Itís a little harder to do the directed energy weapon technology.
Iím not sure that other countries have that yet. They probably will at some point in the
future. But itís much easier to just have a ...
MUSK: Yeah, some sort of kinetic interceptor. But like I said, I think you can ... if you
have a satellite with a powerful heat shield, that can be a good defense against a laser or
something like that. In fact, our Dragon Spacecraft has a powerful heat shield for
reentering, where itís got to resist tremendous heat to prevent getting vaporized on
reentry, so thatís something we suggested to the defense problem, that could be an
interesting technology in defending against anti-satellite weapons.
BLOOMFIELD: It seems like the Pentagon has, because of the decline of the US space
sector, which you sort of marked at a very low point, even starting 20 years ago, you
know, now suggests the possibility there could be more of a competitive space sector
back in the United States. Do you agree with that, and do you think competition and the
increase to provide solutions like more resilient satellites, or to sort of have a
technological race, if you will, to solve problems, as opposed to the sole source
MUSK: Yeah, I think competition is always a good thing. Now, the US has actually done
relatively speaking, much better in the satellite ... competing in terms of the satellite
market than in the launch market. So the US actually does have a dominant shareóor at
least a substantial shareóin the commercial satellite market with Loral Space Systems in
Silicon Valley, and Boeing Space Satellites, which used to be used in Southern California,
Orbital Sciences here in Virginia, so the US has done reasonably well in the commercial
satellite front, and does very well in the defense satellite side of things.
But I think the US needs to look at this as a constantly evolving market where
European, Chinese, and other satellite makers certainly want to take that market share
away from the American companies.
BLOOMFIELD: Weíve been talking about what the US can do, and some of it on a
sensitive unilateral kind of basis, but do you have a view as to what the future could hold
in terms of international space cooperation? Because certainly the national space policy,
NASAís mission, are very much geared to international cooperation, peaceful cooperation
in space. How does a private entity that specializes in launch services ... what do you see
as the road ahead in terms of potential involvement with non-US players in space?
MUSK: Do you mean in civil space missions? Sort of like science missions, that kind of
BLOOMFIELD: Or governmental, even, manned space missions. If there were a failure
of a national program, and they saw an opportunity they could afford to use your launch
service, I mean Iím just making this up, but ...
MUSK: I think SpaceX will, probably in about three years or so, be carrying astronauts
to the space station. As you mentioned a moment ago, the space shuttle retires this year,
SpaceX takes over for the space shuttle as far as the cargo transport to and from the space
station. But on an interim basis, the Russian Soyuz will carry American astronauts to the
space station until weíre ready to take over. But I think at that point, SpaceX will take
both American astronauts, astronauts from other countries, as well as private individuals
BLOOMFIELD: Thatís very interesting. Iím sure there are a lot of people who want to
ask you questions. But before we turn to those questions, I hope you donít mind if I turn
to energy efficiency, because youíve got a lot of people driving electric vehicles, and
probably more to come. Can I ask you, sort of, what your view is on energy? Is there a
purpose, a mission behind the Tesla Motors? People sometimes focus on the sports car
and what fun it is. Iíve driven it, and I agree itís fun. But is there a larger view that youíre
trying to change policy and change societal behavior on energy?
MUSK: Yeah, absolutely. As I mentioned earlier, in college I thought there were three
areas that would most impact the future of humanity: internet, sustainable energy (both
production and consumption), and then space. So, what Teslaís about is trying to help
solve the consumption of energy problems. So, we must have sustainable consumption of
energy and production, because if itís unsustainable, well, itís unsustainable. In fact, even
if you ... even if there were no negative environmental consequences to the use of fossil
fuels, and even if there were national security consequences ... Letís say we owned all
the oil, and it had no negative impact on the environment. Itís still finite, we must still
find a solution, or we will face economic collapse when the resources become scarce. So
obviously we must find alternatives.
I believe in electric transport, because it allows for energy to be produced in a
wide range of sustainable means, and then you just charge the car. You know, electricityís
sort of like cash. You can generate it in multiple ways; you can spend it in multiple ways.
So electric vehicles are something that is a long term sustainable option, and it is
fundamentally very energy efficient to use electric vehicles.
In fact, although our Tesla Roadster is a fast sports carófast, and almost better
acceleration than almost any other sports caróit uses less energy per mile than a Prius. In
fact, the battery pack only has the equivalent of two gallons of gasoline worth of energy.
And even if you take power from a coal power plant, so itís entirely coal, and you take
into account transmission losses and charging losses and so forth, and say how much
CO2 you generate per mile, itís still less than a Prius, because stationary power plants are
actually quite energy-efficient.
So the point of Tesla was to make a viable electric car that broke the paradigm of
what people thought of as an electric car, because people used to think of electric cars as
these sort of ugly, slow-moving golf carts. So by making a sports car that was
aesthetically pleasing, very fast, great handling, long rangeóas much range as youíd get
from a gas tankóthat really helped break peopleís perception of what an electric car
And it had a powerful catalytic effect, in that when General Motorsówhen Bob
Lutz of General Motorsósaw the announcement about the Tesla Roadster, he took the
press release, went down to his development team, and said if a small company in
California can do it, so can we. And thatís what generated the GM Volt, and in turn the
Nissan Leaf and the Chrysler move to electric vehicles. Because at the time they were,
they used to be the worldís largest car company. And so, when the worldís largest car
company announces theyíre going to go do an electric program, others tend to follow.
So I think itís had a good effect in that direction. Of course, we need to keep up
the momentum. And so Tesla is coming out with the step two, which is a mid-price, mid-
volume car, that really shows what is possible when you design the whole car as a system
around electric power, and just how much more compelling it can be than a gasoline car. I
think people will be quite pleasantly surprised by the Model S thatís coming out next
BLOOMFIELD: And thereís a longer-term vision of a third vehicle?
MUSK: Yes, yes. So the simple three step strategy of Tesla was, come out with a high-
priced car at low volume, mid-priced car at mid-volume, low-priced car at high volume.
Three major technology iterations and then stepping up production volume by an order of
magnitude in each case, which is damn fast for a small company to grow at that rate.
BLOOMFIELD: Well, I should say, I saw a news clip last week that a major Wall Street
bank predicted that Tesla Motors will become the fourth American major automobile
company, after GM, Ford, and Chrysler, so thatís pretty amazing. I do want to ask you, as
a technology person, about battery storage.
BLOOMFIELD: Because, the question is, batteries can do what they can do today. How
fast is the power density improving in either the lithium chemistries or alternative? The
military is looking at battery-based energy efficiency in both the operational theatre, but
also in facilities. Theyíre a big consumer of energy, as you know.
BLOOMFIELD: And lithium ion is expensiveóitís lightweight, but itís expensiveóand
so, the question is: How fast is this moving, and how fast can we expect leaps and bounds
in battery storage?
MUSK: Well, itís moving pretty fast. If you look at the Tesla Roadster, that has a 56
kilowatt hour (kWh) battery pack, the Model S will have a 90 kWh battery pack at about
the same volume, and with a dramatically lower cost per kWh. So the Model S, despite
being a good-sized sedan (the external dimensions are roughly that of a 5 Series BMW or
an E Class Mercedes), it will do 300 miles of range on a single charge, versus the
Roadster, which is 245 miles, and a much smaller car. So the Model S is 50 percent
bigger, heavier than the Roadster, and yet does more than 20 percent greater range, and
costs much less than the Roadster.
BLOOMFIELD: Can I just ask whether the tragic events in Japan have impacted the
supply of batteries from ... global supply?
MUSK: No, we had about a one week or so slight interruption, but we had special buffer
inventory on hand, that it did not change our production at all.
BLOOMFIELD: I see. Well, with that, are you ready to face the crowd? Iím sure there
are a lot of questions. Would you please identify yourself, and state your question
clearly? Thank you.
ATTENDEE: [Off mic.] Iím [unheard], a Founder of the Arthur C. Clark Foundation,
BLOOMFIELD: [Pointing to mic.] Here we go.
ATTENDEE: [On mic.] Iíd like to congratulate you on receiving the Innovators Award
MUSK: Oh, thank you. Iím honored to receive it, thank you.
ATTENDEE: Just two quick questions, if I could: One of the Moon vs. Mars in terms of
a colony, and also the issue of sustainability of space and space debris. What thoughts do
you have about avoiding the Kessler syndrome?
MUSK: Sure. Well, the reason I favor Mars over the Moon is that Mars has really got the
potential for a true planet-class civilization, because itís a planet. The moon is not a
planet. The moon is much smaller; itís much weaker in terms of natural resources. Itís
harder for us to adapt to because itís got a much lower gravity. The day-night cycle is 28
days. So you really effectively have a fairly small habitable zone near the poles of the
moon, and water ice is very rare there. So I consider the moon to be, kind of, analogous
to the Arctic. The Arctic is very close to Europe, but it sucked.
Thatís why America isnít there.
But Mars is a real planet, and we can become a true multi-planetary civilization
on Mars, which I donít think thatís realistic on the Moon. And also, when one thinks of
preserving the future of life as we know it, Mars is sufficiently far away that if something
terrible happened to Earth, it would not be affected. The Moon might still be affected.
Thatís the reason Iíd pick Mars.
In terms of all the debris, thereís a certain zone, which is sort of the medium Earth
orbit altitudes, where all the debris is. Long-term it becomes a problem. Itís not a problem
today, but long-term it becomes a problem. In lower orbit, the atmosphere is still there to
a certain degree, and actually ends up being like a cleaning ... it will sweep out orbital
debris and eventually bring it back in, and slow it down, itíll reenter and burn up. So
thereís not really a lower orbit debris problem, and if you go out to geosynchronous orbit,
thatís just so far out there that itís really ... you donít have to worry about it there either.
So itís kind of just in that medium zone thatís maybe 800 to a few thousand miles
... thatís the orbit that we need to pay attention to. But I do think itís something thatís
really only a very long-term problem. Itís not something we need to worry about in a
short period of time.
BLOOMFIELD: Another question? Sir. One moment, wait for the mic.
ATTENDEE (Bill Sweetman): Bill Sweetman, Defense Technology International
Magazine. You talk about needing to continue innovating fast. With SpaceX, beyond
Falcon 9 Heavy, which is an extension of the original architecture, what directions are
you going to take that in? Are you going to go further into reusability? What do you think
that space exploration needs as the next phases of innovation from SpaceX?
MUSK: Yeah, Iím a big believer in reusability, and that remains a fundamental long-term
objective of SpaceX. In fact, a fully reusable rocket system, I think, is the pivotal,
fundamental invention necessary to make life multi-planetary. I do not think it will occur
in the absence of a fully reusable system.
And the reason for that is, if you look at the cost of a propellant on a Falcon 9, itís
maybe 150,000 dollars, maybe 200,000 dollars at most. But the cost of the vehicle is 50
million. So when you have the cost of the propellant .3 percent of the cost of a flight, then
clearly there are a lot of efficiencies to be had if you can use that rocket more than once.
And really, itís no different than air flight. A Boeing 747 costs maybe a quarter of
a billion dollars, you need two of them for a round trip, so why doesnít your air ticket
cost half a billion dollars? Itís because they can use that plane thousands of times. So itís
incredibly fundamental to have a reusable system. And going back to the founding of
America, if ships had not been reusable in the days of the Mayflower, the United States
would not exist. Nobody could afford the journey. And, you know, they might have sent a
few people as an exploratory thing. And of course, since ships would be expendable you
would need to tow your return ship behind you.
So they might have said, oh yes, turns out there is a continent out there, but of
course, we canít afford to go there, because it costs two ships every time we make the
return journey. But in fact, ships can be used repeatedly, airplanes can be used repeatedly,
and in fact, every mode of transport can be used repeatedly, and if that were not the case,
we would not use that mode of transport, whether itís plane, train, automobile, bicycle, or
And I think we can establish a self-sustaining civilization on Mars for something
like .3 percent of our GDP, but I donít think weíre willing to spend 100 percent of our
GDP on it. And thatís the difference between reusability, and not reusability. So it
remains a fundamental goal of SpaceX.
BLOOMFIELD: Madam in the front row.
ATTENDEE (Andrea Malťter): Andrea Malťter with Futron. You made some really
interesting comments about some of the protective systems; you talked about the heat
shields on the Dragon, and so on. Can we see a possibility that you would take some of
that technology, and some of those innovations, to apply to the spacecraft manufacturing
world, where thereís a lot of interest both in terms of military satellites and commercial
satellites, and having awareness and protection on that? Can we see it moving in that
MUSK: Yeah, and I think with our Dragon R program, which weíre starting to see a fair
bit of interest in, which is to take the Dragon Spacecraft that will be used for space station
servicing, and adapting that to commercial and other government applications, I think
weíll start to see a fair bit of that happening. So certainly thatís an area of interest to us.
Dragon is basically a sophisticated satellite. More sophisticated than most
satellites, because itís got multiple redundant systems, itís got the ability to duck with
another ... you know, duck with the space station, or duck with anything, and reenter.
And, actually, Dragon can be reused. We recovered Dragon, and we were actually
able to fire Dragonís engines, no problem. The heat shield can take several reentry events.
So, even the first Dragon that we recovered in December from orbit can be flown many
times. So thatís a step in the right direction of reusability.
BLOOMFIELD: Questions? Sir?
ATTENDEE (Justin Manger): Hi, Justin Manger with Sojitz Corporation. I was just
wondering if youíre worried as the SpaceX and Tesla grow, you talk about innovation all
the time, Google is now having trouble, some people say, innovating, and want to stay
young, have that start-up feel. Are you running into that problem, or do you think you
will, as you grow?
BLOOMFIELD: Thatís what we call a high-class problem.
MUSK: Right, that is the high-class problem. I actually think our rate of innovation is
increasing. Weíre doing more things faster; we also have a lot more employees, so thereís
another question as to whether our productivity per person is increasing. I do think it gets
difficult for companies to maintain a high productivity per person as they grow, because
companies initially improve productivity per person due to specialization of labor, and
then productivity per person tends to decline as companies get beyond a certain scale, due
to communication issues. So we do our best, at SpaceX, to minimize communication
issues. We have anyone-to-anyone communication, instead of, say, chain-of-command
communication, which is extremely inefficient.
So I think weíre a little lower on productivity per person though, like I said, weíre
trying to fix that. But since we have a lot more people, our total productivity and pace of
innovation is faster than it has ever been.
ATTENDEE (Frank Mooring): Frank Mooring with Aviation Week.
MUSK: I know. [Laughs.]
ATTENDEE (Frank Mooring): You mentioned this morning that youíre thinking about
taking SpaceX public before the end of next year, possibly, but that you would like to
retain a personal controlling interest in it because of some things that you want to do. I
wonder if you could elaborate a little bit about those personal objectives that tie you to
keeping the controlling interest.
MUSK: Yeah, absolutely. Itís really ... What I want SpaceX to keep doing is working on
the technologies necessary to create a self-sustaining civilization on Mars. And while I do
think thereís likely to be some economic payoff by transporting large numbers of people
and cargo to Mars, it requires a bit of long-term thinking.
That maybe goes beyond the quarterly cycle of Wall Street, thatís for sure. Some people
on Wall Street will think thatís just crazy, and what I should actually just do is milk the
government and various commercial companies, and try to charge them as high as
possible, which we will not do. So I want to make sure that I can ignore such things,
which I can only do if Iím the controlling shareholder.
BLOOMFIELD: Can I just piggyback on that with a Washington question? The mood in
Washington is a bit grim. Weíve got a lot on our plate, thereís a lot of discussion of
unaffordability, weíre going week-to-week with continuing resolutions. The long-term
discussion is about whatís going to happen to this country if we canít change the
trajectory of debt. No one is talking about new things to spend a lot of money on. What
advice, or what message would you give to the Congress and the Executive Branch in this
tough time that everyoneís slogging through, with a very short-term focus? What would
you say to them, as someone who is really operating against a different vision and a
different sort of time cycle?
MUSK: Well, I think, first of all, people ought to have some sense of perspective, and
realize that things are actually really freaking great. The United States is actually doing
quite well, and we all live really great lives here in the US. And we shouldnít lose sight of
that. And the US is still the worldís largest manufacturer, and it has been since it took
over from England, I donít know, a hundred and some odd years ago. The unemployment
rate is decreasing ...
I think there are lots of reasons to be positive, actually, without being complacent.
We certainly need to decrease the amount of government spending. I think that thatís
really important. There seems to be some movement afoot to reign in government
spending. And it canít be a little bit here, around the edges, there needs to be a
meaningful decrease in government spending such that we do not have trillion dollar
deficits, because thatís obviously unsustainable.
The trillion dollar deficit thing, I liken it sort of to ... itís like toddlers with a
cupcake. Have you ever seen these delayed gratification tests? Apparently you can
predict somebodyís future success by the degree to which they can partake in delayed
gratification, where you can say, ďhereís this cupcake, itís on a table. If you eat it now,
thatís all you get. But if you wait ten minutes, you can have three cupcakes.Ē And some
toddlers, they just go, and they eat that cupcake. They basically sacrifice tomorrow for
Thatís kind of what Congress often behaves like. And to some degree the
American people are responsible for this, because we ought to vote people out who
engage in such behavior. So running trillion dollar plus deficits ... that is going to come
back to haunt us like thereís no tomorrow. We do not want to be Greece, or Portugal, or
any such country.
So we must make the hard decisions of reigning in government spending, and
probably increasing the tax burden as well, but we need to do both, we canít solve it
either by simply increasing taxes or by just cutting deficit. Thatís like saying, you know,
the sky is blue. Itís so freaking obvious. So I think, hopefully Congress can display
sufficient maturity and fortitude to make the right decision in this regard.
I applaud, for example, the UK is taking the appropriate austerity measures, and
cutting 25 percent of spending, and that kind of thing. We have to do that here. And itís
just going to get harder and harder if we donít do it soon, because our interest burden is
going to ... the amount of money we spend on interest is going to start getting bigger and
bigger and bigger, and itís going to make that austerity even worse down the road.
BLOOMFIELD: Well, I must say, for all of the debate about how to spend less in
Washington, we now know, after an hour of conversation, that there are people out there
who are pursuing a long-range vision that points to a lot of interesting and more
sustainable vistas. So on behalf of the Stimson Center, I would like to thank you very
much for being my guest at Chairmanís Forum. It was wonderful to have you. Thank you,
MUSK: Thanks for having me.