Elon Musk Says His New Rocket Probably Won’t Work, Expert Agrees

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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An independent rocket expert said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk is right about the upcoming launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket: It’ll probably fail.

Musk admitted at the International Space Station Research and Development conference Wednesday that there is a “good chance it would not make it to orbit in its first launch.” New rocket designs regularly fail the first time they are tested, an independent expert with knowledge of Musk’s rocket told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“Musk is right to be ready for failure,” Dr. Robert Zubrin, a rocket scientist who helped design plans for NASA’s manned mission to Mars, told TheDCNF. “If you ask me, my prediction would be that Falcon 9 will fail at least twice before it fully succeeds, but that Musk will push on regardless until it does. He’s got the right stuff.”

Musk said that the Falcon Heavy was difficult to test without a launch and that the rocket could have issues with multiple vibrations making it unstable during flight. The Falcon Heavy’s maiden test flight is due to take place toward the end of the year.

Zubrin said that he has talked with Musk about the failure rates of SpaceX rockets and stated new designs tend to fail repeatedly when tested.

“Early on in his SpaceX effort, I had a meeting with him in which I warned him that he should expect several failures of the Falcon 1 before it succeeded,” Zubrin said. “He was overconfident then, and claiming that SpaceX had looked at everything, brashly demanded that I show him the mechanism that might cause it to fail. Of course I couldn’t. I just knew based on my own experience that new rocket systems are very likely to fail the first few times.”

Musk’s previous rocket, the Falcon 1, failed several times before finally launching successfully. Zubrin said that Musk has learned from these failures, but that more should be expected before the Falcon Heavy works correctly.

“But he learned his lesson and taking it in stride, kept trying when Falcon 1 failed three times before its finally succeeded,” Zubrin said. “The same thing happened with his effort to develop soft landing techniques, when he failed five times before he successfully landed a Falcon 9 booster at KSC [Kennedy Space Center].”

SpaceX plans to have the 230-foot-tall Falcon Heavy rocket fly around the moon as early as next year. A single Falcon Heavy launch is expected to sell for $90 million dollars and carry 54 tons into orbit, according to SpaceX. The company should be capable of achieving a cost-to-weight ratio of about $1,240 per pound of payload to orbit, which is vastly cheaper than the roughly $10,000 per pound the Space Shuttle cost.

“Whatever one might say about Elon Musk, the man is tough. He knows that failure is the price of success, and he has what it takes to pay it,” Zubrin said.

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