Featured Image Source: Amanda Macias/ @amanda_m_macias via Twitter
Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and Chief Engineer, participated in a fireside chat with Lieutenant General John Thompson, Commander of the Space and Missile Systems Center, during the United States Air Force Association’s (AFA) 2020 Air Warfare Symposium. The AFA's Air Warfare Symposium is an event that brings together top leadership of the Air Force and government officials to discuss about how the defense and aerospace industry can work together towards the professional development of the U.S Air Force. Conversations held are about investment and innovation for Multi-Domain Operations (MDO) to defeat threats not only on ground or at sea but also in the air, space, and cyber warfare.
Image Source: Joey Roulette/@joroulette via Twitter
Lt. General Thompson conversed about the new branch of the Air Force, the U.S Space Force among other related subjects with Musk. During today's symposium Musk talked about SpaceX rocket reusability, he said that reusability in space is important. The company's Falcon 9 rocket is a true innovation in the aerospace industry, the first-stage rocket booster has the capability of carrying payload into space then returning to land on autonomous drone ships at sea; performs a controlled landing powered by its own engines. No other aerospace company has achieved this level of control over their spacecraft. Recovering the Falcon 9's first-stage rocket booster enables SpaceX to reuse it for up to 10 times, which reduces manufacturing and operational costs.
"When you have assured low cost access to space other technologies will be enabled. Many things are possible once the transport problem is solved . Establishing a self sustaining base on Mars opens opportunities."
Musk calls reusability the "holy grail" of rocketry. Falcon 9 is partially reusable, today he mentioned that their next-generation rocket, known as Starship, has the potential for full reusability but that creating a reusable system at on a large production scale, "Volume production and volume launch of a reusable system is super super hard. Not reusable like the Space Shuttle. Has to be agile like an aircraft. Shuttle too expensive, Musk said.
"The vehicle we’re working on, Starship is the holy grail of which is full reusability."
SpaceX is actively working to develop a fully reusable spacecraft that could be as reliable as airplanes and cars, "designing a rocket is trivial at this point ... It's real easy," he joked then the audience laughed. Musk stated that competition is good, that he wishes more companies should design their spacecraft with reusability in mind and that the U.S. is at risk of falling behind in the space sector:
"This is not something that was a risk in times past but is a risk now. I have zero doubt that if the United States doesn’t seek innovation in space it will be second in space."
Musk says there is no other country better at innovation than the United States, but adds that if the military doesn't work aggressively with industry then the US will be second in space.— Amanda Macias (@amanda_m_macias) February 28, 2020
He added that there should have been a competitor to Lockheed Martin's F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which one of the military's most expensive weapon system, "The Joint Strike Fighter, there should be a competitor...that’s a controversial subject but I don’t think it’s good to have one provider."
In a further segment he added:
"The future of air warfare is in autonomous drone warfare. But we still want to retain authority with a person in the loop. The fighter jet era has passed."
The competitor should be a drone fighter plane that’s remote controlled by a human, but with its maneuvers augmented by autonomy. The F-35 would have no chance against it.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 28, 2020
During the Air Force Symposium, Musk also talked a bit about Tesla, recalling the electric vehicle company's beginning, "When it's a radically new product people don't know that they want it." Adding that he does not really desire to protect IP of Tesla believes that if the company's rate of innovation is high IP theft is not an issue. In fact, he is not interested in protecting Tesla's IP because he hopes other manufactures build electric vehicles to accelerate the transition towards sustainable energy, "How do we protect our IP at Tesla? We don’t. We have open source patents. IP protection is done by innovating rapidly and staying ahead of competitors."
Musk: how do we protect our IP at Tesla? We don’t . We have open source patents . IP protection is done by innovating rapidly and staying ahead of competitors #AWS2020— Sandra Erwin (@Sandra_I_Erwin) February 28, 2020
Today Musk also advised:
"In the next five years one of the most transformative technologies will be AI. I tell young people to study computer science and physics."
He later stated that there is no other country better in innovation than the United States, but warns that if the military doesn't work alongside top leaders in the industry the United States could fall to second place. He also believes that the Chinese economy will be at least two or three times larger than the United states due to China's population being larger. "A thing that will feel pretty strange is that the Chinese economy is probably going to be at least twice as big as the United States’ economy, maybe three times. The foundation of war is economics,” Musk explained. "If you have half the resources of the counterparty then you better be real innovative, if you’re not innovative, you’re going to lose." Both the United States and China have the world’s largest economies, though America's economy is currently larger.
The meeting ended with Musk calling out for the U.S Space Force to have new uniforms. Currently, Space Force's uniforms are the traditional camouflage suits the Air Force wears.