Spaceflight Insider

Opinion: SpaceX ‘routinely’ fails to launch, imposes media blackout causing firestorm

Image Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX failed for a tenth time to get the Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket off of the launch pad at SLC-40 on the evening of Saturday June 21. Nothing unusual about that, point of fact SpaceX has had little luck launching Orbcomm satellites accurately or on a regular basis for that matter. What was unusual (at least for some) was the lengths, inaccurate statements and sad historical record surrounding the media blackout imposed by the company during this most recent attempt.

Don’t allow TrollSpace to dissuade you (TrollSpace refers to those who attack the messenger rather than address the problem), not hosting a webcast, not having any company representatives on hand to speak to the media and abandoning the media altogether – is not “routine.” Yet that’s precisely what SpaceX did. The excuse offered by the company would be laughable if not for the fact it was so insulting and that the company has strongly asserted its desire to fly national defense payloads.

Media arrived as instructed outside Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to find that SpaceX had recalled the lone public relations practitioner that had been available (SpaceX has a hard time keeping PR representatives, no fewer than four of them have joined and then left the Hawthorne, California-based firm since 2010) to California. In essence SpaceX abandoned the media to the 45th Space Wing, a fact lamented by one USAF representative as: “A complete mess.”

The situation with how SpaceX views and treats the media has seen ups and downs over the years and suggests the company has a dim view of the press. Issues can be traced back to the first Falcon 9 flight from Cape Canaveral in 2010.

SpaceX issued no statement after the June 21 scrub, causing some to compare it to a prior F9 v1.1 launch where the media was forced to find out the next launch attempt through the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. Thankfully in the case of this flight, the launch’s customer, Orbcomm, did not suffer from SpaceX’s failings and posted updates. Sadly, a helpful hand to fill in the void left by SpaceX has not always been available.

During the lead up to the COTS-1 mission, CBS correspondent Bill Harwood corrected the attempt by SpaceX’s Gwynne Shotwell to assert her company had done a good job with media relations, countering that it took “hours and hours and hours” after the mission to find out even basic things about what had taken place. Put simply, he told the company’s COO and President that her company had not done a good job with concern to the press and he was absolutely correct. This exchange took place in late 2010. More recently SpaceX issued a series of excuses as to why it was not allowing remote cameras to be set up for the launch of CASSIOPE. These assertions failed to pass the smell test and set the stage for what took place today.

With what was, in essence, a media blackout imposed by SpaceX, something that, according to Justin Ray at SpaceFlight Now had not taken place since the Cold War, it was hoped that the lack of any information released by the company was the fault of an emergency or something that was simply unavoidable. The excuse issued by SpaceX stated that broadcasting the launches had become too routine, and that the full webcast is no longer appropriate. How about any webcast whatsoever the length or any information at all for that matter?

This bizarre comment depicts a corporate philosophy so divorced from reality as to cause serious concerns about other statements the company makes. First off, showing the launches is not only “appropriate” – it’s necessary if a company actually desires to be viewed as transparent.

Secondly, if SpaceX didn’t want to show a full webcast, that’s fine, do what ULA does and show just the launch itself. However, the disingenuous nature of this statement conveniently fails to mention that the company had no media-relations presence on the June 21 launch attempt whatsoever. Nothing.

Just the day prior it was situation normal, media representative on hand, remote cameras set up, press kits issued, webcast held and more. So what changed in a day?

If SpaceX wants to understand the meaning of the word “routine” – they should sit down with someone who actually launches on a routine basis because that word doesn’t describe them. The only thing SpaceX does routinely – is scrub. If you don’t think so – there’s a Falcon 9 sitting at SLC-40 that contradicts your opinion. If SpaceX has any sense of integrity they will issue an apology for making such a ludicrous statement following such a poor decision.

Despite the fervent wishes of some “cheerleaders” – SpaceX has only been able to launch the Falcon 9 rocket at the rate of 1.8 times a year. Those that follow the Cult of Personality surrounding the company would gerrymander that to include just the past year, six months or on the fourth equinox, under a full Moon when the stars are under a certain alignment. Sorry, since they first launched the Falcon 9 in 2010 – SpaceX has only been able to launch nine times.

So, the company can’t even launch on average twice a year – so what? Well, SpaceX has pushed, prodded, demanded and sued to be allowed to compete under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program. The company’s CEO and Founder, Elon Musk, testified that his company could carry out all missions for the U.S. Air Force and “then some.” How accurate is this statement? When reviewed by the numbers – it’s completely inaccurate.

The only thing about the Falcon 9 - is the rate in which it scrubs. Photo Credit: Carleton Bailie / SpaceFlight Insider

The only thing about the Falcon 9 – is the rate in which it scrubs. Photo Credit: Carleton Bailie / SpaceFlight Insider

According to Musk’s assertion, his company should be able to handle an average of 9-10 DoD missions, plus an additional 4 for NASA as well as 5 commercial missions. That puts their manifest at around 18 launches annually. This is twice what the company has been able to accomplish in the past five years. Even if we creatively adapt the flight record to the whims of SpaceX supporters and only looked at the past year, SpaceX has only launched five times – leaving SpaceX 13 missions short of Musk’s assertions. It can safely be argued Musk’s statement is inaccurate.

SpaceX is pummeled in terms of the amount of launches conducted annually by companies such as ULA, ILS and ArianeSpace. In the case of ULA, the company flies on average six times more than SpaceX – but always has representatives on hand and webcasts the launches – even classified DoD missions. If anyone should be imposing media blackouts on the scale seen on June 21 due to the “routine” nature of how often they fly? – it should be ULA. Moreover, the use of the word “routine” runs in direct conflict to many of the company’s prior comments.

SpaceX has stated that a lot of what it is doing is “new”, “untried” and “innovative.” Therefore, the fact the company insinuated it was due to how routine the mission was – is insulting at best. Sorry, you can’t have it both ways. Either you’re daring and innovative and trying new things – or it’s routine.

To be unable to come close to other launch service providers numbers and then issue such statements is nothing short of embarrassing. There was however a positive side to this debacle  – it served the SpaceX fan base a dose of cold water.

SpaceX enthusiasts have long derided, attacked and posted libelous statements about anyone daring to point out these issues, attacking anyone who points out that, “the emperor has no clothes.”

During a prior launch I raised the question about why SpaceX was restricting remote camera access. One “cheerleader” asked me: “What are you hoping to get out of it?” As shocking as it might seem? I just wanted to be able to do my job. The bad thing about those types of questions – is they’re the ones that sting the most when thrown back at you.

What is SpaceX hoping to achieve by suing the U.S. Air Force? What do they think will happen after proclaiming they can meet DoD’s launch rate requirements – only to fail to do so? What do they hope to gain by imposing a media blackout? How will SpaceX fans respond?

On that last one – the answer was swift, poignant and let SpaceX know, in no uncertain terms, how poorly looked upon their decision was. Comments about the “invisible launch” #FalconNein and #SocialMedia(expletive)Storm – highlighted a fan base waking up from their Kool-Aid induced slumber. The warnings issued by journalists had finally been given a form.

Photo Credit: Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

Trolls were hard pressed to offer a rational excuse, falling back on: “They’re a private company and it’s their right…” True. However, if SpaceX wants the “good” that comes from the funding received from flying DoD missions – then SpaceX is going to have to behave like an actual aerospace firm run by professionals. Self-induced media blackouts, abandoning your responsibilities and dumping everything into the lap of the U.S. Air Force and fleeing to California – doesn’t cut it.

SpaceX is a private company and they have every right to behave as unprofessionally as they like. However, they are also a company that wants to compete with the largest U.S. launch service provider and tonight’s antics told even their most ardent fan that they still have a ways to go.

Imposing a media blackout and stating it was caused due to how “routinely” SpaceX launches? Probably would have been better punctuated by an actual launch instead of the tenth scrub on a mission that has been delayed by almost a year.

Moreover, it reminds long-term space followers of another organization and the tragedies that this cultural behavior caused. More on that at the close.

ULA currently holds the monopoly on DoD contracts. They carry the most sensitive, classified national security missions to orbit and they stream video of these events despite the nature of these launches. SpaceX has offered up a variety of excuses for their thin-skinned and recalcitrant nature. However, most would agree attempting to assert that a handful of communications satellites should be treated more secretively than a spy satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office – is not a statement to be taken seriously.

Photo Credit: Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

What does this situation really mean? For this writer, it is about transparency, something SpaceX appears to have an adversity to. Sadly, I have seen what this culture can accomplish twice before – it led to 14 people being killed. NASA has paid a very high price due to a lack of communication and a factual assessment of the status on the ground. SpaceX is still new, they apparently have to be dealt similar blows before they understand. But can the U.S. space program afford another disaster?

SpaceX has stated it can handle all of the USAF’s payloads. Its own flight record plainly shows this is not true. The company has stated that it decided to not host any media and public relations because its launches have become too “routine.” The company’s own record of accomplishments and statements show that this too is false. While this might seem like a minor issue – it has larger implications.

SpaceX has been tapped to fly astronauts to the International Space Station and, as noted it wants DoD contracts. It might be best if they not be allowed to do either. Why? It’s about safety and security. The safety of U.S. astronauts and the security of the United States. If SpaceX is willing to state it can handle all USAF payloads, when it in fact has shown it cannot match that rate of launch required to do this. It also has stated that it is trying daring and innovative things – and then claims that it’s launches are “routine.” Which is it? What statements issued by the company are to be believed? Customers and the public shouldn’t have to “parse” – period.

During the June 20 scrub, this website erroneously posted that the launch window closed at 7:06 p.m. EDT. It was noticed by a reader and SpaceFlight Insider amended the article and issued a statement at the bottom acknowledging that it had originally contained content which was factually inaccurate. Why? It’s about integrity, honesty and accuracy and it was the ethical thing to do. SpaceX would have far more credibility at this point if they just said that they wanted nothing to do with the media and therefore opted to abandon their responsibility. Rather, they posted something so ridiculous that it accomplished nothing other than to add insult to injury and it called into question how seriously anything the company says should be taken.

In the end it comes down to two simple words, ones which for some reason have to be repeated: Integrity and ethics. If your company cannot carry out the rate of launch required to handle a vital contract – you don’t go on the record and say it can. Also, if your company’s rate of launch sees some years with no launches at all, others with perhaps two or three – you don’t characterize that as “routine.”

In the end, tonight’s events might only turn out to be inconsiderate and unprofessional. However, viewed through a cultural prism they could highlight a corporate mentality.

It is highly likely that TrollSpace will be out in force to counter this debate. They will talk about something else, to distract, they will insult to devalue the importance of these statements, they will stoop to anything at all – except addressing the points raised. I’m sure I will be painted as ignorant and biased and the fact I have been dealing with SpaceX’s issues for as long as they’ve been launching the Falcon 9 will be downplayed as much as possible.

I’ve seen SpaceX gain and lose PR representatives and have actually been at most of the events that I (strangely) never see any of the individuals who behave in the fashion detailed above attend. It’s not bias I’m speaking out of – it’s experience. I have penned and approved articles that have touted SpaceX’s successes – but the non-events of June 21 need to be called what they were – a disgrace. One which the company has so far lacked the integrity to own up to.

Photo Credit: Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

Photo Credit: Mike Howard / SpaceFlight Insider

SpaceX will continue to be indignant about not receiving certain contracts, failing to realize that what matters isn’t what you say you will do – but what you actually accomplish. In terms of yesterday’s fiasco, it also matters how comfortable you are putting it out for the public to see. It’s obvious to everyone now – that SpaceX is terrified of transparency. In reality the only thing SpaceX accomplished was to fail to launch yet again – while talking about how “routinely” they launch. Talk is cheap – but silence speaks volumes.

There are a lot of words to sum up what SpaceX did on June 21, inappropriate, unprofessional, immature, amateurish and inconsiderate. The one word this author would not use to describe this “mess” – was surprising. SpaceX is the current golden child of space. However, these actions point to a deep-seated insecurity – one which likely has a root cause. If their offerings are as terrific as what they say, it’s doubtful they’d have any problem with hosting a webcast and they should be launching far more than less than twice a year. But they aren’t.

Fads are great, but in the long run, reliable access to orbit, conducted in an open manner – is far more valuable than the “new shiny” on the block.

I’ve covered more than 50 NASA, ULA, SpaceX and Orbital launches, flown with the astronauts in the Shuttle Training Aircraft as they worked to close out the shuttle era. I’ve entered the clean rooms and seen spacecraft and rovers prepared to be sent to other worlds. I know that no launch is “routine.” The fact SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 is still stuck at SLC-40 – says that more eloquently than anything I could ever write. Hopefully SpaceX has gotten the message and has gained something it needs even more than that EELV contract – humility. In the end though, perhaps it’s SpaceX’s fans who have caused this problem. Telling the company what it wants to hear, how great they are – is how we got where we are in the first place. What they require at this point is to be told what they need to hear and that is it is past time to drop the arrogance. You don’t treat those charged with telling your story in this manner and you don’t treat those who support you as if they are something to be cast aside. Today’s SpaceX can easily be tomorrow’s Constellation Program and if you keep behaving in this manner – it might be best if you followed that program’s path…

SpaceX media relations representative Emily Shanklin's comment on lack of webcast. Image Credit: SpaceFlight Now

SpaceX media relations representative Emily Shanklin’s comment on lack of webcast. Image Credit: SpaceFlight Now

 

This editorial has been edited as of June 27 at 11:38 p.m. EDT with the correct title for Gwynne Shotwell.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The SpaceFlight Group

 

 

 

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Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.

Reader Comments

I think what I am mostly sorry about is how divided the whole subgroup of people who get excited about human activity in space are, and this article is an example of that. I’m sorry that the back and forth has been so intense that you felt the need to come up with a nickname for the people who are genuinely excited (and perhaps a little rosey-eyed) about this one company.

For me, manned spaceflight is a venture that promises to unite us as a people who can do greater things. I’m looking forward to launches of Angara and CZ-5 just as much as much as I get excited about what SpaceX is doing. Why? Because spaceflight is one of the best things we humans do as a species, and Im excited no matter who’s doing it.

Don’t get me wrong, SpaceX’s actions today were disgraceful, and for those of us who follow them and look to them as a promising game changer in a stagnating industry, it stung a lot. Like you, I hope they are humbled by the backlash they have gotten.

Hi Derek,
I too hate that. However, there wouldn’t be a need for labels if they didn’t resort to slander, libel, ad hominem attacks, spam dumps and on and on. I love how innovative SpaceX is – but I can do without this sort of behavior and worst? What does that say about NewSpace when it seems to attract people who act that way? I’d rather not toss around labels, but the name fits and they’ve earned it.

I love launch, it’s why I do this. I don’t care who is launching what – period.

If I have any real negative feelings about a certain side – it’s due to instances like this as well as some who feel the only way their “side” can win – is by attacking those who highlight issues with what they’re doing.

I deeply appreciate the fact that while you are a NewSpace supporter – you don’t use the tactics employed by some within that subset. I wish more people on your side would act this way.

Sincerely and with thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

Tony Achilles

Jason,
Late night rant? Maybe. But I agree completely, even though I was lucky (or smart) to have passed on taking part in the latest disappointments (weather related or not) from the SpaceX launch world. Hopefully, SpaceX will realize sooner than later that no one can wave the SpaceX flag higher than the enthusiastic support of an informed media.
Tony

Newport Coast

I would guess they are limiting communication on purpose…and for good reason. I would do the same if I was running the company: the media and public at large is a group of people (in general) that loves to hear bad news; bad news sells. Anyone who wants to achieve something significant in life encounters the reality that to achieve your goals requires mostly psychological fuel that can he exhausted fast by negative, limited minded people. Take for example, the Tesla ‘fire’ reporting: what they have accomplished with the Tesla is beyond exceptional… but the media reported on two fires (out of 25,000+) cars on the road, and now the car has to deal with a negative reputation as having a fire risk (which is, in actuality, almost zero statistical risk…btw, notice that when videos of Dick Van Dyke was pulled and saved from his new burning Jaguar, Jaguar or gas gars didn’t have any new PR fire risk issues…)

Bottom line is that productivity on the way to difficult goals hinges on positive attitudes, spirit and team morale. When a launch doesn’t happen, or even if a complete failure results, it should still be considered a success and a step on the way to long-term progress. The media and most of our short-term gratification society doesn’t understand this…so, I agree and understand why they would limit information and I believe it IS the ethical way to behave since the general public will likely only perceive it to be good news if the launch is perfect…otherwise you will spend a lot of time and energy trying to explain the definition of success and how long-term progress is achieved (in anything significant).

Good or bad, the authors article should be posted for all to read at SpaceX offices. If taken properly, they will digest it, make repairs as needed and move forward with renewed efforts. If they strongly disagree, they should discuss it as a company since they are not vertically stratified in terms of management. Most importantly, they should be aware of this appearance incase they are so overworked they don’t notice anything outside of work. In the long run humility is a moderating force.

The total number of launches is not the most important measure, because it doesn’t take into account how many potential launches there could have been.

That depends upon how many launches they have sold and when the payloads are available. Have they flown 5 out of a potential 50 launches, or out of a potential 6?

What we need to see are numbers like “average delay per mission” to judge whether they could scale to more launches.

Certainly they haven’t proven that they can do 18 launches a year, but is that down to capability or opportunity?

(I don’t have an opinion on this, I’m just interested in understanding better)

Snowball, much as ULA, they issue initial manifests with as many as 10-12 launches – but have only been able to conduct 1.8 launches on average. We try to include the data on the number of launch delays in our articles. Here’s the slips for Orbcomm OG2: Delayed from September, November, April 30, May 10, May 27, June 11, June 12, June 15, June 20, June 21 and June 22.

Snowball, here is a simple website of worldwide launches that is fairly up to date. It shows the planned launch date and all other info including the postponements at the bottom of each. i find it handy for this and looking ahead worldwide. Hope it helps

Excellent article Jason, and you’re exactly right, the trolls will strive mightily to skewer your head on a pike. Hopefully those with the power to make decisions as to space exploration will have as much courage to read your posting as you have had in writing it. In all honesty, however, I doubt it. As you so eloquently pointed out, Musk is the “Golden Child”. He has cleverly painted himself as the “outsider”, the “underdog”, the “youthful, innovative, and honest versus the antiquated, unimaginative, and greedy”, and “David versus Goliath”. He absolutely delights in being anointed “The Disruptor” by CNBC. He need only portray the media as part of the Old Guard allied against him, and his followers will follow him lemming-like into a convoluted jihad against transparency. As “The Disruptor” anything he does is justifiable as part of his holy war against the corrupt, staid, “good ol’ boy” system. Unfortunately, the “Cult of Personality” has very effectively given him unstoppable momentum regardless of the SpaceX performance record. NASA, the Air Force, and Congress (except for good ol’ Sen. “Stonewall” Shelby) are running scared, terrified to do anything less than give Musk any contract he wants, and more. Congress dare not even ask him to account for taxpayer money spent. Of course, there will be an about face by SpaceX as to the media prior to the August/September commercial crew decision, but once the decision that has already been made, “SpaceX wins” is officially announced, prepare for the secrecy and lack of transparency that was just experienced to become the norm. Thank you Jason for having the journalistic professionalism, having the integrity and courage to speak truth to power. I only hope than someone with the power to make a difference reads your powerful, eloquent posting. With sincere respect and highest esteem, Karol

You hit the nail right on the head. SpaceX is very arrogant. Why is it so difficult to say why a launch was scrubbed? My wife even mentioned that it seems that they always have an issue getting a rocket up when first scheduled.
There webcast on Friday was self serving about what they called the first truly reusable rocket they are developing, and thermal protection as it is suppose to be, but they cannot get a “routine” launch off the ground. Routine? Even with the shuttle tragedies and issues with the shuttle program, NASA averaged 4.5 launches a year. Sadly, after what people at the time called “Routine” after the first 24 shuttle launches, the Challenger accident taught that there is no such thing as routine when it some to space flight. Unfortunately, we learned again that nothing about space is routine after Columbia.
As NASA decides which company will win the crew transportation contract, I hope they take a long hard look of how SpaceX conducts themselves. Awarding the contract to Sierra Nevada or Boeing should bring SpaceX down to reality. But with their arrogance, they will probably just file a lawsuit against NASA saying they should have won the contract.
I give NASA and ULA credit for making their launches available to the public to see no matter how classified the missions might be.

Terry L Edwards

I’ve been involved in the Launch Business for 44 years. This article is very much “on point” and very well written.

In the interest of fairness, it should be noted that while SpaceX has only achieved “1.8 launches per year” of Falcon 9 since its maiden flight 3 1/2 years ago, ULA’s Delta IV flew 7 times in its first four years for 1.75 flights per year, and Atlas 5 flew 8 times in its first four years for 2 flights per year.

Yes, but let’s not forget that during those first four years, Boeing launched 22 Delta II’s in addition to those 7 Delta IV’s for a total launch rate of 7.25 flights per year. Lockheed Martin launched 7 Atlas II’s, 4 Atlas III’s, 2 Titan II’s, and 5 Titan IV’s in addition to those 8 Atlas V’s for a total launch rate of 6.5 flights per year.

And still flying DIV, AV, and DII.

lol Brian, Angela just flat up owned your butt there.

If SpaceX is afraid of eventual failure, that should not keep them from showing launches. We all saw Challenger take astronauts down. Total perfection cannot be achieved and failure will happen. We or SpaceX must roll with the punches. I do think that showing launches and having webcast is very important to the space program. I think one reason our Moon program lost interest in the end was due to less and less coverage. I used to follow them all I could but in the end coverage even within the news media fell off. If SpaceX ends their coverage and they claim to want to colonize Mars, they too will go the way of the dinosaur. As to the BS that is being spread by SpaceX, yes indeed they should hone up. Question is will they? I am all for SpaceX and only wish them well, but I also AGREE with this writer. SpaceX needs to embrace public support, not reject it!

It makes me wonder if Apollo’s viewership would have been maintained if web streaming has been available. A great deal of the viewership problem was due to the networks deciding how much time they would allow the astronauts and how much it would effect primetime schedules. I hope it will be different today. This is another reason the Spacex webcasts are important

Dear SpaceX: per your decision not to provide media, and hence, public access to your launches, you are, well, idiots. And arrogant idiots, to boot.Sure, as you keep whining, you’re a private company and you can do what you want. But there’s a huge cost for that attitude. You are flying DOD payloads, and in case you haven’t realized it yet, DOD payloads are government payloads. Which means that I, and every other taxpayer, fund them. You, Spacex, are feeding at the public trough. We the people have a right to transparency of the launch process. You fly government payloads funded by us; you have an obligation to provide information (print, spoken, video, AKA all media) in a real-time fashion. NASA’s set the gold standard for that, even with classified payloads. You could have learned from decades of that high performance level. But you’re busy ok’ing journalists, inviting them, and then dumping them and access to your (non)launch? This ain’t gonna fly, pardon the pun. If your goal is to create a perception of SpaceX as an arrogant, spoiled child prone to lies and tantrums, then you, sirs and madams, have done a very good job. However, going into space is serious business, and frankly, we don’t have time for kindergarten antics. We need serious space flight people who understand that spaceflight is more than a yippee! something took off with a boom! attitude (AKA the amateur rocket club model) and is a serious business that affects every aspect of our lives and cultures, from weather satellites to security satellites to scientific experiments, and some day, again, to astronauts’ lives. Given your current attitudes and behaviors, I hope that our government is never crazy enough to entrust a single human life to you. Here’s a simple equation: the better you are at your job, the more you should be humbled by the enormity of what we do when we go into space. There are a lot of equations involved in space flight; but that one you will never get. You simply don’t have the capability for the big, complex equations of all that is spaceflight.

SpaceX is great with PR when it behooves them, like the introduction of the manned Dragon a couple of weeks ago. Then it is a PR circus. Or with Elon exuding the amazing comparisons of the Falcon rocket to the public, as powerful as three 747s or whatever. But when there are problems they say nothing and now have gone as far as just dumping the press and the enthusiasts out in the cold. Does anyone ever really know what the true cause of any of their problems are, such as the pressurization leak on the first launch attempt?

I know a few things about SpaceX from my career with NASA and from people who have worked for them or NASA. They obfuscate and withhold information when it is to their good. When one of their early flights had some problems and NASA, knowing there were some problems, asked for data SpaceX gave NASA “data.” Stacks of sensor reading data but no analysis of that data. A good friend who knows how to interpret this “data” consulted for NASA and understood what was going on. However when NASA and SpaceX had a telecon SpaceX would obfuscated around the meaning of the data. My friend ultimately halted the telecon and demanded NASA put SpaceX on the spot to answer the questions directly, not talk around the issue. I don’t know what happened but that is their modus operandi.

I also know two fairly young people who burned out with SpaceX after leaving USA to work for them. They push people to the limit and the financial recompense is not worth the trouble or fun.

All that being said I do respect what they have managed to do but if they want to obtain government contracts and keep their employees they had best consider changes in certain business practices. I wish them success but if all we hear about is wonder numbers and amazing feats and are left in the dark about real problems they will leave a bad taste in many technical people’s mouths.

While the author may have gone to longer extremes than needed to make his point, it was well made and all based on past performance. Its also clear that he was using other sources of information due to PR and media relation failings at SpaceX. I have been a supporter of SpaceX long before the fist Falcon 1 launch, But have felt that things didn’t quite add up for a while now. While I have also relished the ongoing fight with ULA, it made me nervous because launch cadence goals we not being met. in fact, the rate is dismal. It’s very hard to excite those around you when every attempt ends in scrub or postponement.
I continue to support and applaud SpaceX but the media slips are signs of a company that is very immature and does not understand the power of public image and engagement. These are even more important when the chips are down. Just imagine if a launch failure occurs.Then people will ask if it is a real space launch company or a house of cards

SpaceX just took away one of the complaints regarding this launch.

It appears that it is “planning to live webcast the Orbcomm OG2 launch on their website starting at 2:16 pm PT/ 5:16 pm ET.”. That’s today Sunday June 22nd.

Tom,
Thanks for the kind words. I wrote the Op-Ed late last night after witnessing the complete breakdown of SpaceX’s PR efforts. Moreover, SpaceX will not be launching today, June 22 – the 11th Scrub has just been announced.
Sincerely and with kind regards, Jason Rhian

Arthur,
No, sorry. The 11th scrub for this mission was declared today. There will be no Sunday, June 22 launch attempt.
Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

It does appear, regardless of the launch date, that SpaceX will be webcasting the launch live. That was the main point I was trying to make.

I’m sympathetic to the media’s need for cooperation from the companies they cover. Also I can’t imagine how spaceX’s winning government contracts will be easier without coverage of launch events. I do think it’s an overreaction though because one of the reasons spacex has such a rabid fan base is because they do share a lot of information. The grasshopper and the rocket certification videos are great examples.

I am an engineer but don’t work in aerospace, but it seems to me that they do provide detailed information on failures although maybe not as fast as some would like. This is a good example because it happened over a weekend. I’d expect we’ll hear more information about the leak source from friday in the coming days or weeks for example.

Likewise I also wouldn’t take it too seriously what one staffer says in response to a question on a saturday around a scrub is necessarily company policy. If what the author says about spaceX PR is true, it’s more likely that they are just PR challenged. If that’s the case there’s no reason to overreact, although I understand it must be hard and frustrating when it’s your job to provide coverage for these events. Hopefully they will provide a more coherent policy on launch coverage in the future, whether it be webcast or youtube after the fact I’m not sure what is best. Doing at least what ULA does would seem to be prudent, although again this consideration may not have been on the mind of the person making these comments or decision.

I also totally understand if the man and woman doing the webcasts (another commentor mentioned their names), don’t want to prep and sit around for hours waiting for whether. Especially if as it appears that they have actual important engineering jobs to be doing. I recall that they gave their titles as being program directors, which i thought was interesting because the format of the show was more of a PR style of event. Maybe they continue it with real PR people or dump the show format and just stream or release an after the fact recording of the launch and ground control audio. That’s for them to decide, although I would agree (and i would be very surprised if elon musk did not agree) that getting people excited about spaceX helps them with commercial crew and EELV, both of which are stated goals for spacex.

It can’t be true that making these webcasts and providing PR costs nothing, as the author suggests… however in the larger context the cost of providing these things must be exceedingly small relative to the value of government sourced contracts. Longer term since musk has said he wants to offer private flights to space, transparency is going to help in getting people to be comfortable flying on private technology. Everything I’ve ever seen from spaceX leads me to believe that the company at large (or at least musk) appreciates and understands this. So that is why I’d recommend not overreacting to what smells like a random employee comment vs official company policy.

It still was a surprising comment, even if it was taken out of context by unhappy press. Nobody knows better than elon how to live and die by the press, that is why i think this is overblown. Look at how tesla revised their leasing policy based on media criticism, or how they went out of the way to add the titanium shield to address three fires that had no human injuries. I know these are not spaceX events, but I think to suggest spaceX has ulterior motives is selling them short. It would be impossible for almost any private citizen to create technology that gets us to space as cheaply as spaceX has done, and I believe the only reason they were able to do so is because of the passion their engineers have for getting us to other planets, safely and cheaply. It’s an engineering company to the core, which is good for people flying on the rockets but maybe the bad side is that media-facing things like PR have less appeal in the company. as an engineer i can totally understand this.

still it’s musk job to get these things corrected, which i expect will happen.

I do find it interesting how many in the media who love spaceX for driving stories and traffic, suddenly hate them because of a one word comment released on a saturday mid scrub. I’m not saying the author is one of these people, by his own words he seems to have been critical of their PR investments for a while. But I do think spaceX deserves the benefit of the doubt for the time being.

Hi Josh,
While it’s convenient for SpaceX supporters to focus on a single word (routine). If one honestly looks at the entire statement – it’s very troubling.

NASA made similar claims – right before the launch of STS-51L – Challenger.

So, no, they shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt. If they want to fly astronauts – they need to realize spaceflight is not routine. They had to scrub again today. Driving home this fact.

As to how quickly SpaceX provides info – there’s a video clip which addresses just that point within the Op-Ed. I hope you’re not suggesting a CBS correspondent was stating something factually inaccurate. Especially considering how many others are backing up his statements.

Also, I don’t think the U.S. Air Force representative you refer to as a “staffer” would appreciation the demotion. Especially given the fact you did so in an attempt to excuse this.

No one took their comment out of context. What you did there was attempt to massage what they said to mean something else and suggest that those in the media who were witness to this display were too dim to understand. You need to apologize for that. We can read and are unwilling to reinterpret what is stated to make SpaceX feel better about itself.

About what the folks who prep the webcasts want or don’t want. What world do you live in where folks can just opt to not do their jobs? Also, you fail to note that besides the webcast failure, they also failed to provide any information whatsoever. You’re correct however, webcasts cost $50. I’m sure fifty bucks would break Musk. If that’s the case – he can get a volunteer to host it. In fact I’d like to offer to pay the $50 for him for each F9 launch. We can afford $100 annually.

It seems obvious you have a severe case of hero-worship going on for Elon. I think anyone who flies on Dragon really doesn’t care what he thinks “is best.”

What I took away from your comment is that you’re very unfamiliar with SpaceX and Musk’s history as well as basic space history. That’s fine. However, what isn’t fine is to attempt to correct the views of others and to paint those highlighting them as: “overreacting” “unhappy” and so on. My question to you is – where are similar reports about ULA, Orbital, Arianespace, ILS and so on? TO that, were you at the Cape and saw what we did?

Please understand, I have no issue with you stating your opinion. I do however have a problem with you suggesting that you, who admit your not involved in aerospace, know how to do the media’s job better than some who have done it for more than 40 years.

Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

Jason,

I never said you personally weren’t doing your job properly. If anything I gave you points for consistency.

I am an engineer and that the culture of spacex is an engineering firm. I understand PR being very unglamous and unimpressive to other engineers, and if given the choice many of them would prefer not to do it. While I don’t exactly know what happened in this decision, I think the single sentence comment that everybody is reacting to is both taken out of context and not part of any official corporate policy. It doesn’t mean it’s inaccurate or not the case, I’m just encouraging everybody to take a deep breath and chill out. Which given that space is awesome, should be a pleasure… no?

Besides being an engineer I’m also an entrepreneur, so I have no problem with healthy skepticism towards any hard to acheive thing… whether that be spaceX, project loon, or what have you. On the contrary I think it’s healthy. I don’t get why you seem to be so angry about it though. And now you’re directing it at me, and I’m just here to read your blog. You do seem to have some excess vitriol that I’m not sure serves your cause. You ask whether I was at the launch… no, that is why I reading blogs from reporters such as yourself who get paid to have the fun on our behalf and share it with us. Maybe you’re upset you didn’t get to see the launch that scrubbed? I can understand that but please know I didn’t have anything to do with that decision.

fwiw… I’m a big supporter of space exploration. I flew on the first commercial zeroG flight with buzz aldrin and Brian Binnie one week before scaled composites won the x prize. ZeroG sells me on the whole zerog 2 suborbital 2 orbital 2 mars appraoch and I plan to go up in vigin galactics thing in a few years once they get all the kinks and backlog cleared out. I would love to support spaceX if they ever offer a commercial level trip to space, and/or maybe move to mars someday. That’s not an option today because the next challenge is to get humans to space more cheaply and safely. Well that and just having spaceX not to have helium leaks.

Still I don’t know anyone who could say that they aren’t tremendously impressed wtih spaceX, not just with their plans and aispiration but what they’ve already acheived and their incremental persistence towards long term goals. I think we can look at people and companies with admiration and respect without thinking they are immune from mistakes. Hopefully we can agree these things aren’t binary.

I’m sure you can agree These things in space are not easy to do, they require large amounts of capital and huge amounts of time and effort to acheive…. we have so far to go and I think we are more likely to get there with the fundamentals of pragmatism and optimism for people who have the same ideals. Versus accusing them of arrogance or having evil intentions. I guess perhaps I’m assuming you want to open up space and see that the private industry is the future, although perhaps that is a wrong assumption because people who don’t have that idea I could understand not liking spaceX or private industry in general.

Again this is not a criticism of you, as you said I simply don’t understand what you’re trying to do. Enlightened or not, I’m excited to see what spaceX or VG does next. ULA? I could care less.

You’re correct, you never said the media wasn’t doing its job, but you certainly implied it.

Okay fine, you think the rest of the world has taken their reply out of context and only you understand what they meant.

I can sort of see what you’re saying about chilling out though, because I’ve started to calm down a bit. Also, you’re correct about reporting on space being a pleasure. However, it’s also work. If NASA, ULA, any of the players gets too full of themselves – they need someone to keep them honest. That falls in some part on the media.

I was angry because of the sheer lack of integrity & honesty in their actions. As I’ve already stated, I’d rather SpaceX just say: “We don’t trust the media and aren’t dealing with them anymore.” Instead? They send out this statement which was disingenuous and disrespectful. You’re an engineer correct? What if you were told that (take your pick of any specific fact) something any engineer knew to be false was true. A lie so blatant was told to your face as if you were too dumb to understand the concept. It’s one thing to not be liked for the profession you are in. It’s quite another to be treated as if you are unaware of the most basic of facts.

Yes, I did direct it toward you. If someone comes to the defense of an obnoxious and disrespectful entity or person – they’re likely to get that type of reaction. Your comment about getting paid to have fun, washes over the fact that a large part of our occupation actually entails hard work and again highlights how little you understand about what we do. That too is fine. However, it’d be better if you just acknowledge and accept that – rather than to ignore it and act like we’re overreacting.

Josh, I’ve been at more scrubs than you can count. Your statement that I might be upset that it didn’t launch is another assertion made out of ignorance regarding the situation. Let me provide you with an assertion in return. Maybe since you’re such a big SpaceX fan – you’re willing to give them a free pass on any sort of behavior. Not fun when someone does it to you – is it?

Again, you’re totally off base about us being upset about it not launching. The media was upset because we’ve a company crying about how it’s not allowed to have the contracts larger firms get – but then it totally fails to do what those larger firms do. We were upset at the unprofessionalism, the hypocrisy and the silly excuses made by SpaceX.

I’m glad you mentioned SpaceX’s Mars ambitions. Tell me, as an engineer, how seriously do you take the claims of a company they’ll have people on Mars by 2026 – when they can’t get a few comm sats into LEO in close to a year? Sorry, yet another SpaceX statement which falls painfully short.

As with most SpaceX supporters you realized that the battle over their PR collapse has been soundly lost and are opting to focus on any other subject. Yes SpaceX has managed to accomplish some astonishing feats. Whenever they launch, we tell the awesome that it is. However, just because they succeed – doesn’t mean they get a free pass when they fail. It’s called being unbiased. We report the good and the bad.

Your next to last statement has me shaking my head. You state that: “These things in space are not easy to do…” – which is completely opposite from the “routine” comment SpaceX made June 21. You appear willing to say anything to excuse their antics. I’d respectfully suggest you stop excusing what they did and think for yourself. I never said they had “evil intentions” – you did that. What I have said is that they’re arrogant, that their PR efforts are amateurish and that they have a ways to go before I feel comfortable seeing ppl ride their offerings. Don’t put words in my mouth.

You finally made one accurate assumption about me. I want as many LSPs out there as possible! The cheaper the cost to get to orbit – the sooner we can cease being a single-planet species. However, I value professionalism, reliability, competence, accountability, personal responsibility and maturity. What I’ve seen from SpaceX and its supporters – says anything but “mature.”

Your last comment shows your true bias. You only support “NewSpace” companies and are apparently willing to say anything to defend them. Expand yout mind Josh – no engineer should have the level of myopia your opinions highlight. Also, leave the Cult of Personality and learn to view things objectively. Apologists are always left disappointed and I feel you’re just at the start of that journey. Space is an amazing topic to cover. But a media blackout shows a lack of transparency and cowardice.

To clarify my statement on webcasts costing $50:

http://new.livestream.com/platform/pricing

Again, SpaceX could have had a couple of interns host a webcast. Something would have been better than nothing. Unless of course you count their statement about “routine” – in that case? Then it would have been best if they said nothing.

SpaceFlight Insider posted the statement issued by SpaceX’s Emily Shanklin so that readers can determine if the company’s words were taken out of context. It is posted at the end of the Op-Ed. Moreover, the company has since reverted to its prior position on hosting webcasts for the June 22 launch attempt. Also, all should review our commenting rules before posting comments.

Michael Michaels

You really hit the nail on the head. There is a certain cult following for SpaceX that believes the PR they routinely give out. How about Elon’s claims he will send humans to Mars in 2026, when he cannot keep a commercial launch schedule?

Your review of the press culture to craft the message is very thorough. However, I would have added an additional point. During the Cold War race in the 60’s the Soviets maintained a similar veil of secrecy. They did not alert the public to their launches so the US had to wait to read the Soviet press releases. Then working with the Soviets on MIR, Tom Stafford (according to his autobiography) wrote about using his personal connections to engage the Soviets to be more transparent in their anomaly investigations. When things went wrong (and boy did they), it was the Soviet nature to downplay the severity of the situation and ignore the problems. However, General Stafford explained that the US (and NASA) could not send American astronauts without understanding the full situation. The Soviets complied.

Hopefully, Elon will realize that the US needs to ‘trust but verify’. In other words, stating everything is fine and wonderful and wanting to believe you can maintain a launch schedule double or triple your rate is not the same as proving you can.

We should also be very concerned about the schedule pressure on launch decisions. I would like to invoke the memory of Challenger and how Thiokol did not want to expose (or raise awareness) to technical problems by voting ‘Go’ (over the objections of their technical representative) at the Mission Management Team meeting (Flight Readiness Review). Allan McDonald in his book (Truth, Lies, and O-Rings: Inside the Space Shuttle Challenger Disaster) showed that a no-Go vote would undermine Thiokol’s assertions that it could meet the proposed launch rate for the Shuttle which was two per month, in 1984. I do not believe there was pressure related to Reagan’s State of the Union Address (an assertion which has repeated been proven false). However McDonald (in his book and countless lectures after retirement) spoke of the need of Thiokol management to show the company could manage a sole source contract for increased SRB production. This was part of their effort to fight the lucrative contract re-bid.

Andre Johnston

Mr. Rhian, I’ve noticed hwo you seem to editing your posted after you have placed them in this thread. I seem to recall, that you refered to the female employees of Spacex as “Groupies”, you have now changed that to “Interns”. If you are not ashamed fo your vitriol, you shouldn’t change your rants after the fact. I think your righteous indignation has revealed aspects of your persnality. I would advise next time think before you post.

As a foriegn observer, while I do agree, that the lack of streaming should have been better explained, be reminded, that Spacex is under no obligation to webcast their launches; unless or unitl they are government (i’m just asumingn here) ones. Your view is based on the historical practices by other launch vendors. Practices that may not neccesarily be followed by Spacex. As a private vendor, Spacex’s primary concern should be that of thier customers.

The objective shold be the successful delivery of the payload to orbit. That means that scrubs are infinately preferable to loss of mission. You seem have neglected that the last two scrubs, including todays’ were weather related.

Mr. Johnston,
Yes, I type out responses and sometimes go back and edit slightly. However, my statements aren’t “vitriol” – they’re fact. Which is why that rather than working to address them – you critique me for reacting to individuals making ignorant statements.

You can try to distract to side topics – but this only highlights the weakness in your argument. I never mentioned the gender of those who could host Musk’s webcast – you’re not stating fact. However, as I’ve acknowledged I do tweak my comments – therefore I have to allow this falsehood to pass as you can doubtlessly claim I removed it. Yay, the trolls score a “win!”

If my edits show anything it’s that I want to adequately & properly relay my points and the fact that some have posted silly statements, as you note, force me to reveal that I’m human. I get emotional when someone makes wildly inaccurate statements. The only shame I feel is for allowing people of such low personal standing to illicit any response out of me whatsoever. I wish I didn’t react with emotion – but factually inaccurate statements have a way of bringing that out in me I’m afraid. I’m not perfect, nor to I pretend to be.

Oh, and the last launch attempt scrub – was due to a technical failing with the Falcon 9 rocket – a fact SpaceX actually got around to mentioning late today. Before you suggest that I failed to note something – get your facts straight. Essentially, you just lied in an attempt to smear me. I’m willing to bet you wont show any “shame” for doing so.

SpaceX’s primary concern should be successfully carrying out its missions – correct. This should be followed by transparency and stating fact. Not making laughable excuses as to why it opts to conduct its affairs in a manner unheard of in the aerospace industry. I’d advise next time not shooting the messenger and actually fixing what is broke with SpaceX. Oh, well, I guess we all have to settle for disappointment today…

Jason,

You do not appear to have addressed the previous commenter’s point. Did you, in fact, remove the word “groupies” from your comment?

5×5

FiveByFive,
Actually? I do appear to have addressed the previous commenter’s point:

“Yes, I type out responses and sometimes go back and edit slightly…I never mentioned the gender of those who could host Musk’s webcast – you’re not stating fact. However, as I’ve acknowledged I do tweak my comments – therefore I have to allow this falsehood to pass as you can doubtlessly claim I removed it…

If my edits show anything it’s that I want to adequately & properly relay my points and the fact that some have posted silly statements, as you note, force me to reveal that I’m human. I get emotional when someone makes wildly inaccurate statements. The only shame I feel is for allowing people of such low personal standing to illicit any response out of me whatsoever. I wish I didn’t react with emotion – but factually inaccurate statements have a way of bringing that out in me I’m afraid. I’m not perfect, nor to I pretend to be.”

Allow me to be specific – yes, the word “Groupies” was edited out, along with a host of other words which were deemed detrimental to the overall message of the commentary. Also allow me to cut you off at your logic trail – while the word “Groupie” is closely associated to female fans – it’s not exclusive to them.

As I’ve stated, yes I edit my work – which is why I also post that the Op-Ed has been edited (see the base of the commentary). While I’m as guilty as anyone else of getting emotional when attacked or insulted – I try to be as ‘up front’ as possible. You’ll see me admit when something was inaccurate, when I edited something, etc – and I’ll never hide behind a “handle” or pseudonym when I do so.

Sincerely and with kind regards, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

“However, as I’ve acknowledged I do tweak my comments – therefore I have to allow this falsehood to pass as you can doubtlessly claim I removed it. Yay, the trolls score a “win!” “

I found this ambiguous, as it could imply the statement you were replying to was entirely a falsehood. Thank you for clarifying. But the person you are replying to seemed to be genuine- calling them a “troll” seems out of line.

“…yes, the word “Groupies” was edited out, along with a host of other words which were deemed detrimental to the overall message of the commentary.”

It reflects poorly on the editorial staff of this site that despite repeatedly requesting that other commenters follow the commenting rules (presumably including “Don’t resort to ad hominem attacks.”), you allow yourself to stoop to name-calling repeatedly, both in the article and in the comments. You then extend yourself the courtesy of covertly editing your posts after the fact to cover this up. You acknowledge merely that the article has been ‘edited’, but do not explain what inaccuracies were originally included, to educate your readers as to what incorrect information they may have initially gotten from you.

It seems hypocritical to me that you have spent so much time and energy attacking SpaceX for a statement they quickly retracted, while you edit your own words so that you do not have to be held accountable for them. I’m sure you will dismiss my comments as those of a “groupie” “cheerleader” “troll” in a “Kool-aid induced slumber”, but the fact is that I am genuinely appalled that this kind of inflammatory rhetoric is coming from someone who purports to be “press” for the space industry.

If you have aspirations of journalistic integrity, may I suggest in the future that you issue clear retractions for your statements, with an explanation as to the original inaccuracy you are correcting. SpaceX is not the only party that could benefit from transparency.

FiveByFive,
Given the lengths some have gone? You’ve essentially compared the word “Groupie” with expletives, verbal threats, accusations of illegal activities and worse. Comparing the use of the words: “Groupie,” “troll” and the phrase “Kool-Aid induced slumber” – to comments unsuitable for print – is a stretch. However, you’re correct. Even that is too much. Even though the situation warranted a response to the antics of those described, I shouldn’t have allowed their attitude to drag me down to their level. As I’ve already stated, I’m not perfect. Nor do I pretend to be. It’s a shame you neglected to mention I said that.

The problem is after 5 years of abuse – “Groupie” doesn’t seem as bad as “C***s***er” and “Troll” fails to carry the weight of “Bit**.” So, while it might make you feel better to call me a hypocrite – I think anyone looking at this objectively will be able to see the difference. (BTW – I went back and edited the “C” word above at 10:57 p.m. EDT).

Rather than counter any of the points raised in the Op-Ed – you went on a five paragraph dissertation over the word “Groupie” and our editing practices. If that’s the worst thing I did? Well, comparatively speaking, I think we as a team did fairly well.

As to my edits. Consider this, we’re a small website, barely 8 months old that produces as much content as sites far older and with larger budgets. Given that? While I think we can do better – I don’t think we’re as bad as you’re implying and it’s curious you’d expend so much energy into trying to convince others we are.

I’m sorry I didn’t list every edit (we’ve only recently noted we even have them – that’s how rarely we post-edit our work). We’re growing / learning – every day. Your suggestion seems like a great way for us to provide full disclosure. Consider it done. About 99 percent of our stories – never have post-publishing edits. It takes something as extraordinary as the events on June 21 that warrant us going back.

As to my aspirations. As I said, everything I present – is in my own name. “FiveByFive” – there are far too many “anonymous” heroes out there willing to talk down to others from the comfortable anonymity of their laptop and a nickname. Since you’ve shared so much of your wisdom with me, might I make a suggestion? If you’re going to critique the character of others – try using your real name. As it currently stands, I keep thinking your a fan of “Faith” off Buffy the Vampire Slayer. After you get to the comfort level of actually using your real name, open a website where you state inconvenient facts. Let simmer for five years and see how well your civility fairs. I’m willing to bet that the sword of your critique – will be much duller.

Lastly, I find it amusing those who rally to the aid of those we criticized act in the manner described – but then hold others to a far higher standard. What should be noted is even though this “nitpicking” is going on – you were only able to produce the criticisms mentioned. (This edit also took place at 10:57 pm).

Gary Oldman recently stated we’re all hypocrites. While we vilify the likes of Mel Gibson for his verbal rants – we’re just as guilty as he is – because we think and do the same things. He’s absolutely correct. I’ve been forced to tolerate some eye-wateringly childish displays with some of the most abusive and vile language in the English dictionary. If the worst you can gig me on is Groupie? Troll? I’m okay with that level of hypocrisy.

Sincerely and with regards, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

See? This is what i mean about overreacting…

“SpaceX SpaceX
about 9 hours ago ·13,983 Views
Webcast
SpaceX is planning to live webcast the Orbcomm OG2 launch here starting at 2:16 pm PT/ 5:16 pm ET.”

“Overreacting” – is what caused SpaceX to change their policy.

David S. F. Portree

SpaceX understands public engagement: it’s about hype. I think it’s quite telling that people are raising a fuss only now because SpaceX has decided to interrupt the flow of pretty launch video. They also know how to manipulate the media – the fact that they had an engine *explode* barely got reported when they finally admitted the fact weeks after the event.

dsfp

I think there are six months left in the year. There is still plenty of time for Spacex to improve their average. As of course they will. Don’t people realize they have already successfully returned a first stage from space. Spacex’s goal are extraordinary. Don’t compare them with ULA.

Simon,

From the editorial: They will talk about something else, to distract… except addressing the points raised.

Also, why not compare them with ULA? They want to compete with ULA – so it’s vital that they be compared to ULA. Please provide a reason as to why you ask us not to.

A very well-written and spot-on article, Jason. I’ve been having similar thoughts about Spacex for the past month or so and have found your article very timely indeed. I hope Spacex takes note of it. Thank you for your excellent reporting.

since they commited to webcast yesterday, the only way to know if this email was taken out of context would be to include the whole email conversation, including whatever you said to them that resulted in this response.

otherwise it’s just one side of a partial email, aka out of context.

cheers and good luck.

Josh,
Sorry, but anyone who reads that can see what is being said.
Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

When NASA is spending the tax payers money, the only accountability is via the public press because we couldn’t fire NASA, so press speculation and influencing politics was the only level to improve things.

When SpaceX is spending orbcomms money, orbcomm is making sure it’s well spent and has signed off on all the delays and fixes. If they don’t like it they’ll fire spaceX and hire ULA or somebody else. Thus we don’t have to monitor everything like it’s the next challenger.

Same will be true for COTS and commercial crew. NASA can fire spacex if things aren’t done the way they like. That doesn’t appear to be the case, and in any event NASA is not the customer here.

Aka this isn’t our daddy’s space age.

How do you know how Orbcomm’s money is being spent? Also? COTS – is over, ended, finished. So, please tell me, why we should listen to someone who’s unaware of the most basic facts – but is comfortable highlighting his comments with such arrogant silliness as: “Aka this isn’t our daddy’s space age.” Don’t try to correct people when your comments make it obvious you haven’t bothered to crack open the book on spaceflight history. Otherwise, you’ll just embarrass yourself (again).

I really try not to be mean to folks, but when you talk down to ppl who are much more well-versed on the subject than yourself? You’re asking for it.

“It’s very hard to excite those around you when every attempt ends in scrub or postponement.”

I think you touch on why they may benefit from toning down the expectations around launches. Scrubs are going to happen, just like it sucks when your airplane flight gets delayed.

If anything as the launch schedule increases there will be more delays, not less. Their goal is not to become ULA, their goal is to become American Airlines. American doesn’t televise launches for a similiar reason, because the public doesn’t understand why flights essentially will be delayed.

I’d rather have them figuring out how to get us to mars then teaching the average american rocket science. For ULA they’re probably happy to charge us $200 million a flight and do one a month and spend lots of effort talking about each one.

That’s whats great about the free market, we let companies differ and let the customer decide which approach is the best overall.

You’re only stating half of the story. While they might want to be American Airlines – they’re not. While they might want to be as reliable and fly as frequently – they don’t. Their launches aren’t routine and acting like they are – is dishonest. Also, I think the reason American doesn’t televise its launches – probably has to do with the fact they don’t launch. Get us to Mars? They can’t even get comm sats into LEO! Well, at this point, I’m sure Orbcomm is wondering if they picked the wrong launch service provider.

I’m not stating even one percent of the story. I totally agree they’re not american airlines, they’re spaceX. SpaceX does not fly as frequently as ULA much less american airlines. There’s no disputing this, and spacex would not even dispute they are behind their own schedule at present. Even going back to falcon 1, they took 4 launches rather than 3 to get into space. Does this mean it was a house of cards? I guess to pessimists and cynics most things appear as a house of cards.

My point is that I understand tom’s perpsective that people don’t like to watch webcasts when there are scrubs. And that inhibits selling it as an entertainment story to your friends. Which kind of sucks, but at the same time since delays will happen I can undertand them not wanting to waste the general public’s time. Because most people do not watch ULA launches, because ULA is not trying to get us to mars. I know you don’t care about this part, but most people who watch spaceX do… it’s part of their story. It’s just different than ULA, or nasa, or american airlines… it’s spaceX.

Josh,
Sorry, but anyone who reads that can see what is being said.
Sincerely, Jason Rhian – Editor, The SpaceFlight Group

It’s clearly too difficult for you to post the entire email. I’ll accept that as the reason because I don’t think it really matters.

Actually, it’s because that’s not my email. It was what was sent to SFN. That’s all that I have access to. Moreover, how much context does that really require? I mean how much explanation does such a simple statement need for you to be able to comprehend?

>Actually, it’s because that’s not my email. It was what was sent to SFN. That’s >all that I have access to. Moreover, how much context does that really require?

Ok so you don’t know whether it was out of context, because you only had one side. We appreciate your awareness in reporting. Keep up the good work.

I know because I can read. It amazes me that someone claiming to be an engineer would look at that and try something as stupefying as saying it was taken out of context. She made a complete statement. Josh, just admit that you’re an apologist willing to say anything, question anything to defend SpaceX and be on your way. I’m tired of having such silly conversations over such basic concepts. If you can’t grasp what is said in that message – the fault lies with your cognitive capabilities – not my work. (This post was edited on June 30).

I’ve had to deal with this sort of thing before. Someone takes something so obvious and makes some of the most obtuse and biased comments imaginable and works to wear one down. I’ve no interest in participating in this exercise yet again. You obviously don’t want to hear anything but glowing praise about SpaceX. Fine – but don’t act like all the people who have stated just how accurate this assessment is are dim while you are the only one smart enough to figure out. One of our commenting rules is that you leave your ego at the door.

As to the quality level of my work. It has been a heck of a lot better than the sad performance SpaceX displayed June 21. Moreover, unlike some, I have the integrity to admit when I made an error. I detail one such instance in the article and another during this comment thread. What is it about SpaceX fans that requires them to lack this trait? You’d be better served by saying nothing other than making the excuses you’ve done for the past two days. It takes an adult to actually consider what someone is saying other than wage an endless and infantile crusade to wash it away.

Your company’s failure was not that it couldn’t launch. It’s failure was in the fact that it conducted a media blackout and offered up one of the most unbelievable excuses ever, one which flies in direct contradiction to their launch record. You know this, which is why you have waged this effort to redefine the meaning of what “is” is. (That’s another historical note by the way – look it up).

I’m truly sorry you either can’t except that or refuse to get it. However, I’m tired of your attempts to make this someone other than SpaceX’s fault. One of the key precepts to being an engineer is to accept there is a fault and learn to fix it.

Hey jason I don’t know why you think I am going against your work. Most of what I’m saying here is not directed at you.

I’m a little bit surprised and humbled that you’re even taking time to respond to me on this thread frankly. Like I said, keep up the good work.

Here’s your post from just a few minutes ago:
Ok so you don’t know whether it was out of context, because you only had one side. We appreciate your awareness in reporting. Keep up the good work.

Again, while you might think that the implication I was posting something without knowing the full context slipped past me – it didn’t. I responded to you initially in the hopes you’d actually understand what is going on. Instead, you just keep trying to adapt reality, refusing to listen to what almost everyone else here has said. Which at this point has left me frustrated and tired. You don’t want to consider it? Fine. But don’t act like all the rest of us are wrong just because you choose to believe something.

I don’t believe SpaceX is a House of Cards (I think someone else said that). I do believe they have atrocious media relations policies.

Again, it ISN’T about their repeated scrubs. It’s about the media blackout. If they want to do that? Fine. However, what is not fine is issuing a statement that was so divorced from reality as to come from a parallel dimension afterward. Again, they could have said: “We don’t like the media – we’re not dealing with you.” and would have earned more respect than by issuing the response they did.

As to not wanting to waste the public’s time? Um, what does that mean? The public is dying to see anything from SpaceX. If you’re suggesting seeing an F9 launch is so “routine” that it’s a waste of the public’s time, well, that’s just false.

Who are you to tell me what I care about? Don’t put words in my mouth or feelings in my head. I DO care! Why do you think I tolerate this kind of nonsense. You, like others are starting to suggest I don’t support SpaceX. This is a total, complete and obvious LIE. What I don’t support is dishonesty.

SpaceX is an astonishing company – but how they treat the media stinks. Josh, before you talk about someone – you should actually know who you’re taking about first. You’ve made repeated statements out of ignorance. My advice to you is to ask questions and actually know what you’re talking about. Right now it seems you’re just regurgitating taking points form a SpaceX press release.

I say this because there’s one thing you keep saying; “SpaceX is getting us to Mars!” How seriously can this assertion be made when SpaceX hasn’t launched anyone to the Moon? How seriously can this assertion be made when Space hasn’t launched anyone to LEO? How seriously can this assertion be taken given that SpaceX hasn’t launched a single human being ever? Finally and most painfully – How seriously can this assertion be taken given that SpaceX is having so much trouble launching six communications satellites?

Being an engineer means your supposed to be good at critical thinking. I think if you’re honest you’ll admit that SpaceX’s claims simply fail the test of credibility.

I totally agree their response made no sense. That’s why it’s not worth reading into. One statement by one person does not redefine a 12 yr old company. Again this is not directed at you personally, just my general impression.

Now if you’re saying this is a pattern, I could believe you. Is a pattern necessarily bad, or just personality differences? I’m open to the idea it’s but this one statement and a clip from a government hearing doesn’t sell me on that. Not against what they’ve put down. I’m also in agreement that you have more social experience with spacex than i do. Certaintly I know of some employees who say it’s a thankless job because everybody is so focused on how far they are from the long term they lose sight of each other at times. And on the totum pole of concerns in a company, you’ve got the vision… the clients, the employees and then outside concerns like the press and the public.

Personality mismatches can lead to misunderstandings. ceo is an engineer, he wants to spend money on making stuff not hiring people to do marketing. Maybe this sounds like a spaceX press release, but it’s really not that uncommon for any engineering company. People used to say the same thing about google when they had fewer employees and higher hiring standards. Engineers are going to beget more engineers, esp when your ceo believes in the product marketing itself.

that said… fair criticism that right now falcon isn’t marketing itself because they’re not launching. and nobody knows this better than them… so people are working extra hard and again the press is at the end of the tail. now maybe that is an immaturity and/or it can be done better, I don’t know. I don’t think it’s necessarily easy, but maybe I’m ignorant and naive. I do know that people were upset when they didn’t have launches to look forward to. Given that feeling is probably what they were trying to avoid by changing access, they may rethink it or at least clarify whatever this statement was.

I don’t think people really want apologies though. In my experience they really just want it done better next time.

fwiw I never said they are getting us to mars. That is what elon said. I would be shocked if he didn’t say that. That’s his goal. If he doesn’t believe it it’s not going to happen. Call me arrogant but that’s the way goals work. Telling people your goals is just a proven way of increasing goal attainment. It ramps up the pressure and expectations and forces you to work harder… whereas if you have a goal but don’t tell anyone there’s no accountability. The problem with falcon though is not a media problem. It’s not a PR problem. It’s engineering, so I totally understand them wanting to focus on that.

I guarantee you nasa could have never done any of this internally at these costs because having 250million people watching you makes you want to spend more money to never make a mistake. But really you want to just make sure mistakes that are made are cheap ones…. like this one.

You have to love that they don’t let little things like image or little blips like helium leaks tear down their goal. Anybody who has tried to acheive a hard goal can relate to this. I’d defend anybody with the same outlook regardless of whether they’re launching rockets or beauty products. They’re doing *something*… that’s kick ass any way you slice it. Again maybe I’m just a naive person who loves space. I blame star trek.

Josh,
Which is why this is an Op-Ed and not an article. Much is based off my thoughts and opinions.

Josh,

RE: “Because most people do not watch ULA launches, because ULA is not trying to get us to mars. I know you don’t care about this part, but most people who watch spaceX do… it’s part of their story.”

Your statement, as with most of what you have written, is untrue. You do realize that ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, right? Lockheed Martin has been a part of every mission to Mars in history. SpaceX may get to Mars eventually, but thankfully we already have companies with past performance and experience.

Jason, Great article!

George,
Many of your statements step around material contained within the Op-Ed or misrepresent what was said. As noted, this isn’t the first, second or even third time something like this has happened with SpaceX.

“SpaceX has been REMARKABLY open sharing video of all kinds of tests and tweets about internal corporate strategy that larger companies would typically have never shared.” – Please actually read the Op-Ed before commenting. As noted, ULA provides much more and better coverage than SpaceX for missions as highly classified as those carried out for the NRO – and has not allowed remote cameras to be banned, has not conducted a media blackout, does not recall PR reps to California and responds to the media’s phone calls and emails.

Apologists try to steer this toward a complaint about the scrubs. This isn’t about scrubs – it’s about secrecy and a lack of openess and transparency.

George, please don’t reinvent reality. No one is a troll for arguing their case. Expletives, ad hominem attacks, smear campaigns, libel, talking about any subject other than the one at hand and the like – makes one a troll. There are more than a few comments that disagree with this editorial posted here. If we were blocking everyone who disagreed with us and labeling them trolls for doing so – would those disagreements still be present? You’re not being honest and anyone willing to scroll up into this conversation can see it.

Your attempt to state that we have some personal grudge against SpaceX is also untrue. Don’t think so? Please review these posts:

http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-missions/commercial-space-space-flight-missions/spacex/crs-3/spacex-president-shotwell-talks-recovery-efforts-recent-ribbon-cutting-ceremony/
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-organizations/space-exploration-technologies-space-organizations/stennis-space-center-spacex-e-2-test-stand-ribbon-cutting/
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-news/spacex-takes-control-kscs-launch-complex-39a-falcon-heavy-sets-first-launch-first-quarter-2015/
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-missions/commercial-space-space-flight-missions/spacex/crs-3/spacexs-falcon-9-to-sport-landing-legs-for-nasa-crs-3-mission-to-iss/
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-news/spacex/
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-organizations/space-exploration-technologies-space-organizations/spacex-racks-up-first-launch-of-the-year-with-thaicom-6/
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-missions/commercial-space-space-flight-missions/spacex/elon-musk-im-hopeful-first-people-can-taken-mars-10-12-years/
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-organizations/space-exploration-technologies-space-organizations/space-x-releases-new-video-falcon-9-reusable-rocket/
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-organizations/space-exploration-technologies-space-organizations/spacex-reveals-new-dragon-v2-capsule/
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-missions/commercial-space-space-flight-missions/spacex/spacex-completes-superdraco-qualification-testing/
http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-missions/commercial-space-space-flight-missions/spacex/crs-3/dragon-spacecraft-returns-earth-bearing-gifts/

Why is it SpaceX supporters can’t review these past stories and then couple them with recent posts and realize that what’s actually happening is a fair reporting of events? Why is it SpaceX supporters spend so much of their time talking down to anyone who points out deficiencies within their selected company? I found these stories after the briefest of searches – given your comments about how anti-SpaceX we are – it’s obvious you didn’t bother to look.

If what you’re asking us to do is only sing the company’s praises – you need to leave. We’ll never do that. Not for SpaceX, not for ULA, Boeing or anyone. Period. If you’re incapable of handling criticism – that’s a personal flaw you need to work on – not a professional issue with us.

One of the points you missed is this – they want to launch astronauts, they want lucrative contracts, they want to compete with other LSPs. But they seem to have issues doing so in the public spotlight. That’s a problem. Efforts such as that – require transparency.

We take the traditional roles and responsibilities of the media very seriously. We’re not a shill for any firm, we don’t serve as an appendage of their public relations and your assessment we should, in essence, do just that – is appalling.

What the “fanboys” you mention fail to grasp – is this is an issue which could directly impact our national security as well as the safety of crews riding their craft. If the company makes inaccurate assessments of their capabilities to Congress and to the public as a whole – then the remainder of their claims need to be called into question. How “cool” a company is viewed as being – doesn’t enter into the equation. (This was added at 5:45 p.m. EDT)

As I’ve said repeatedly – fix what is broken at SpaceX instead of working so hard to silence the messenger. Most everyone out there acknowledges this was a massive mistake on SpaceX’s part. It’s not going to be corrected by trying to distract from the problem – you’re actually going to have to accept that it’s there – and fix it.

After this reply was posted I was informed that an aerospace expert weighed in on the matter: http://www.lexingtoninstitute.org/spacex-launch-delay-raises-reliability-concerns/

Jason, overall I think your article is spot on; and this last statement you made is what is incredibly salient at this point:

“What the “fanboys” you mention fail to grasp – is that this is an issue which could directly impact our national security as well as the safety of crews riding their craft. If the company makes inaccurate assessments of their capabilities to Congress and to the public as a whole – then the remainder of their claims need to be called into question. How “cool” a company is viewed as being – doesn’t enter into the equation.”

This point seems to be totally lost among the “fanboys”. But the importance of the NSS missions simply cannot be lost in this discussion. At this point I personally hope the USAF or NROL doesn’t succumb to political or congressional pressure and award anything of this importance to SpaceX because they simply are not ready to take on something that critical. It would be a travesty to our country’s security to lose one of those missions.

Anthony marshall

First I will say I am a former employee of this company. That said I can tell you there is huge sence of arrogance within the company. It is also a really stressful place to work. Managment is a bunch lackeys. I think this company has a long way to go before they get to the status of routine launches like ULA. I personally believe they will have a major malfunction at some point that will bankrupt the company.

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