SpaceX is set to launch a Falcon 9 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on Saturday morning, with a target liftoff time of 9:17 AM PST (12:17 PM EST). This is the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich Mission, which carries a satellite of the same name developed by the European Space Agency, NASA, and both U.S. and European meteorological monitoring bodies.
The Sentinel-6 is named for former NASA Earth Science Division Director Michael Freilich, who occupied the position between 2006 and 2019 and passed away in August. It’s one of two Sentinel-6-series satellites that will be launched for the program, with the Sentinel-6B set to join the Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich sometime in 2025.
SpaceX will be looking to recover the Falcon 9 first stage booster with a powered landing back on Earth at Landing Zone 4 at Vandenberg. This is the first SpaceX launch from Vandenberg since June of last year, though it has flown plenty of missions from both Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The webcast above will go live approximately 15 minutes prior to the liftoff time, so at around 9:02 AM PST (12:02 PM EST). Should this mission have to be canceled today, there’s a backup opportunity set for Sunday at 9:04 AM PST (12:04 PM PST).
Teslaquila, the Tesla -branded liquor that co-starred in CEO Elon Musk’s controversial April Fool’s Day joke about the automaker filing for bankruptcy, has arrived.
The automaker now lists Tesla Tequila (a bit different from the original Teslaquila branding) on its website. The tequila — described as a “small-batch premium 100% de agave tequila añejo made from sustainably sourced highland and lowland agaves,” is housed in a handblown glass bottle shaped in the electric charge symbol. Oh, and it costs $250.
Celeb-produced tequilas are nothing new — and are often lucrative. Casamigos, the tequila brand co-founded by George Clooney, was acquired by Diageo in a deal that valued the company up to $1 billion. Tesla Tequila might be first liquor sold by an automaker. The liquor is produced by Nosotros Tequila, according to the company.
The tequila first popped up in April 2018 when Musk tweeted a photo of himself passed out against a Tesla Model 3 “surrounded by “Teslaquilla” bottles, the tracks of dried tears still visible on his cheeks.” In the photo, Musk is holding a cardboard sign that reads “bankwupt.”
Tesla has launched a GPS III satellite on behalf of customer the U.S. Space Force, the second GPS III generation satellite it has launched for the U.S. military this year. The first took off in June, and was the third overall GPS III put in orbit by SpaceX . This is the fourth, and will provide improved GPS navigation capabilities to the U.S., including improved jamming technology to protect against interference.
SpaceX used a brand new Falcon 9 first-stage on this launch, and successfully recovered that rocket booster using a controlled landing on its drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. The company also confirmed that its payload achieved good orbit, and it’s now in the process of making its way to the deployment point where it can release the GPS spacecraft for its final orbital insertion.
This mission flew from Cape Canaveral in Florida, and was the second attempt at delivering this payload, after an attempt at the beginning of September was scrubbed due to an early startup of two engines that caused an auto-shutdown of the launch sequence two seconds prior to liftoff. SpaceX investigated the issue and found that it was due to some trace amounts of a masking material used to protect engine components making their way into fuel lines. That triggered a change in its engine manufacturing and inspection process.
SpaceX also delayed its forthcoming Crew-1 launch for NASA to resolve the issue, so today’s launch should be another reassurance that that key, history-making flight of an operational ISS crew made up of three NASA and one JAXA astronaut will go ahead as planned on November 14, barring any other delays.
The FSD option has been available as an optional add-on to complement Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance technology, even though the features themselves haven’t been available to Tesla owners before the launch of the beta this month. Even still, it’s only in limited beta, but this is the closest Musk and Tesla have come to actually launching something under the FSD moniker — after having teased a fully autonomous mode in production Teslas for years now.
Despite its name, FSD isn’t what most in the industry would define as full, Level 4 or Level 5, autonomy per the standards defined by SAE International and accepted by most working on self-driving. Musk has designed it as vehicles having the ability “to be autonomous but requiring supervision and intervention at times,” whereas Levels 4 and 5 (often considered “true self-driving”) under SAE standards require no driver intervention.
Still, the technology does appear impressive in some ways according to early user feedback — though testing any kind of self-driving software unsupervised via the general public does seem an incredibly risky move. Musk has said that we should see a wide rollout of the FSD tech beyond the beta before year’s end, so he definitely seems confident in its performance.
The price increase might be another sign of his and the company’s confidence. Musk has always maintained that users were getting a discount by handing money over early to Tesla in order to help it develop technology that would come later, so in many ways it makes sense that the price increase comes now. This also obviously helps Tesla boost margins, though it’s already riding high on earnings that beat both revenue and profit expectations from analysts.
Today during a call with investors and journalists, Tesla CEO Elon Musk was asked to expand a tweet from yesterday. In it, he stated: “Tesla should really be thought of as roughly a dozen technology startups, many of which have little to no correlation with traditional automotive companies.”
In short, he explained there are over a dozen startups in Tesla, and he views every product line and plant as a startup. It’s an interesting point of view from the top of Tesla, a car manufacturing company that also builds batteries, home solar panels and, among other things, is looking to offer car insurance, too.
Outside of vehicle manufacturing, Musk points to insurance when asked about the growth potential. He says the insurance business could grow into 30-40% of Tesla’s car business.
This strategy seemingly works well for Tesla, which constantly rolls out updates to existing products at an unusual pace. New features arrive without much warning, and it makes sense when Tesla is treating different vehicle component divisions as a collection of companies instead of a collection of divisions.
According to Musk, some of the so-called startups include autonomy, chip design, vehicle service, sales, designing a drive unit, motors, supercharger network and, soon, insurance.
“The thing people don’t understand about Tesla is [the company] is a whole chain of startups,” Musk said. “And then people say, ‘well, you didn’t do that before.’ Yeah, well, we’re doing it now. I think we may have been a bit slower than other startups, but I don’t think we’ve really had anything fail.”
He concluded there are no plans to spin out any business, noting there’s no need to add complexity.
In pandemic-free years, America’s biggest trade show, CES, attracts more than 170,000 attendees, bringing traffic that jams surrounding roads day and night. To help absorb at least some of the congestion, the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC) last year planned a people-mover to serve an expanded campus. The LVCC wanted transit that could move up to 4,400 attendees every hour between exhibition halls and parking lots.
It considered traditional light rail that could shuttle hundreds of attendees per train, but settled on an underground system from Elon Musk’s The Boring Company (TBC) instead — largely because Musk’s bid was tens of millions of dollars cheaper. The LVCC Loop would transport attendees through two 0.8-mile underground tunnels in Tesla vehicles, four or five at a time.
But planning files reviewed by TechCrunch seem to show that the Loop system will not be able to move anywhere near the number of people LVCC wants, and that TBC agreed to.
Fire regulations peg the occupant capacity in the load and unload zones of one of the Loop’s three stations at just 800 passengers an hour. If the other stations have similar limitations, the system might only be able to transport 1,200 people an hour — around a quarter of its promised capacity.
If TBC misses its performance target by such a margin, Musk’s company will not receive more than $13 million of its construction budget — and will face millions more in penalty charges once the system becomes operational.
Neither TBC nor LVCVA responded to multiple requests for comment.
Fire regulations limit the load/unload zone near the cars to 800 people per hour. Credit: TBC/Clark County
The LVCC always realized that it was taking a gamble on the Loop. Although Musk built a short demonstration tunnel near Los Angeles, this would be the first public system with real customers and service requirements. An analysis by Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman in May 2019 concluded that TBC’s unproven system presented a high risk for the LVCC’s parent body, the Las Vegas Convention and Visitor’s Authority (LVCVA).
So when the LCVCA wrote its contract with The Boring Company, it did its best to incentivize Musk to deliver on his promises. The contract would be for a fixed price, and TBC would have to hit specific milestones to receive all of its payments. When the bare tunnels are completed, which could happen any day now, TBC will have earned just over 30% of the total. The next big milestone is the completion of the entire working system, which would result in a pay-out of over $10 million.
That was scheduled to have happened by October 1, so that the system would be ready for the next CES show in January. Although CES 2021 has now gone virtual and there is less time pressure on Musk to deliver, he presumably still wants to get paid.
After another milestone for the completion of a test period and safety report, the system’s final three milestones relate to how many passengers it can carry. If the Loop can demonstrate moving 2,200 passengers an hour, TBC will get $4.4 million, then the same payment again for hitting 3,300, and the same again for 4,400 passengers an hour. Together, these capacity payments represent 30% of the fixed price contract.
Even if TBC achieved those numbers during testing, the LVCVA was worried that it might not be able to maintain them once the system was operational, so it inserted yet another requirement: “[TBC] acknowledges liquidated damages are applicable for [TBC’s] failure to provide System Capacity for Full Facility Trade Show Events.”
For each large trade show that TBC fails to transport an average capacity of 3,960 passengers per hour for 13 hours, it will have to pay LVCVA $300,000 in damages. If TBC keeps falling short, it keeps paying, up to a maximum of $4.5 million.
So what is stopping TBC from transporting as many people as both it and the LVCC wants? There are national fire safety rules for underground transit systems that specify alarms, sprinklers, emergency exits and a maximum occupant load, to avoid overcrowding in the event of a fire.
Building plans submitted by The Boring Company include a fire code analysis for one of the Loop’s above-ground stations:
Image source: The Boring Company/Clark County NV
The above screenshot from the plans notes that the area where passengers get into and out of the Tesla cars has a peak occupancy load of 100 people every 7.5 minutes, equivalent to 800 passengers an hour. Even if the other stations had higher limits, this would limit the system’s hourly capacity to about 1,200 people.
“That sounds correct,” says Glenn Corbett, a professor of security, fire and emergency management at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York. “But if that’s the bottleneck, the question from a safety standpoint is, what controls that [800 per hour]? Is it just pure honesty and people following the rules, or is there a mechanical thing that keeps them out?”
The plans do not show any turnstiles or barriers to limit entry.
Even without the safety restrictions, the Loop may struggle to hit its capacity goals. Each of the 10 bays at the Loop’s stations must handle hundreds of passengers an hour, corresponding to perhaps 100 or more arrivals and departures, depending on how many people each car is carrying. That leaves little time to load and unload people and luggage, let alone make the 0.8-mile journey and occasionally recharge.
Although TBC’s Loop website says that the system will use autonomous vehicles, a TBC executive told a planning committee last year that the cars would have human drivers “for additional safety.” TBC had proposed developing a larger capacity autonomous shuttle for the Loop, capable of carrying up to 16 people. The latest plans all show traditional sedans, however, and another Musk tweet this week admitted: “We simplified this a lot. It’s basically just Teslas in tunnels at this point.”
The most recent documents filed by TBC also show changes to the Loop’s original design.
Gone are striking curved roofs, with both aboveground stations now having flat photovoltaic canopies to help charge the Tesla vehicles. These terminal stations each have a single Supercharger station, and a “showpiece sculpture” consisting of a concrete segment similar to those used in the tunnels below.
The central, subterranean station has a large, open platform, and also houses the electrical, fire safety and IT equipment. Each station will have bays for 10 Tesla vehicles to load and unload passengers.
Even before the first Loop is operating, TBC is planning two more Loop tunnels nearby, connecting the LVCC to the Wynn Encore and Resorts World casinos.
The tunnel to the Encore is long enough that safety regulations require an emergency exit about halfway along. Plans indicate an emergency egress shaft and a small hatch, but it is unclear whether passengers escaping a fire or breakdown would be expected to climb stairs or even a ladder.
Loop extension egress. Image source: The Boring Company/Clark County NV
TBC last year suggested an emergency ladder for its proposed Loop between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., a system that Corbett called “the definition of insanity,” as it did not account for passengers with limited mobility. That project is now on pause.
TBC’s stated aim is to expand the LVCC Loop from a local people mover to a Vegas-wide transit system serving the Strip, the airport and eventually extending all the way to Los Angeles. If the company struggles to deliver capacity — and revenue — from its small-scale Convention Center system, the future of those ambitions could be in doubt.
Ayelet Noff is the founder and CEO of SlicedBrand, a top global PR agency headquartered in
A solid public relations team solves many issues within a company.
It helps spread important news announcements and topics integral to a company’s success. It communicates with the media in a timely manner to ensure accurate coverage and control the conversation. It builds a state of trust and engagement that propels a company’s vision and goals forward. Unless of course that company is Tesla, in which case it wants none of that.
According to numerous internal sources confirmed by automotive blog Electrik, Tesla has been slowly dissolving its internal PR department over the course of this year, leaving the sole voice of the company its founder, Elon Musk.
If true, this is a confounding decision by Musk and the decision-makers at Tesla.
What this creates for Tesla is a black hole of information coming from the company. Facts will be obfuscated if there is no official position on whatever happens in the news. For instance, consider the recent cases of self-driving collisions or a roof flying off a new car.
Or last month, when there was a major outage in Tesla vehicles, the press was left to speculate. There is no longer a PR department to reply to these incidents. It seems that Tesla has adopted a crisis management strategy that appears to think that the best course of action is to ignore future crises and they will just go away on their own. Unfortunately for Tesla, real life doesn’t work like that.