- Asa Mathat | D: All Things Digital
Update: Musk told reporters that SpaceX will be launching two private investors around the moon in late 2018. Read our full coverage here.
Elon Musk logged on late Sunday night to tease potentially significant news coming out of SpaceX, the rocket company he founded in 2002.
“SpaceX announcement tomorrow at 1pm PST,” the tech billionaire posted to Twitter.
But that’s all Musk posted about the Monday, Feb. 27 event, and since then he’s remained silent.
So what might this announcement be about?
An industry expert who’s familiar with SpaceX, but wished to remain anonymous, shared some best guesses – and they all jibe with SpaceX’s recent progress and long-term ambitions.
“I’m speculating here,” the expert told Business Insider. “I think it’s something [already] public that’s going to be more sexy when it’s unveiled,” adding that it likely won’t be about Mars. (A second source who’s close to the matter told Business Insider that the announcement has nothing to do with the joint investigation with the FAA into its rocket failure.)
Here’s what Musk might reveal at 4 p.m. ET (1 p.m. PT) on Monday, February 27.
A new spacesuit
“I could see it being spacesuits,” our expert said, noting a Reddit post “that shows the spacesuit” in its earlier stages of design.
But why spacesuits and why now?
“[B]ecause of all the Boeing press on their blueberry suit,” the expert says.
The Willy Wonka-esque “blueberry” suit in question is Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacesuit, which comes with a zip-off helmet, specialized gloves, breathe-able materials, and more.
In short, Musk might now be eager to share SpaceX’s progress on its own spacesuit – especially after a Feb. 25 episode of “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert”, in which Colbert donned Boeing’s new suit (and slapped his name on the side of the company’s spacecraft.)
A (very big) Falcon Heavy payload
“I could also see this being a Falcon Heavy payload unveil because, for past year or two, it was going to launch with nothing,” the source told Business Insider. “So they may have a payload now.”
According to 2013 specifications rounded up by Universe Today, the Falcon Heavy should be able to loft:
- 54,400 kg (119,900 lbs) to low-Earth orbit (where the International Space Station resides) 22,200 kg (48,900 lbs) to geostationary transfer orbit (a kind of “parking orbit” that can be used to slip satellites into geostationary orbit – a fixed point above the Earth’s surface) 16,000 kilograms (35,000 lbs) to lunar orbit 13,600 kilograms (31,000 lbs) to Martian orbit 2,900 kg (6,400 lbs) for a Pluto fly-by
That’s a lot of payload capacity, so if anything does end up launching on the Falcon Heavy’s debut flight, it’d be big news.
A constellation of 4,425 internet satellites
“It could be satellites,” the expert also said. “They’re going to launch a [demonstration] satellite later this year.”
The demo satellite in question is designed to test technologies that’d go into a constellation of 4,425 satellites. SpaceX wants to launch them all in the coming years in hopes of blanketing Earth in high-speed 1Gbps internet.
Back in November 2016, SpaceX filed a lengthy application with the Federal Communications Commission to launch that fleet, since the company needs permission to use the communications frequency it wants to beam internet signal with.
According to a database compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists, 1,419 active satellites are currently orbiting Earth. Roughly 2,600 satellites that no longer work are thought to be floating in space.
Even after factoring those in, however, SpaceX’s planned fleet would be larger than everything already up in space.
Hyperloop, tunnels, or… Something else
- Berkeley Hyperloop
“There’s always a chance it could be tunnels or Hyperloop,” our expert said.
“Tunnels” refers to one of Musk’s independent ventures, the Boring Company. That company’s goal is to efficiently dig underground networks of tubes for vehicles, ostensibly to avoid aboveground traffic.
Hyperloop, meanwhile, refers to an ultra-high-speed transit scheme in a series of tubes. The idea has spawned many startups who are trying to make their concepts work – and revolutionize public transit in the process.
If it’s not any of the above, then Musk’s and SpaceX’s announcement might be related to “some kind of new [business] partnership,” the expert said finally.
“They do buy small little companies when they want to bring that stuff in-house.”
To find out what SpaceX’s announcement is actually about, visit Business Insider after 4 p.m. ET (1 p.m. PT) on Monday, February 27.