commercial space, Falcon Heavy, manned space program, privatization, Public Image, Public Relations, space business, space exploration, space flight, spaceflight, SpaceX, static fire test
[UPDATE: Eric Ralph, a writer for Telsalarti, posted an article saying that the Falcon Heavy launch was likely to be delayed and that it was “OK.” Again, Ralph is a knowledgable source but not an official source, so SpaceX is not accountable for the speculation. Source: Teslarati 4 Apr 2019.]
SpaceX is scheduled to launch the new Block 5 version of the Falcon Heavy on Sunday (7 April) sometime between 6:36 PM and 8:35 PM EDT. We know this from an official source of information that was made available on 22 March. That information was not provided by SpaceX to the directly to the public. SpaceX reported it as required; however, if not for that requirement, the public would have no information on the time or date of the launch. The public is given the silent treatment while SpaceX collects billions in taxpayer dollars.
While a lot of people are distracted by a Raptor in Texas, 27 Merlin 1Ds are hoping to attract your attention in Florida.
KSC goes into Critical Support from 20:30 Local (March 31) to 20:30 Local (April 1), meaning rollout to 39A likely on Sunday and then Static Fire on April 1. pic.twitter.com/nXUtGIiKsJ
— Chris B – NSF (@NASASpaceflight) March 27, 2019
This tweet by Michael Baylor, a managing editor for NASASpaceflight.com and considered a highly knowledgeable source, was wrong. SpaceX has remained silent.
SpaceX Public Relations: Code of Secrecy
Because SpaceX is a private company, they’re not required to tell the public anything,…and they don’t. This leads to speculation through other sources and that speculation works to their favor. By not making announcements about time or dates, they can’t be held responsible for delays. SpaceX avoids negative publicity by not being accountable to the public. The new reality of public relations in space exploration is that everything is on a need to know basis…and the public doesn’t need to know.
Falcon Heavy Problems?
This week’s Block 5 Falcon Heavy debut is a prime example of how SpaceX uses secrecy to their advantage. Instead of informing the public, the public relations people at SpaceX are taking a low profile prior to the launch. No announcements, no tweets.
Speculation has been made that the static fire test (a short test-firing of the engines) would occur on Monday (1 April,) Wednesday (3 April,) and now Thursday (4 April.) [Sources: Teslarati 28 Mar 2019 – E. Ralph, Spaceflight Now 1-3 Apr 2019 – S. Clark] Again, not from official sources, but by knowledgeable sources. This type of teasing drives SpaceX fans into a feeding frenzy of speculation, but SpaceX isn’t accountable for any of the speculation, regardless of how knowledgable the source.
This allows SpaceX to miss a projected date or time for the static fire test because they never said when the test would occur. It is likely that the information in the above tweet by Michael Baylor was accurate and something has happened to cause SpaceX to push back the static fire test, but they don’t have to reveal that to the public. They can keep the public guessing until it becomes obvious that the launch date and time will not be met.
This also allows SpaceX to minimize failure while wildly pronouncing a success. If the launch is a success, SpaceX will make public announcements with video of every positive aspect of the launch. If the Falcon Heavy launch fails SpaceX will likely cut video feeds to the public and wait several hours to form a carefully crafted explanation that will suggest the failure was an expected risk of a rocket launch. Then they will go silent.
This is what SpaceX did on the first Falcon Heavy (Block 4) launch when the booster core failed to land on the drone ship. The video feed was cut when the booster crashed near the ship and damaged the engines. SpaceX then didn’t confirm or deny what happened until several hours later, even though they had a continuous video of the event. [Source: The Verge 6 Feb 2018 – L. Grush]
Why Should the Public Know?
Roughly half of SpaceX’s revenue has come from the taxpayers pocket. According to Sam Dunkovich, $5.5 billion of SpaceX $12 billion in launch contracts are from NASA or the U.S. military [Source: RealClear Policy 2 Feb 2018.] SpaceX wouldn’t be in the space industry if it were not for the financial revenue it gains from the U.S. taxpayer. The first launch of a Block 5 Falcon Heavy is a significant milestone of how our money is being spent by this private company.
Space exploration has been a public concern since Soviet Russia launched Sputnik on 4 October 1957. The conservatives desire to privatize space exploration is at best an experiment and certainly is a one-sided political agenda. By withholding information from the taxpayers, the effectiveness of that political agenda cannot be fairly determined.
Secrecy in public relations is a Soviet model and not acceptable in the United States. Withholding information from the public to hide the true situation is still a lie. This is why private business is incapable of overseeing themselves and should be required to inform the public of their true activities and problems.