Musk is a hero and a science fiction staple for the Tesla and SpaceX staff that build the rockets and spacecraft he promises to take into orbit.
He also has a fan in the president of the United States, who once joked that Musk has done more for American manufacturing than the real manufacturers.
Now, the U.S. is sending him to an even higher level of stature, where he will have to compete with tech industry heavyweights to transform the industrial transport of shipping.
Lucid, based in Silicon Valley, is building a zero-emission, electric-powered airplane. And Musk hopes to help it commercialize the technology.
On the long wait list to design the plane
PENTAGON, Va. – Production is expected to begin later this year, and the first aircraft is supposed to go into commercial service as early as 2020. Just what will those aircraft look like? And what will the cost of those aircraft be? And how will they compete with the ones already out there? And when will Tesla fit in here?
As Elon Musk and others, including some of the world’s most prominent industrial design experts, wait to hear back from the Pentagon about joining the aerospace program, they’re weighing what they would make in their defense design offices.
The Aeronautical Engineer asked some of the world’s most respected and skilled industrial designers – including some who have worked on aircraft for SpaceX and Tesla – what they think about the Trump administration’s plan to reshape the military industrial complex. Their predictions: a few designs that will be featured in Lucid’s airplane, several that will never go into production and a few others that fall between.
The Smithsonian Smithsonian Institute, the National Museum of American History and the National Archives and Records Administration took a look at a dozen different designs for an aircraft that the Department of Defense is currently conducting market research on. The studies are expected to last two years.
At the end of the day, of course, the military will still decide what it wants.
The Aeronautical Engineer also interviewed representatives from NASA, which oversees the zero-emission jet, and the Office of Naval Research, which is developing a new generation of autonomous ocean surveillance drones. The Pentagon’s research arm has more than $330 million budgeted for aerospace related research and programs, which includes $10 million earmarked for the Zero Airspeed Demonstrator.
But if the U.S. military were to go with an alternate design, it could spell trouble for Lucid, which just hired Robert Proctor, who designed the Apollo 11 command module. That technology helped make the Apollo program an American success.
Proctor had to quit NASA’s original zero-emission jet design program after he went on to be part of the SpaceX team that designed the Falcon 9 rocket.
“The fact that Elon Musk got Elon Musk to design the Apollo Command Module and the SpaceX Falcon 9 proves that the role of a designer is important, even when it comes to NASA programs,” said John Ragsdale, president of the Aerospace and Defense Industries Association, an advocacy group for aerospace and defense firms.
Musk already designs spacecraft
If the government dares to go with an alternative design, it could have a real impact on other companies and, potentially, on future SpaceX endeavors, said Proctor, who designed the mock-up Saturn V that flew astronauts into space.
“Elon is doing his SpaceX work and, if he gets picked, he’ll really energize that effort,” he said. “It will, to me, further make him a dynamic designer, and it’ll make him stronger.”
So, how would he get involved? He said working with Lucid and its futuristic technology would offer the chance to do the same thing for aviation and space exploration as he did with the Apollo program and space exploration in general.
“I would love to be the space designer who invents the zero-emission, electric-powered airplane for the Pentagon,” he said.
That’s just another dream of a man who loves to push boundaries.