SF Technotes

Tesla: This Week in Space and at Home Depot

By Michael Castelluccio
February 8, 2018
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Tesla Inc. is a company that just doesn’t stand still. It’s able to follow through on some of the most diverse technological projects imaginable. In the first week of February 2018, the company announced the roll-out of Tesla kiosks in 800 Home Depot stores that will make Tesla solar cells and Powerwall home storage batteries available in the national chain. And also in the first seven days, the company’s SpaceX division scheduled the launch of the world’s most powerful rocket, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, (above) going aloft on Tuesday, February 6, 2018.

 

Depending on the program’s success, the Falcon Heavy could become the means for lifting substantial cargos into space. Sunlight captured, converted, and stored in our homes, and exploding rocket fuel lifting the most powerful transport vehicle yet. Not a bad week for the 14-year-old company from Palo Alto, Calif.

 

The Falcon Heavy rocket lifted off the launchpad, as planned, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. The three-core rocket has 27 engines, more than any other working rocket before it. These engines produce more than five million pounds of thrust at takeoff, almost matching NASA’s newest large rocket, at much less cost. The larger NASA Space Launch System rocket is years away from making its first flight, and some estimate it will cost 10 times as much to fly as the Falcon Heavy.

 

And like its predecessor, the Falcon 9, all three rockets of the Heavy are made to land and be reused for later flights. At Tuesday’s flight, the first two stage boosters did glide back to earth and land on pads on the coast, but the center rocket didn’t make it to the SpaceX drone platform on the ocean, and it’s presumed lost.

 

The primary goal of the Falcon Heavy is to be able to carry around 140,000 pounds of cargo into lower Earth orbit. Observers agree that this new capacity could open a whole new line of business for SpaceX.

 

The Falcon Heavy launched from an historic site. LC-39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is where the Apollo 11 mission to the Moon took off as well as the final Shuttle mission in July 2011.

 

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In order to demonstrate the cargo potential for the rocket, Tesla chairman and CEO Elon Musk decided to include his own Tesla roadster aboard the central rocket, with a dummy named Starman in a space suit at the wheel. The space suit was also a product of Tesla engineering.

 

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starman4_webMusk’s Tesla Roadster driven by Starman. Photos: SpaceX

 

The Falcon Heavy is committed to two flights later this year to launch two large satellites for Inmarsat and Viasat. The rocket is also scheduled, in June 2018 or later, to fly a payload for the Air Force to test its readiness to put national security payloads in orbit.

 

One measure of Elon Musk’s confidence in Tuesday’s mission was seen in numerous live feeds made available to the public, including one on YouTube.

BACK HOME

 

Meanwhile, on Thursday, Feb. 1, 2018, Tesla Inc. told Bloomberg News that it’s beginning the roll-out of 800 Tesla-branded selling spaces in Home Depot stores. The kiosks will feature 12′ x 7′-wide displays that will be staffed by Tesla employees, who will demonstrate its solar panels and Powerwall batteries. The batteries store energy generated from the solar panels and can be used in the event of a blackout or as an alternative source when peak rates are higher.

 

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Tesla Powerwall Battery. Photo: Tesla

 

The sales centers will provide recommendations for homeowners, based on satellite imagery of the neighborhoods and individual elements like shading and rooftop space availability. Customers will be able to set up an on-site consultation for customized estimates.

 

Tesla went all in on solar for the home when it acquired SolarCity Corp. in 2016, and that company already had a relationship with Home Depot. Bloomberg is also reporting that Lowes, second to Home Depot in home-improvement retail, is also in discussions with Tesla regarding its solar products.

 

The Tesla solar kiosks are already in Home Depot stores in Southern Calif., including Hawthorne, home base for CEO Elon Musk’s other companies SpaceX and The Boring Company, a serious geotechnical engineering enterprise that is developing machinery for tunnel boring. It’s working on another Musk venture, one that is planning a New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. underground hyperloop (a “passenger transportation [system] using pressurized capsules riding on air bearings, driven by induction motors and air compressors”—Wikipedia).

 

And there’s even one other thing. Musk’s Boring Company also announced on Tuesday (February 1, 2018) that it had sold out its first batch of 20,000 flamethrowers in just five days. They went for $500 a copy. Yes, flamethrowers! Musk thought it was a cool idea to develop these, and—being “a kind of BB-gun-meets-blowtorch” (Wired)—they may actually have a couple of practical uses, including weed control and snow removal.

 

So, all in all, it’s been some week for the Tesla group. If Musk were a tenor, you’d certainly have to admit that he has some range.

 



Michael Castelluccio has been the Technology Editor for Strategic Finance for 23 years. His SF TECHNOTES blog is in its 20th year. You can contact Mike at mcastelluccio@imanet.org.


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