Tuesday, July 14, 2009

SpaceX and the Race to Credibility

Yesterday SpaceX, Elon Musk's private space company successfully launched a Falcon 1 rocket, carrying a observational satellite into orbit for the Malaysian government. While private rocket launches are nothing new, the launch was a critical one for SpaceX. This is only the second Falcon 1 rocket that has successfully launched to orbit of the five which have ever lit the candle. Flight 3 nearly made it to orbit, but due to a minor miscalculation the rocket collided with itself mid-separation, causing it to tumble off course. Getting to space is after all, rocket science.

While getting to orbit in only four launches is impressive for a startup, the rate of failure leading up to that launch had spectators and potential customers nervous. When you are looking forking over at least seven figures per launch, a 25% success rate isn't exactly the kind of thing which inspires confidence. That's why this latest launch was so important for SpaceX. By successfully launching to orbit with a paying payload, the Falcon 1 now stands with a 40% success rate and a satisfied paying customer in its resume. For a space launch company of any size, this success rate is vital, because it is a direct manifestation of the companies credibility. It is doubly vital for a young company like SpaceX, which has set lofty goals for itself and has attracted high profile contracts such as servicing the International Space Station.

In order to meet those goals, SpaceX needs to prove that it is capable of consistent reliable launches. SpaceX needs more launches like the one yesterday.


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