Good News for the Elon Musk SpaceX Team
For the first time in almost four months, the Elon Musk SpaceX team has a launch on its books. The “Falcon 9” rocket is set to take flight on January 8, marking the first SpaceX launch in 2017 and, more importantly, the company’s first flight since the SpaceX launchpad explosion last September.
For those who may not remember, the Falcon 9 became an impromptu fireworks show during the morning of September 1. It wasn’t even a launch; the rocket blew up during a routine “static fire” test which takes place before all flights.
The worst part? SpaceX’s cargo was attached to the rocket when it exploded.
The launch provider was scheduled to carry up a communications satellite for “Internet.org” (Mark Zuckerberg’s initiative to bring Wi-Fi to disconnected places around the world). If it had reached orbit, the satellite would have beamed down the Internet to millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa.
But instead, this happened (see video):
Naturally, the Elon Musk SpaceX team grounded all flights after the mishap. The company initiated a thorough investigation, which was both open and transparent. Throughout the investigation, Elon Musk would tweet out little updates, making sure that everyone knew what was going on at SpaceX HQ.
Finally, this past Monday morning, the company confirmed that it had found the cause of the explosion. Apparently, a few loose carbon fibers had ignited the frigidly cold fuel supply. It was a complex chain of events, but the important part is that SpaceX has identified all “credible causes” of the launch failure.
This is especially important, since the January 8 cargo includes 10 small probes from satellite operator Iridium Communications Inc (NASDAQ:IRDM). Given that Iridium has plans for an entire constellation of satellites in the near future, and that the Elon Musk SpaceX vision extends to a colony on Mars, success in this mission could help lock in huge cash flows for the future.
On the whole, it never pays to bet against the Elon Musk SpaceX team. Critics had written the company off after several failed attempts at landing a reusable booster rocket. But, sure enough, SpaceX landed its Stage 1 rocket on land a year ago. The company repeated the feat with a sea-based ship landing soon after, proving that it was possible to land at high velocities as well.
Time and time again, this team has overcome difficult challenges. So, even though Elon Musk said this was the “most complex and difficult” problem that the company ever faced, the worst appears to have passed. It is doubtful that SpaceX would have concluded the investigation unless it was confident about having identified the causes. It has postponed launches before.
The commitment to the January 8 schedule is a sign of confidence. That being said, the Elon Musk SpaceX team is sure to be waiting with bated breath during the launch.