SpaceX News: Elon Musk Wins a $112-Million NASA Contract

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Photo: NASA / Handout / GettyImages

Some Good SpaceX News for Elon Musk

Elon Musk needed some good SpaceX news to distract from the SpaceX launch that ended in an explosion earlier this year. Lucky for him, NASA decided to award SpaceX a $112.0-million contract, giving the company a much needed vote of confidence.

The contract is for launching NASA’s “Surface Water and Ocean Topography vehicle,” or “SWOT.” (Source: “SpaceX wins NASA contract to launch ocean-surveying satellite,” The Verge, November 23, 2016.)

Sometime in 2021, SpaceX’s “Falcon 9” will blast off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and carry the SWOT into low Earth orbit. The satellite will monitor 90% of the planet’s oceans and rivers, making it the “first-ever global survey of Earth’s surface water.”

It was designed as a team effort by engineers from both NASA and the French space agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales and could “improve ocean circulation models and weather and climate predictions” and “aid in freshwater management around the world.”

It is not the first time that NASA entrusted SpaceX with an important launch. The company also put the “Jason-3” satellite into space this past January, and it regularly supplies the International Space Station with equipment and core materials.

But some analysts worried that SpaceX had tarnished its reputation with a series of explosions and missed deadlines. Not only has the company failed to deliver on time, but it also created fodder for its commercial rivals. Let’s take a look at the run of bad SpaceX news.

The first thing that comes to mind were the botched landings on SpaceX’s drone ship.

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Elon Musk wanted to make reusable rockets a reality, but in order to do that he needed the SpaceX Falcon 9 booster rocket to land on a drone ship out at sea. The constant waves made that a tricky problem, which led to this:

[Image via GIPHY]

Unfortunately, SpaceX had multiple failed landings at sea. This string of explosions darkened SpaceX’s brand ever so slightly, forcing the company to attempt the maneuver on land. It worked.

Elon Musk got a brief reprieve from bad SpaceX news when the company pulled off a landing on solid ground, and then repeated that performance at sea. Everything seemed to be going well.

That is, until the launchpad explosion in September.

[Image via GIPHY]

In preparation for a launch, SpaceX was performing a routine test on the Falcon 9 when it blew into oblivion. The rocket was carrying an expensive satellite for Facebook Inc CEO Mark Zuckerberg at that time. It was lost in the explosion, which made other SpaceX clients a little uneasy.

No one wanted to lose an expensive satellite to Elon Musk’s ambitions for a reusable rocket.

It took months for SpaceX to identify what went wrong, but words are not enough in the space game. To reinvigorate enthusiasm for his company, Musk will need successful launches. The new contract from NASA shows that the government still has faith in SpaceX’s launch capabilities.

That is exactly the kind of SpaceX news Elon Musk needs right now.

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