How Elon Musk's Space X Made History and Is Changing Space Travel

SpaceX made history this week. (But don't get excited. It does this most weeks.)

SpaceX's Falcon 9 makes a pretty picture. Source: SpaceX

Actually... on second thought, go ahead: Get excited.

Elon Musk's vehicle for the manned exploration of space made six attempts over the past two weeks to get its first satellite into orbit. The company has performed many liftoffs before, with and without cargoes on board. But attempting to launch a communications satellite into orbit on Nov. 25, SpaceX was forced to abort launch three separate times due to complications with the liquid oxygen tank and supply lines leading into the first stage booster on SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch rocket.

Two subsequent attempts to make history in an even more historic manner Nov. 28, by conducting its first satellite launch ever, on the first-ever date that Thanksgiving and the start of Hanukkah coincided, also ended in failure.

But then, finally, on Tuesday this week -- success!

Liftoff! Source: SpaceX

On December 3, 2013, at 5:41 pm local time, SpaceX's Falcon 9 achieved liftoff, carrying a communications satellite (dubbed "SES-8") built by Orbital Sciences (NYSE: ORB  )  into super-synchronous transfer orbit for its owner, Luxembourg satellite communications firm SES, S.A. 

Tooting its own horn just a bit, SpaceX called the launch "picture-perfect" and -- glossing over the multiple scrubbed launches that preceded it -- announced that this week's launch:

  • achieved "100% of mission objectives"
  • proved that "the upgraded Falcon 9 launch vehicle delivers to the industry's highest performance standards"
  • presaged further launches of "additional SES satellites in the years to come"
  • and counted as "the second of three certification flights needed to certify the Falcon 9 to fly missions for the U.S. Air Force under the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) program ... [and] to compete for all National Security Space (NSS) missions."

Foolish takeaway
From an investor's perspective, though, the real import of SpaceX's special launch is simple. For decades, the gateway to space has been controlled by a cosmic duopoly comprised of Boeing (NYSE: BA  ) and Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT  ) . These two giants have been so dominant in the field that they went ahead and formalized their position, styling themselves first as the United Space Alliance, and later as the United Launch Alliance, and demanding satellite launch prices in the hundreds of millions.

This week, though, through an unlikely alliance with Orbital Sciences -- its rival in NASA resupply missions to the International Space Station -- SpaceX has moved one step closer to dethroning the space kingpins, and grabbing a big piece of the space race for itself.

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  • Report this Comment On December 08, 2013, at 11:49 AM, JouniValkonen wrote:

    SpaceX could become Musk's the most valuable company. That is because the lower are the launch costs, the more space launches there will be. Today the cost of satellites for the next 20 years is estimated to be 175 billion. This does not include the launch costs, but it is assumed on a basis of demand for satellites at ULA launch cost standards.

    As SpaceX can push the launch cost down and offer with Falcon Heavy completely new market segment for bigger satellites, we can easily see that there is big money involved.

    But the most intriguing prospect is, that in February 22nd 2014 the Falcon 9 flight to international Space Station is actually launched with new Falcon 9R launch vehicle. R stands for "reusable", and if SpaceX succeeds with returning the first stage into launch pad, we can safely say that the launch cost will be at least ten times cheaper and perhaps 100 times cheaper on a long term.

    Drastic reduction of launch cost will generate huge boom for space launches and this means that SpaceX is perhaps potentially one of the most valuable companies in the world. Right now it does not have any competition at least for ten years. And probably very mild competition for the next 20 years.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 8:33 AM, wwt17 wrote:

    Is Musk going to make the Millenium Falcon? Ba duh bum.

  • Report this Comment On December 09, 2013, at 6:48 PM, drawer77 wrote:

    The current leader in satellite launching is not Boeing or Lockheed Martin, it's Arianespace

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