2017 should have finished with the most spectacular launch of SpaceX to date: the highly anticipated demo flight of its Falcon Heavy triple booster rocket. It is the vehicle that is supposed to take the company into deep space some day, the cornerstone of Elon Musk's plan to "get us out of here" to save the human race. Musk first headed to November for the test flight, after years of promises almost from here. But like many iconic SpaceX missions, it was delayed once again, this time, at least until January.
However, the fact that SpaceX has missed its self-imposed deadline does not mean that the company has not moved towards its goal. distant objectives in 201
In December, SpaceX celebrated a spectacular year of launches from the Florida space coast with a mission of a variety of hours: it returned to a reconstructed platform 40, destroyed in a dramatic explosion in September 2016, launching The first recycled reinforcement of NASA's SpaceX brand and a recycled dragon capsule to boot. That leaves the commercial space company with an impressive recount for the year. Successful takeoffs: 17. Successful landings: 14. Successful flights of a reusable rocket: 4.
And even if SpaceX failed to demonstrate the Triple Heavy Booster before 2018, its technical ability to launch deep space vehicles is only half the battle. The other half does it quickly and affordably, and this year's record is a big step to prove that point.
According to Musk, the key to building a successful Mars colony is to exponentially reduce the cost per seat or cost per ton of those pioneer trips. What SpaceX has definitely worked for: missions flown on reusable hardware are fast becoming a late occurrence, adding to tens of millions of potential savings. The Heavy Hawk would have been the culmination of that work: Musk imagined heavy cargo loads onto the red planet using a variant of his Dragon capsule equipped with Mars.
But the so-called Red Dragon mission, launched as a potential collaboration with NASA, is no longer on the table. Musk revealed in July at the ISS R & D Conference in Washington that Falcon Heavy will not launch capsule missions to Mars, claiming that SpaceX has found a better approach to "land anywhere in the solar system." This was the first clue that SpaceX would be hitting a full reset on its deep space approach, opting to bet its future on a larger and more complex vehicle.
Following in September at the International Astronautical Congress in Australia, Musk presented a plan for an updated transporter of Mars, one that could start with human missions to the moon. To do this, Musk says that SpaceX will divert a significant amount of its resources to develop what they call a BFR (for Big Fucking Rocket). And once a few are completed, the company will begin to discontinue its existing fleet of Falcon 9s and Dragons, including the Falcon Heavy.
Musk proposed that a passenger ship bound for Mars would be inactive in orbit while the impeller that brought it there makes trips back to Earth to top off its fuel tank, carrying a completely different tanker. Musk's vision is more like science fiction than reality at the moment, but this, at least, seems crucial to his plan: fully reusable and fast hardware, perfectly tuned versions of the coupling technology currently used by Dragon, and an improved version of the recovery method that brings home a Falcon 9.
But for SpaceX to meet its noble goals and start building the BFR in 2018, its current fleet of reusable vehicles needs to continue printing in cash. And that means making sure that a significant amount of your portfolio is military contracts: the most lucrative in almost any industry.
This year, SpaceX launched a series of covert missions for US government agencies. UU., Including the Air Force and the National Recognition Office. He launched a spy satellite for the NRO and a secret miniature space plane while it was in the path of Hurricane Irma. And it also had a launch lined up for a still unknown military branch, codenamed Zuma, which was pushed from November to January.
In addition to that growing list of military missions, the Air Force amended an existing contract in October to inject an additional $ 40 million into the development of the Raptor engine that will power the BFR spacecraft. The original agreement assigned Space a little more than $ 33 million, while competing firms such as ULA and Orbital ATK received similar money, part of a strategy to reduce dependence on the Russian RD-180 engine.
Two years after SpaceX successfully sued ULA's monopoly on military contracts, SpaceX is now receiving its fair share of the astonishing $ 22-23 billion annual space budget from the Air Force, including a launch on Falcon Heavy still to fly. No company or private nation could match that type of potential income.
And SpaceX is looking for even more government money as the United States revives interest in a manned lunar mission. NASA's own deep-space crew vehicle, the Space Launch System, has cost billions to develop, and its first launch to the moon will not occur before 2020. So SpaceX is making its own offer, of a kind In February, Musk announced that SpaceX would facilitate a tourism mission to the lunar orbit for two brave (and wealthy) individuals at the top of Falcon Heavy, and would give NASA priority seats in future missions.
Subtle as it was, it was SpaceX who began seriously courting the government for a deep space contract. In early July, Musk dispatched SpaceX Vice President Tim Hughes to the US Senate Space, Science and Technology subcommittee. UU To present arguments in favor of cultivating trips to the Moon and Mars.
But that will not be enough. It seems increasingly that SpaceX will need the support of the federal government, and not only in the form of lucrative contracts. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell appeared before Vice President Pence at the first meeting of the National Space Council re-established in October, to argue that the United States was now "innovating" in the rest of the world in launches after the industry remained inactive during years. Shotwell promoted the workforce of 6,000 people at SpaceX and his new role as a national security and defense contractor.
In return, Shotwell argued, SpaceX needs something more from the government apparatus: deregulation. "If we want to make rapid progress in space, the US government must eliminate bureaucratic practices that go against innovation and speed," Gwynne Shotwell told the council. "Regulations written decades ago must be updated to keep up with the new technologies and the high launch rate of the United States if we want a strong space launch industry here at home." And again, SpaceX also needs a mountain of cash, just enough to build human colonies in other worlds.