After the SpaceXplosion, What's Next for SpaceX?

December 29, 2015 – 09:57 pm
Spacex stock market : Top 10
Wallops Island launch facilities after Orbital ATK's failed October space launch. Image source: NASA.

"Space is hard"
So goes the old trope, but space does seem to be getting harder lately. As tallied by our friends at Spaceflightnow, we have now seen a total of three resupply missions to the International Space Station scuttled by exploding or off-course rockets in the past eight months. Orbital ATK lost an Antares rocket to catastrophic failure back in October, followed by a Russian Progress cargo ship going off course in April. Completing the "law of threes, " SpaceX has now lost its first operational Falcon after a string of 18 successful missions.

This bad news could get even worse for SpaceX, which is currently competing against Orbital ATK, Boeing, and others to win a renewal of its multibillion-dollar contract to provide Commercial Resupply Services to ISS through 2024. The good news in this regard is that at least one of SpaceX's rivals (Orbital) has suffered a failure of its own; so at least SpaceX is not odd man out. The bad news is that Boeing's record of uninterrupted successful space launches as part of United Launch Alliance could argue strongly in favor of NASA giving at least part of the "CRS(2)" contract to Boeing.

Guilt by association
And it gets worse. As recently as May, SpaceX appeared to be on a roll. With a record of safe space launches nearly as good - if not as long - as Boeing's, SpaceX won certification first from NASA, and then from the U.S. Air Force, making it officially one of the U.S. government's favorite space companies. Importantly, these twin certifications opened the door for SpaceX to compete for nearly $25 billion worth of U.S. government space launch business - annually.


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