Thursday, February 18, 2016
3 Things to Watch for From SpaceX This Spring
Catching Up on Launches - SpaceX has been delaying the launch of an SES satellite since September, but will finally go into orbit on Feb. 24, assuming no further postponements. The multiple delays have confused many people, since this version of the Falcon 9, the Falcon 9 v1.2 or Falcon 9 Upgrade, has already been proven to work during the successful December launch of Orbcomm satellites.
But, there are reasons to think that there will be fewer non-weather related delays as SpaceX's Transporter Erector for the Falcon 9 and the Falcon 9 Heavy are now set up at Cape Canaveral, which will help support the rockets ahead of launches.
Manned Spaceflight - Easily SpaceX's biggest project and the one getting the most attention from the public is SpaceX's part in NASA's Commercial Crew program. And the historic soft landing of a rocket at the end of 2015 suggests that the cost-savings NASA is looking for will be part of the final package, although a recent rocket didn't land quite so gracefully. Musk has said he is plenty optimistic now that the concept has been proven. SpaceX and Boeing are both working on spacecraft for manned missions, but it's notable just how quickly SpaceX has moved to gain a spot with the far more entrenched Boeing.
The actual decision of which will fly first hasn't been made yet, but President Obama did namedrop SpaceX as a company that will help humans get to Mars.
New Competition - For a while, it seemed like SpaceX had almost no competition after getting the contract to carry satellites for the Pentagon by making itself the only possible choice for the job. But the skies are looking a lot more crowded this spring as NASA included Sierra Nevada Corporation with SpaceX and Dulles, Va.-based Orbital ATK as fellow suppliers to the International Space Station. Meanwhile, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is putting a lot of time and resources into his rocket company, Blue Origin, teasing Musk on Twitter as he goes. And United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, is developing its own new rockets even after regaining permission from Congress to use its Russian-made rockets for contracts, as well.
SpaceX will want to step up its game, but competing and innovating is a good thing in space as in any other industry and sets the company up for a very hot summer.