In the race to fill the space-transport vacuum left by NASA when it suddenly decommissioned the shuttle, SpaceX has pulled pretty far ahead of the competition. It has enjoyed one success after another, and seems to be receiving service contracts left and right. However in light of yesterday’s cancellation, it is fair to ask, “Is the SpaceX spark already beginning to fade?”
This particular launch has been a long time coming, with several stumbling blocks popping up for the space-transport company and forcing it to keep delaying its plans. SpaceX initially expected to launch this cargo mission over a month ago, on March 13. At the time, the launch was delayed two weeks in order to clear up a few last-minute concerns. When the new launch date arrived, however, SpaceX was forced to reschedule yet again when a fire caused damage to a radar system. The latest expected launch, scheduled to take off yesterday afternoon from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, was called off as a result of a helium leak detected on the Falcon 9 rocket. It has now been rescheduled for next Friday, April 18, though officials admit that the weather predicted for that date is far from ideal.
The cargo ship was supposed to carry over two tons of supplies and equipment to the International Space Station (ISS), as well as a number of scientific experiments. It was also to be a significant launch because it was an important step in SpaceX’s experimental reusable rocket program. The rocket’s first stage was going to attempt to return to Earth and be recovered somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Although the company only estimates a 30 to 40 percent chance of success for this part of the experiment, they say that any data gathered from the mission will help it to improve future attempts.
Elon Musk, entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX, has successfully placed his company in the forefront of the new, private space race. However is it possible that his shiny baby’s spark is beginning to fade? Musk has seemingly done everything right, and has received accolades from all avenues of the space-tech field. The list of milestones and historic achievements attributed to his space industry darling is long and impressive: the first private, liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit; the first private company to launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft; the first private company to successfully dock with the ISS; the first private company to launch a satellite into geosynchronous orbit. And as a clear sign that Musk has no intention of resting on his laurels, SpaceX is developing a new launch system, the Falcon Heavy. When completed, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket engine since the Saturn V. Musk as even discussed his expectation that he will one day be involved in the establishment of the first permanent human colony on Mars.
The transition from a government-operated space industry to a privatized, profit-driven one is bound to be rocky. However SpaceX has proven a worthy competitor in the new race for space, and Musk is working hard to make sure that the gleaming spark that has graced just about all of his efforts will not fade out any time soon.
By Peter Barreda