SpaceX achieved a critical milestone in its quest to accelerate rocket launches and move toward profitability. The Hawthorne, California-based company successfully launched a 13,400-pound communications satellite using its Falcon 9 rocket.
According to reports, the satellite successfully detached itself from the booster 32 minutes after launch, as planned. This was the heaviest payload that SpaceX’s rockets have carried, and it was originally slated to be carried on Falcon Heavy, a more expensive and robust version of Falcon 9. However, the company opted to redesign the Falcon 9 rocket for heavier workloads after the ignominious explosion last November that delayed SpaceX’s launch schedule. That explosion had a wide-ranging financial and logistical effect on the space launch industry, in which SpaceX is considered one of the most nimble players. The redesign cost $1 billion and was “crazy hard,” according to SpaceX chairman Elon Musk. (See also: How SpaceX Reinvented the Rocket Launch Industry.)
The explosion significantly slowed down SpaceX’s launch timetable. It had planned to launch 18 rockets last year but was able to achieve only eight launches. The company said that it intends to work its way through 70 missions worth almost $10 billion. To achieve this goal, SpaceX has also been relying on reusable rocket boosters that can be recycled for successive missions. (See also: SpaceX Makes History by Launching Reusable Rockets Again.)
SpaceX is a leader in the space launch industry along with ArianeSpace, a European consortium. However, SpaceX’s list price for rocket launches is significantly cheaper compared with that of its rival. The launch this week makes its rockets even more capable at lower price points. This is because the Falcon 9 has a list price of $62 million for its rocket launch, while the Falcon Heavy charges $90 million for its launches. It is likely that Inmarsat Plc (IMASF), whose satellite SpaceX deployed into orbit, saved money because of SpaceX’s decision to use Falcon 9. (See also: SpaceX to Send Passengers on Lunar Voyage Next Year.)