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Verge 2018 Technical Report: SpaceX



After the 2017 advertising banner, SpaceX decided to get ahead of itself in 2018, launching the most powerful rocket in the world, which produced a sports car beyond the orbit of Mars.

After just two months in the year, SpaceX finally fulfilled its long-standing promise to launch the coveted Falcon Heavy – an updated version of the company's Falcon 9 rocket. Consisting of three Falcon 9 cores connected together, the Falcon Heavy is capable of carrying more weight to low Earth orbit than any other rocket currently in operation. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk first announced the concept of a rocket in 2011 with the aim of launching it in 2013 or 2014. Obviously, it took more time, and Musk even admitted that the program had become so complex that he tried to cancel it several times. But let's fast forward to 2018, and the rocket is finally ready for the first test flight.

However, the launch was not such a big challenge as the space extravaganza online. Musk decided to make his own Tesla Roadster with the Falcon Heavy test load, complete with a dummy-astronaut riding a driver's seat. And with cameras located all over the rocket, viewers could watch every aspect of the flight – including launch, simultaneous landing of two external accelerators and a dummy cruise around the earth orbit. At the time, it was the second largest YouTube live event ever. (Perhaps this was art.) SpaceX not only demonstrated Falcon Heavy's mastery, but also captured the imagination of rocket fans and supporters from space.


In addition to the Falcon Heavy flight, this year SpaceX completed another important – albeit less sexy – launch of its latest update, the Falcon 9, called Block 5. Falcon 9 is a working SpaceX rocket, and the company is constantly working on the design of the vehicle, as it was first entered. But soon SpaceX will begin to fly astronauts on the Falcon 9, and NASA wants the company to fly a rocket in the same configuration again and again before people get on board. Therefore, SpaceX introduced Block 5, the latest major version of Falcon 9, which the company plans to release.

Block 5 is also intended to raise SpaceX's plans to reuse rockets to a new level. In an effort to reduce production costs, SpaceX has launched its missiles after launch over the past three years. But until recently, the company was able to launch the same vehicle up to two times in space – hardly enough to really benefit from all the reusability. But thanks to a series of hardware updates, each block 5 can be reused up to 10 times without the need for a significant update between launches. Such a scenario has not yet been implemented, but SpaceX was able to fly one Falcon 9 Block 5 three times this year – for the first time in history. Block 5 may mark a turning point in the SpaceX business model.

Meanwhile, the signature of the SpaceX rocket continues to dazzle, although the company's success was interrupted this year. Almost all of the company's 14 rocket landing attempts were successful in 2018, but during the flight of the Falcon Heavy, the launch vehicle was unable to land on an unmanned ship in the Atlantic, crashing into the ocean instead. And for the first time in December, the Sokol-9, which made a land landing, landed in the ocean. These are the first few landing failures that SpaceX saw for some time after the success in 2017.

However, rocket landings are more or less perk. For SpaceX, its launches are important, and every year this year has been successful – helping the company to distance itself from its last rocket explosion in 2016. And, like last year, SpaceX continues to dominate the aerospace industry in terms of launch. frequency. In 2018, the company launched a total of 21 flights – a maximum for the year and a new record for the company. In fact, SpaceX expected even More this year, but is now experiencing a decline in the satellite communications market. However, the company is responsible for most of the missiles launched in the United States, and even has its own compared to countries such as Russia and China.

Of course, it would not be a “year in SpaceX”, if there were no mysteries to send Internet users into a rage. In January, SpaceX launched a secret spy satellite for an unknown government agency, but shortly thereafter there were reports that the probe fell out of orbit and burned in the atmosphere of the Earth. Given the delicate nature of the launch, there were few details and it was unclear whether SpaceX was to blame for the failure. In the end, SpaceX defended its rocket, and the investigation revealed the true cause of the accident: the payload adapter connecting the satellite to the rocket could not launch the spacecraft into orbit. This adapter was reportedly made by Northrop Grumman, which will ensure the transparency of SpaceX. Nonetheless, Zuma's mess served as seductive food for SpaceX critics, who claim that the company's vehicles are unreliable.


And while SpaceX is still the most prolific launch provider in the US, its long-term plans are a bit gloomier. One of the most ambitious enterprises of the company is Starlink, a program designed to provide coverage of the Earth by the Internet using thousands of satellites moving synchronously in orbit. SpaceX successfully launched the first two test satellites this year and received unprecedented approval from the Federal Communications Commission to launch the entire fleet in the coming years. But that means SpaceX has lot launch do. He must launch at least half the fleet — about 6,000 satellites — over the next six years or so, to keep his licenses in the FCC. So about 1000 satellites per year. Clap.

SpaceX says it will start launching satellites seriously in 2019, but it is estimated that the entire Starlink program will cost $ 10 billion. It seems unlikely that the SpaceX satellite launch business is enough to cover this (especially in a downturn in the satellite market). And then another huge project SpaceX, which is worth considering: the development of the next big company rocket, Mars colonial transporter / intercolonial transport system / Bfr Starship / Super Heavy. It is assumed that this giant vehicle designed to deliver large groups of people to the Moon or Mars is the company's future. It is also expected to cost between 5 and 10 billion dollars, according to Mask (which also changes the design of the car along with the name).

In general, this lot development money that could explain why SpaceX became creative with funding. He not only secured his first highly profitable loan in the world of $ 250 million this year, but also raised another $ 500 million for Starlink. And on top of that, SpaceX announced the first passenger for the future Starship – a Japanese billionaire who allegedly made a significant deposit to drive a car.

So yes, it was one of the most dynamic years for SpaceX. And if you believe this, 2019 will be even more eventful for the company. Next year, SpaceX may finally launch astronauts to the International Space Station for the NASA commercial crews program, finally fulfilling the company's goal of sending people into space. When this happens, it will be an important turning point in SpaceX's ambitions and, perhaps, will surpass the achievements of 2018.

Final grade: A


2018 class

Verge 2018 Report Sheet: SpaceX

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Golden stars

  • Launched a car into space on the most powerful rocket in the world
  • The most prolific launch provider in the US
  • Got reusability to next level with Block 5 debut

Improvement needed

  • Failed to land two rocket cores this year.
  • Still need a lot of money for future projects.

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