Mars colonization and moon tourism may be in the future, but the current heart of Elon Musk’s business in space is launching expensive computers into Earth orbit—often for foreign clients. Today’s launch (Aug. 6) shows how his team has revolutionized this very specific business.
The first stage of the rocket now on the pad at Cape Canaveral, a Falcon 9, already launched a satellite for Bangladesh’s state telecom firm in May 2018. Today, SpaceX will attempt to reuse it to launch a satellite for PT Telkom Indonesia.
This will be the first attempt at launching a “flight proven” Block Five Falcon 9 rocket; this same booster is expected to fly 10 times, an innovation that helped SpaceX set market-leading prices.
You can watch the company’s live video feed starting about 15 minutes before a launch window opens at 1:18am ET (5:18am UTC) and closes three hours later. After the launch, the first stage will fall back to Earth, and is expected to land on the autonomous ship Of Course I Still Love You at sea off the Atlantic coast.
The satellite, built by the American firm SSL, is dubbed Merah Putih, after the Indonesian words for “red” and “white,” the two colors in the country’s national flag. It will provide mobile broadband service throughout the archipelago.
Since beginning commercial service in 2013, SpaceX has launched satellites for companies based in Thailand, Turkey, Bulgaria, Taiwan, Spain, South Korea, Luxembourg, and even China, through a Hong Kong-based partnership. We don’t normally think of space travel as trade, but Musk and company are essentially exporting more than a billion dollars worth of rocket launches around the globe.
By designing a rocket priced at least $50 million cheaper than its competitors in the US and Europe, SpaceX seized the majority of the market in global satellite launches. And the revenue garnered in the commercial marketplace has helped SpaceX compete on price and quality when flying for NASA or the US military, and finance its other futuristic aspirations. This rocket design is critical for more than communications networks: It is designed to launch astronauts, a job the company says it can accomplish by April 2019.
Today’s launch will be SpaceX’s 15th of the year, already just four less than the firm accomplished last year, with nearly five months still to go in 2018. Last year, it set new record for total successful rocket missions by a private spaceflight company with eighteen launches.
SpaceX isn’t not done yet. The last time this rocket flew, Musk predicted that “if things go well, SpaceX will launch more rockets than any other country in 2018.”
Last year, China launched 18 rockets, the same number as SpaceX, while Russia flew 20. So far in 2018, China has launched 22 rockets, and Russia 10. SpaceX is aiming to launch more than 24 missions this year.