By all accounts, 2017 has been a turning point for SpaceX, in large part due to its aggressive launch schedule. On Monday, the 16th launch of the year will take place, with a total of 19 planned for the remaining two months. It’s not only the number of flights that’s garnering the respect and growing industry of funders and industry leaders.
It’s also been a year of unparalleled firsts, a series of bold actions SpaceX needed to take to prove its viability on the market:
• The Falcon 9 booster did its first reflight.
• A Dragon cargo spacecraft also underwent its first reuse.
• The first payload from a national security source
• The first time that 12 landings were successfully completed
The launch attempt will involve the Koreasat 5A communications satellite for a South Korean company.
Though the above achievements are in themselves landmarks, the most important first was simply following through on a promise of achieving a high flight rate. It’s been an uphill battle for the company since its founding fifteen years ago. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, though hailed by some as one of the greatest visionaries of our time in terms his expansive and forward-looking projects and initiatives, at the same time has had to contend with critics who question the feasibility of his ideas. This round of successful flights is sure to silence some of those critics.
A look back at some of its launches:
University of Southern California Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Greg Autry evaluates the successes of the company:
"They have had a busy and perfect year in 2017, with launches, recovers, and reuses all executed well..."
He also indicated that the changing response of insurers was another sign that SpaceX was moving in the right direction. Before recently, they would charge a premium on the company’s reuse launches. To put it into cost perspective, three have already occurred this year. "This should make the job of the SpaceX sales folks even easier," Autry said, cautiously adding, "Barring any delays due to launch failures, I think we will see them grab an even bigger slice of the market and could actually approach a monopoly position in commercial launch."
Some hurdles SpaceX has faced since it began its operation in 2002 came in 2015 and 2016: there were two lost Falcon 9 rockets—one during the launch, and the other occurring while a ground test was in progress—as well as a lost payload. Still, it charged ahead, confident that it could work out these difficulties and ultimately win over with its lower cost flight opportunities. It’s now in the position to give its global competitors, like US-based United Launch Alliance, a run for their money.
Well-noted space historian John Logsdon comments that the recent round of success SpaceX has experienced "gives proof to at least many aspects of the SpaceX business model, in particular that low price and reasonable reliability will attract customers."