Musk scores a much-needed win with successful SpaceX launch

A Falcon 9 SpaceX heavy rocket lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral on February 6. (Terry Renna, AP)
A Falcon 9 SpaceX heavy rocket lifts off from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral on February 6. (Terry Renna, AP)

Finally, a success story for Elon Musk.

Space Exploration Technologies launched a commercial satellite for Telesat from Florida, marking the rocket company’s 16th mission of 2018 - two years of uninterrupted achievements.

The launch, the 16th successful mission of about 30 targeted this year, is a bright spot in an otherwise tumultuous few months for chief executive officer Elon Musk, who also heads Tesla.

Musk has had a rough time since his spur-of-the-moment tweet about taking the carmaker private, only to drop the idea a little more than two weeks later amid criticism, shareholder lawsuits, and an investigation by federal regulators.

In a New York Times interview last month, Musk described the past year as “excruciating,” appeared to be overcome by emotion, and also defended his use of the prescription sleep aid Ambien.

Last week, Musk appeared live on comedian Joe Rogan’s two-and-a-half-hour podcast, during which he sipped whiskey and took a drag from what Rogan described as a blunt containing tobacco mixed with marijuana.

Falcon 9

On Monday, the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at about 12:45 local time. The rocket deployed the Telstar 18 Vantage satellite, which will expand upon communications services in Southeast Asia, Mongolia, Australia and New Zealand.

Musk founded SpaceX in 2002. Musk owns a majority stake, alongside investors such as Google, Fidelity Investments, and Founders Fund, Bloomberg Businessweek reported in July.

Last year its workhorse Falcon 9 rocket reached orbit 18 times, more than any other launch vehicle in the world.

The company’s valuation has climbed to about $28bn, making it the third-most valuable venture-backed startup in the US after Uber and Airbnb.

After stage separation, the Falcon 9’s first stage landed back on a droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean more than 8 minutes after lift-off on Monday.

The satellite will replace Telstar 18, which was launched in June 2004 and began service in August of that year, according to Ottawa, Canada-based Telesat.

It’s expected to enable direct connectivity from any point in Asia to the Americas, Telesat said. It’s designed for an in-orbit life of about 15 years.

Telstar 18 Vantage, which was built by Maxar’s SSL unit, is expected to begin service later this year after testing, SpaceX said.

SpaceX also has a contract to ferry American astronauts to the International Space Station as part of what’s known as the Commercial Crew program with NASA. The latest schedule has a SpaceX demonstration flight slated for November and the first flight with astronauts on board in April.

Last month, SpaceX employees got a chance to meet the four astronauts who will fly on Crew Dragon, the craft designed to ferry them safely to and from the orbiting lab.

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