September 01 2016 saw SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) hit the headlines after the explosion of one of its Falcon-9 rockets on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral. The incident, which occurred during a test launch, destroyed the rocket and its cargo – a $200m satellite. The explosion was the latest bad news in a turbulent week for CEO Elon Musk. Shares in Tesla Motors – where Musk is CEO and largest shareholder – dropped 5.3% after it announced it would need to raise additional capital before the end of the year in order to fund its controversial merger with Solar City (a company that Musk himself chairs). The repercussions of the explosion could send a shock wave rippling across the entire space industry.
Since its formation in 2002, SpaceX has sort to revolutionize space travel and exploration by pioneering the use of reusable spacecraft in order to reduce the vast costs that have inhibited space exploration in recent years. The company has experienced several setbacks over the years, and the latest one has the potential to seriously derail the company’s mission. The satellite which was destroyed in the explosion was an Israeli-built communication satellite that Facebook was planning to use in its Internet.org initiative to provide internet access across large parts of sub-Saharan Africa. The destruction of such a high-profile cargo focused even more attention on to the incident, and prompted the chairman of the Israel Space Agency Isaac Ben-Israel to comment that “this is a very serious blow which could place the future of the industry in doubt if it is not dragged out of the mud”.
The remainder of 2016 could prove to be a pivotal moment in SpaceX’s history. If SpaceX is able to complete its scheduled launches successfully then the recent incident at Cape Canaveral will be seen as just a blip. However if SpaceX faces any further difficulties then the company will once again be in the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons.