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Bitcoin Cryptocurrency Stock Market SpaceX’s Successful Launch Saturday Follows Years of Setbacks

SpaceX’s successful launch Saturday came after years of setbacks for Elon Musk’s company. Photo: thom baur/Reuters To reach Saturday’s astronaut liftoff, Elon Musk and his engineering team overcame a string of failures and swift design changes that generated years of skepticism inside NASA, their biggest customer. During the roller-coaster program to replace NASA’s geriatric space…

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SpaceX’s successful launch Saturday came after years of setbacks for Elon Musk’s company.



Photo:

thom baur/Reuters

To reach Saturday’s astronaut liftoff, Elon Musk and his engineering team overcame a string of failures and swift design changes that generated years of skepticism inside NASA, their biggest customer.

During the roller-coaster program to replace NASA’s geriatric space shuttles, SpaceX endured several setbacks, from catastrophic engine failures and malfunctioning parachutes to safety concerns about fueling boosters on the ground for the first time with astronauts on board. When he took over as head of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration two years ago, Jim Bridenstine told reporters Friday, he wasn’t entirely convinced the company could deliver on its promises.

From early tests that revealed capsule leaks to a major failure of a key crew-abort system just months ago, closely held Space Exploration Technologies Corp., the company’s formal name, proved resilient enough to bounce back from such setbacks. It took a hasty redesign, for example, to make NASA officials comfortable with the safety of the Crew Dragon capsule’s cluster of four parachutes.

Some of SpaceX’s Firsts

Sept. 2008 Falcon 1 is the first privately made liquid fuel rocket

to reach Earth orbit.

2010

July ’09 Falcon 1 delivers a

commercial satellite to orbit.

May ’12 Dragon spacecraft

visits the space station.

April ’16 The first stage of Falcon 9 returns to earth and lands on a droneship.

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March ’17 First reflight of an orbital class rocket.

2015

June ’17 A Dragon spacecraft returns to the international space station after being used.

March ’19 Crew Dragon spacecraft autonomously docks with the ISS.

May ’20 The company becomes the first private company to send a human crew into space.

2020

In addition, Mr. Musk’s team had to persuade NASA that its Crew Dragon capsule could safely withstand collisions with micrometeoroids. And NASA, in turn, had to convince its Russian partners on the space station that the capsule’s automated linkup maneuvers include fail-safe protections against crashing into and potentially damaging the orbital laboratory.

Each time, SpaceX managers resolved doubts and objections through persistence combined with engineering. The goal is “to break it on the ground during testing to see where the limits are,” Mr. Musk told reporters Friday.

The notoriously tough challenges of designing and demonstrating the reliability of a big new rocket—which can cost between $1 billion and $2.5 billion—have kept all but the most well-heeled and confident entrepreneurs away. The version of the Falcon 9 used Saturday has launched some 20 times.

Through the years, SpaceX has managed to change course when necessary. Gwynne Shotwell, Mr. Musk’s longtime lieutenant and SpaceX’s president, has said that historically, the aerospace industry has worried too much about the public image of test failures. By contrast, SpaceX remains determined to benefit from them.

“The best way to learn is to push your systems to the limit,” Ms. Shotwell has said, to highlight “where you’re weak and make things better.”

Write to Andy Pasztor at [email protected]

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