VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. — A Falcon 9 rocket roared into the sky on Saturday carrying ten communications satellites — a return by SpaceX and its billionaire leader, Elon Musk, to the company of launching satellites to orbit.
But monetary particulars disclosed this past week about the firm overshadowed the profitable liftoff, raising questions about the viability of Mr. Musk’s long-range plans for SpaceX and his vision of sending men and women to Mars.
SpaceX, primarily based in Hawthorne, Calif., has been set back given that September, when a different Falcon 9 caught fire and exploded on a launchpad in Florida, destroying the rocket and its payload, a $ 200 million Israeli satellite that Facebook had planned to lease to expand international internet services. The company’s rockets had been grounded because then. An internal investigation concluded that a failure of a helium vessel in the second stage liquid oxygen tank had led to the conflagration.
The Federal Aviation Administration, which regulates commercial space launches, accepted SpaceX’s report on the explosion’s causes on Jan. 6 and issued a launch license, clearing the way for Saturday’s liftoff here, on the other side of the country. To avoid a recurrence, SpaceX adjusted its fueling procedures to steer clear of overcooling of the helium.
Saturday’s countdown proceeded smoothly, with the liftoff occurring inside a one-second window that would send the rocket on a trajectory to line up with the orbit of a group of present Iridium Communications satellites. The new satellites are far more strong than the original ones, which have been in orbit nearly two decades and have outlived their developed lifetimes.
More than the subsequent 14 months, the business plans six extra Falcon 9 launches to deploy 60 a lot more Iridium satellites that will totally replace the constellation.
In the short-term, the successful launch helps place SpaceX back on track. The explosion and subsequent 4-month grounding developed a backlog of launches, which includes cargo missions for NASA to the International Space Station. September’s explosion was SpaceX’s second failure in 15 months a Falcon 9 rocket carrying NASA cargo disintegrated in flight in June 2015.
On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that SpaceX had lost $ 260 million in 2015 right after the earlier accident, and revenue dropped six percent to $ 945 million. In earlier years, SpaceX officials which includes Mr. Musk described the company as consistently profitable that claim has been removed from SpaceX’s internet site.
Company officials did not dispute the numbers reported in The Wall Street Journal write-up, but portrayed a rosy future.
“Since 2002, we have been at the forefront of revolutionizing space technologies, with a solid track record of success, powerful customer relationships and much more than 70 future launches on our manifest, representing over $ 10 billion in contracts,” Bret Johnsen, SpaceX’s chief monetary officer, said in a statement. “Furthermore, with more than $ 1 billion in money reserves and no debt, the business is in a financially robust position and is properly positioned for future growth.”
Late this spring, SpaceX hopes to launch its larger Falcon Heavy. The Heavy, years behind schedule, would turn out to be the world’s most powerful rocket because NASA retired the Saturn 5 far more than 40 years ago.
SpaceX also plans to refly a single of its recovered boosters. By reusing instead of throwing away rocket boosters, SpaceX hopes to substantially decrease the price of launches.
Also on the schedule is an in-flight abort test of SpaceX’s Dragon two capsule, a critical security prerequisite that it must conduct before the firm can start ferrying NASA astronauts to the space station subsequent year.
By applying Silicon Valley entrepreneurial practices to aerospace, SpaceX has undercut rates and disrupted the rocket launch organization. That brought in many clients like Iridium, which is paying more than $ 450 million for the seven launches. The subsequent-lowest bid from a single of SpaceX’s competitors was $ 1.two billion, mentioned Matthew J. Desch, Iridium’s chief executive.
With out SpaceX’s reduce charges, Iridium could not have afforded to replace its group of satellites, Mr. Desch said. “The Falcon 9 is excellent for what we want to do,” he mentioned.
But the lower expenses make it hard to see how SpaceX could earn adequate profit to finance its grand ambitions.
In September, Mr. Musk unveiled his vision for what he known as the Interplanetary Transport System — a gigantic rocket with 42 engines that could take one hundred passengers to Mars as early as 2024.
SpaceX has described plans to offer satellite internet solutions with more than four,000 satellites. The forecasts described by The Wall Street Journal, which have been made in early 2016, show how a lot the business is depending on this new business.
SpaceX projected that present rocket launching organization would quintuple in revenue, to $ 5 billion, in 2025. Satellite internet solutions, nonetheless in the early organizing stages, had been projected to bring in much more than $ 30 billion in revenue and produce the bulk of far more than $ 20 billion in profit for the business.
During the September announcement, Mr. Musk spoke of “a enormous public-private partnership” to get to Mars, but did not describe what sort of partnership he foresaw. The incoming Trump administration has not outlined in detail its plans for NASA, though some of the president-elect’s advisers, including Newt Gingrich, are pushing for a greater reliance on commercial businesses like SpaceX.
Other Republicans, nevertheless, have been strong defenders of the Space Launch Method, the large, costly rocket that NASA is developing for a Mars mission.