Elon Musk’s Rivals Say It Could Take A Year To Recover From Rocket Explosion

(REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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It could take up to a year for Elon Musk’s space rocket company to recover from a recent explosion, the billionaire’s business rivals estimate.

“It typically takes nine to 12 months for people to return to flight. That’s what the history is,” Tory Bruno, chief executive of United Launch Alliance (ULA), told Reuters.

Bruno said the biggest problem after any rocket explosion has “always been figuring out what went wrong on the rocket, being confident that you know … how to fix it and then actually getting that fix in place.”

ULA, a joint venture between the major defense contractors Lockheed Martin and Boeing, is SpaceX’s largest business rival and has successfully launched 111 rockets. Musk is SpaceX’s CEO and founder.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket exploded Sept. 1 in the run-up to a mission to carry a satellite to provide phone, video and internet services for the Middle East, Europe, and locations across sub-Saharan Africa. The cause of the explosion is still unknown, but an investigation has revealed the accident likely began with a failure in the the rocket’s upper stage oxygen tanks.

Industry experts believe that the explosion could have been caused by a fuel leak, unknown contaminants in the liquid oxygen propellant or a problem with the rocket’s staging. Until the cause of the explosion is known, Musk will have a harder time finding new clients and is risking a serious financial loss with each new launch.

Musk’s company could even be hit with a $50 million dollar lawsuit from the telecommunications company whose satellite the rocket explosion destroyed.

SpaceX rockets have previously exploded several times during landing attempts, which Musk called a “huge blow.” Currently, SpaceX has nine more scheduled launches this year.

SpaceX may not be able to afford to take a year off. The company currently has a total of $330 million invested in SolarCity, Musk’s rooftop solar company. SolarCity is a sizable investment for SpaceX, which was valued at $12 billion in 2015, leaving the company with little cash on hand. Musk himself invested $10 million of his personal fortune into SolarCity in February, according to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filings.

SpaceX plans to use a similar rocket to launch a human into space in October 2017. The company is currently racing Boeing to be the first private company to send humans to the International Space Station. SpaceX and Boeing, along with other companies, have made huge advancements in reusable rocketry, which has the potential to greatly reduce the costs of getting into space.

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