Friday, September 2, 2016

The essential context for this and every other SpaceX story

On the whole, SpaceX is a pretty good company. Its technology is not all that revolutionary, nor is its business model. Almost all of the breathless claims and mythic narratives you read about Musk's flagship enterprise are either factually challenged or show a fundamental misunderstanding about the aerospace industry and SpaceX's place in it (not to mention Elon Musk's role in the company itself).

But when you strip away the bs, you do find quite a bit of good work that's had considerable positive impact on the industry. Much of that impact came from raiding TRW's best tech and (more to the point) best rocket scientist, but Musk deserves credit for making far better use of both than the old established company did.

The relentless hype generated by SpaceX (and Tesla and Solar City) tends to amplify both good and (to a lesser extent) bad news. This was certainly a bad day for Musk and friends, but if you hear any big, sweeping doom-and-gloom pronouncements coming out of this story, remember to dial things down a bit.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — A massive fireball and explosion erupted Thursday at SpaceX's main launch pad, destroying a rocket as well as a satellite that Facebook was counting on to spread internet service in Africa.

There were no injuries. The pad had been cleared of workers before what was supposed to be a routine pre-launch rocket test.

SpaceX chief Elon Musk said the accident occurred during the fueling of the rocket and originated around the upper-stage oxygen tank.

"Cause still unknown," Musk said via Twitter. "More soon."

The explosion — heard and felt for miles around — dealt a severe blow to SpaceX, still scrambling to catch up with satellite deliveries following a launch accident last year. It's also a setback for NASA, which has been relying on the private company to keep the International Space Station stocked with supplies and, ultimately, astronauts.

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