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Elon Musk does not stop sending rockets into space: the secret of his success


In 2022 it launched 61 space missions. Why did he achieve marks that not even NASA could reach?

Billowing clouds billowed from the Falcon 9 rocket, visible on the large screen overhead.

The vehicle was on the other side of the country, at a NASA launch center in Florida, and engineers there were talking to engineers here at SpaceX Mission Control in Hawthorne, California.

“Liquid oxygen charge phase 1 complete,” said a controller, audible to those wearing headsets on 24 different consoles.

There were 2 minutes left for takeoff on October 5.

Those who operated the mission

were preparing to send four astronauts to the International Space Station


Journalists are not normally allowed into the room where SpaceX guides its rockets into space and back to Earth.

The company has been carrying out missions of this type with increasing frequency;

in 2022 it launched its Falcon 9 rockets 61 times, and sometimes multiple rockets on the same day or on consecutive days


Such a cadence is among the engineering feats that transformed an industry and made SpaceX a central player in American spaceflight.

The company was attempting something that it had never done that day:

launch three missions in less than 31 hours


While working towards this goal, SpaceX allowed me to be in Mission Control to observe a sequence of launches, landings, docking and undocking.

Elon Musk's goal is to turn humanity into a "multi-planetary species."

Elon Musk, the mastermind (and checkbook) behind SpaceX.

Safe from the Musk effect

The rocket company and its 10,000 employees soared to new heights in 2022, showcasing week after week what seemed to be a parallel universe governed by precision, while the other companies of Elon Musk, its founder and CEO, were rocked by the chaos.

After buying Twitter, Musk got involved in trying to override the social network's content moderation rules and then temporarily suspended from the site some journalists who provided information about an account that tracks the location of his private jet.

The Twitter uproar spilled over into Tesla, the electric car maker that is a key source of Musk's extraordinary wealth and which has lost a sizeable chunk of its stock since the Twitter takeover.

And the SpaceX staff hasn't been spared from Musk's gravitational pull.

In November, eight former SpaceX employees filed complaints with the National Labor Relations Board for unfair labor practices, alleging that their firings had been carried out illegally.

But those problems seemed a long way off in Mission Control, where a crew member cycled through 12 open windows on his monitors.

Meanwhile, at a front-row console,

Gwynne Shotwell

, president and COO of SpaceX, known for keeping the company stable, was scanning the overhead screen, pointing at it and whispering to an employee next to her.

It was time for the rocket and its astronauts to take flight on the mission called Crew-5.

Watching a rocket launch is a deafening, visceral experience.

But in Mission Control there is a library silence.

The room itself is uncomfortably hot.

At each workstation, with three monitors, people from the operations team were typing and clicking.

The occasional cup of coffee, bottled water, hand sanitizer, or a packet of candy defiled the consoles, but overall the tables looked neat.

Ready to go: the astronauts of the Crew 5 mission. Their destination: the International Space Station.

There were no thick folders like those that had once characterized NASA Mission Control and no Apollo-era coats and ties.


the corporate uniform was hoodies, company T-shirts, and basketball-style shoes


The back and left walls of the room are made of glass, allowing a view into the company's production plant, where craftsmen, machinists, and aerospace engineers build, among other things, a rocket engine every other day.

But two minutes before launch, the plant seemed empty.

Hundreds of workers had gathered behind the glass and were peering inside.

Inside Mission Control all was monastic and methodical, but just outside the assembled crowd chattered and laughed and swayed, creating an atmosphere of restless, nervous energy.

On the big screen,

a column of fire separated the Falcon 9 rocket from Earth.

The ship glided upward, cheered on by the people who built it.

But no one rose to celebrate inside Mission Control.

They also did not lose concentration while, behind, the crowd cheered each step of the planned sequence of the rocket.

Inside the room, they studied graphs and compared launch data.

Twelve minutes after lifting off, the Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft and its four crew members detached from the rocket's second stage and sped off at more than 17,000 miles per hour to reach the space station.

The work had only just begun.

In the next 31 hours, the astronauts had to reach the space station and dock with it, and two other rockets had to put several satellites into orbit.

It would be a glimpse of what a truly space-faring future might look like for humanity, in which Mission Control would look less like a single-event-oriented unit and more like

an air traffic control tower


More than half of all SpaceX launches in 2022 carried satellites from Starlink, an internet company also owned by Elon Musk.

The launch of the rocket carrying the Crew 5 mission.

The SpaceX Key



with fast launch rates are so commonplace today that it's hard to remember how absurd the idea seemed before.

In 1999, the founder of a dot-com company called Zip2, Elon Musk, got "some resources to do cool things" when he

sold his business for $300 million


Two years later, the same executive, then 31, increased his fortune when eBay bought PayPal, in which he was the majority shareholder.

Musk had aspirations to land people on Mars.

Seeing that American launch vehicles were absurdly expensive, he created Space Exploration Technologies Corp, better known as SpaceX.

Over time

he realized that the key to outperforming the competition was to reuse the rockets


Under the concept to be developed by SpaceX, the rocket would carry its payload into space and then land on Earth in an upright position: essentially a reverse launch.

By 2012, SpaceX had become the first company to dock a private cargo spacecraft at the space station.

Then, in 2015, it landed a Falcon 9 rocket for the first time. In 2020, the company transferred two astronauts to the space station and brought NASA back to human spaceflight after nine years.

Today Falcon 9 rockets and Dragon capsules are the workhorses of NASA

, the US Department of Defense and private spaceflight.

Many SpaceX employees are fervent about Musk's vision: They want to play a role in permanently placing humans on Mars and making humanity a

"multi-planetary species

," as Musk puts it.

SpaceX's takeoffs and landings, once bordering on magic, have become predictable, if not monotonous.

But employees sometimes resent the idea that company launches have become routine.

The most widely used rocket has already gone into space and come back fifteen times, and it still has more missions planned.

Another moment of the launch of the Crew 5 mission, from Cape Canaveral.

Seven hours after Crew-5 liftoff, another Falcon 9 was on the launch pad at Vandenberg Space Force Base, three hours northwest of Los Angeles and much closer to SpaceX headquarters.

The main Mission Control facility was still monitoring the astronauts' journey, so

a second team had to work in a much smaller attached Mission Control center


The customer for the second launch on October 5 was SpaceX itself: the flight would put 52 of the company's Starlink Internet satellites into orbit.

SpaceX currently has 3,200 of these satellites in space, with the aim of launching some 39,000 more in the coming years.

Behind a veil of mist at the launch site was

a rocket that had flown 13 times and was ready for liftoff


With 4 minutes remaining, Gwynne Shotwell entered the room and sat at a console in the front row.

Outside, another crowd had gathered.

During the final countdown, again, the room was silent as SpaceX staff gathered in the workshop recounted the last five, four, three, two...

The rocket lifted off and the booster landed on a ship in the Pacific


An hour later, from space, a video sequence showed the Starlink satellites detaching from the upper stage of the rocket.

With Earth in the background, they were moving away in a way that was more like

2001: A Space Odyssey


Star Wars


More than half of all 2022 SpaceX launches carried Starlink satellites.

By moving their own payload 30 times in a single year on rockets that the company reuses, engineers can optimize launch vehicles.

“We continue to make changes to the rocket that improve performance.

And now we are at a point where we can put almost 17 tons into orbit and recover the propellant,” said Jon Edwards, Falcon's vice president of launches.

So far, the fastest SpaceX has recovered and reused a booster for launch has been 21 days.

The most widely used rocket has been launched 15 times and has more launches planned


“Honestly, in my opinion — and I think most people have come to the same conclusion — it's scarier to fly a new rocket than a combat-tested one,” Edwards assessed.

Although the new ones are thoroughly tested before their first flight, the expert assures that "nothing is comparable to a real flight test."

Ditching of the Dragon Endeavor capsule in the Atlantic Ocean.

He brought the crew of the Axiom Space AX-1 from space: three businessmen and a former astronaut.

Abort the mission!

Nearly 31 hours after Crew 5's departure, 24 hours after Starlink liftoff, and an hour after docking with the space station, the Mission Control team was ready for another launch.

SpaceX was about to break a record for commercial spaceflight


Next to Mission Control a crowd gathered again.

Mounted on the rocket were two television and radio satellites from the Intelsat company.

Hawthorne's main Mission Control was still focused on the astronauts.

The third launch would therefore be coordinated from the alternate Mission Control space.

I looked around the room.

It all seemed very precise, very predictable when looking at this third launch attempt.

On the screen, the usual graphs and grids.

It was, in fact, like watching planes take off at an airport.

On a deeper level he seemed to feel the future.

It was beginning to feel like a routine.

But seconds before liftoff, two mission operators, until then silent, began to mutter a little louder than the rest, they typed, they clicked, and one pointed to the screen:

"Launch abort initiated

. "

Ten minutes later, Musk gave a report on Twitter: "Small helium leak (caused very close miscarriage), but no chances with customer satellites."

Forty-eight hours later the rocket lifted off, deployed the satellites, and landed successfully.

Almost a routine, but not quite.

Translation: Roman Garcia Azcarate

look also

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Source: clarin

All news articles on 2023-02-01

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