SpaceX is on top of the world at the moment. The company can't seem to do anything wrong, and its efforts at expanding its space arsenal mean that the company looks more attractive - to investors, customers, and even the government.
Blast Off for Crew-2
Last week, Crew Dragon Endeavor - a SpaceX capsule carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), docked safely and successfully. The capsule, which was the same to launch SpaceX's first crewed flight back in May 2020, linked up at the Harmony module on the ISS, allowing the astronauts to disembark safely and join their colleagues.
Launching on April 23 at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, the Crew Dragon already married Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken - two NASA astronauts - as part of a Demo-2 test flight from SpaceX. However, this flight marked the first time that a SpaceX Crew Dragon rocket will be reused for a launch. It is also the first time that two Crew Dragon vehicles will dock at the ISS simultaneously.
The astronauts arrived safely at the ISS almost a day following their successful launch, and they are now ready to begin their space missions.
It is safe to say that SpaceX has mastered the crewed flight sequence and can get people to space. While it has yet to try volumes of people that could pass for a commercial spaceflight trip, the company is the most valuable partner that NASA has, and it is poised to continue making successes in the future.
SpaceX is also not giving up on the mission to head to the moon. In a news conference following the successful Crew-2 launch, company chief executive Elon Musk confirmed that he believes a moon landing in 2024 is still very possible.
According to reports, Musk explained that SpaceX is actually working on getting astronauts to the moon even quicker than 2024.
"Obviously, we need to, like, not be making craters. Got some work to do, but making rapid progress. We've got to make sure we're accelerating the rate of innovation, and then it could be ready in a couple years," the billionaire said while cracking a smile.
Crew-1 Returns and More Starlink Satellites Go Up
While Crew-2 landed safely, NASA has also set a May 1 date for the return of SpaceX's Crew-1 astronauts. The astronauts - named Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi - had been scheduled for a return on April 28. However, varying weather conditions at the landing zone off the coast of Florida caused the agency to change its trajectory, according to reports.
SpaceX is also continuing with its flagship mission for now - Starlink. This week, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched and sent a batch of 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. The rocket came back safely to Earth, nailing its landing following the mission. The rocket left the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida, marking SpaceX's tenth launch of 2021.
It returned about nine minutes later, touching down on the "Just Read the Instructions" drone ship for its seventh successful landing. SpaceX now has 1,440 Starink satellites in space, with the company still gearing up for more launches.
All of these developments have planted SpaceX as the clear leader in private companies going into space. The company continues to fend off competition from names like Blue Origin and more, but SpaceX has shown that it isn't going anywhere. It recently got a $2.9 billion contract from NASA for the agency's lunar human lander project, putting it in a clear position to lead the NASA venture into space.
SpaceX could also be drawn into a partnership between the United States and Russia. With three launches under its belt, the company has flown astronauts from the United States, Japan, and Europe. Some now speculate that Russian cosmonauts could be next to fly on a SpaceX vehicle.
NASA and Russia's Roscosmos have been in negotiations for months over an exchange system that will take astronauts from the two countries to the ISSS. The system will allow American astronauts to fly on Russian Soyuz capsules, while Russian cosmonauts fly on U.S. vehicles like the Crew Dragon. Musk stated in the press conference that SpaceX would be honored to be a part of the negotiations, although he admitted that he didn't have any insights into the talks.
In February, Steve Jurczyk, the acting NASA Administrator, told Space that he believed Russia would need SpaceX and NASA to complete up to three Crew Dragon missions before they could agree with NASA to put a cosmonaut on board. However, he expressed optimism that negotiations would be ready in time for Russian cosmonauts to fly on the Crew-3, which will launch in October.
Given how long preparations tend to take, this could no longer be a possibility. Still, all parties are optimistic about the completion of future deals.