WSJ’s SpaceX Story Raises Many Alarm Bells, But Few Are Based in Fact

SpaceX won’t be launching nearly as many rockets next year. Bill Ingalls/NASA

Things may look bleak for SpaceX, but Elon Musk isn’t beaten yet.

The space transportation company told The Wall Street Journal this weekend that it won’t launch a pair of space tourists into orbit this year, as it had previously promised. There’s now no exact timeline for when the tourist mission will occur (though the Journal initially claimed it would happen in summer 2019).

“SpaceX is still planning to fly private individuals on a trip around the moon, and there is growing interest from many customers,” SpaceX spokesman James Gleeson told Observer. “Private spaceflight missions, including a trip around the moon, present an opportunity for humans to return to deep space and to travel faster and farther into the solar system than any before them, which is of course an important milestone as we work toward our ultimate goal to help make humanity multi-planetary.”

Musk had announced with great fanfare in February 2017 that SpaceX would send two paying customers around the moon and back again aboard the Falcon Heavy. The tourists were never identified, but reportedly paid a large deposit.

This delay seemingly points to bigger issues at SpaceX—and the Journal framed it as such by spotlighting the company’s history of missed deadlines.

SpaceX expects to launch between 25 and 30 missions this year—it’s completed 11 thus far, with the most recent one going into orbit this morning.

But after 2018, prospects seemingly look much bleaker. SpaceX projects that it will launch 40 percent fewer missions next year.

Some of this is expected: SpaceX President and COO Gwynne Shotwell told CNBC there had been a “slight slowdown” in satellite orders for 2019 (such orders must be made two years in advance).

But the Journal goes further, claiming there is much less demand for SpaceX’s largest rockets than the company predicted.

The Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s biggest rocket launcher, went on its maiden voyage in February. Analysts thought the craft, which has five million pounds of thrust, could upend the space industry.

But according to the Journal, the smaller Falcon 9 rocket is capable of putting most existing satellites into orbit on its own. The price of the Falcon 9 has also decreased of late.

As such, the Journal includes a claim from space entrepreneur Charles Miller that there was “no commercial need” for the Falcon Heavy at this time.

One look at the SpaceX website proves this isn’t true, however. There are at least four Falcon Heavy missions listed on the company’s current launch manifest (which is frequently updated).

Furthermore, Miller is involved in several aerospace companies, including consulting firm NexGen Space and nano-satellite firm Uniquitilink. He’s also a former NASA adviser. So it makes sense that he would cast doubt on Musk’s efforts.

SpaceX certainly has many challenges ahead on the road to interstellar dominance. But when media outlets manufacture fake issues out of thin air, that just makes the company’s job harder.

WSJ’s SpaceX Story Raises Many Alarm Bells, But Few Are Based in Fact