By Richard Weitz
Whatever benefits Elon Musk might have brought to Twitter as owner, America’s space power will undoubtedly benefit from the collapse of the deal.
Generous congressional support, including huge grants, and strong backing from NASA have enabled SpaceX to help drive the recent resurgence of U.S. interest, investment, and technology in commercial space exploration. and civil.
But recent developments threaten to reverse these achievements.
In just a few years, the NASA-SpaceX partnership has freed the United States from relying on Russian rocket engines and the Soyuz space launch vehicle to launch crews and other payloads into near-Earth orbit.
In the next few years, NASA will depend on SpaceX to help build a replacement for the International Space Station (ISS), whose future has become increasingly problematic due to growing tensions between Russia and the United States over Earth.
The US military and intelligence community now also depend on SpaceX to launch national security payloads such as their billion-dollar satellites.
The vigorous pursuit of counterspace capabilities by Russia, China and others shows how these malicious actors aim to blind and cripple the United States by attacking these US intelligence, communications and other space systems. Last November, Russia followed China in underscoring these capabilities by destroying one of its old satellites.
Besides these direct-ascent anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons, Russia and China have also tested various co-orbital ASATs that can maneuver towards other space objects to observe, cloak, hack, disrupt, seize or destroy them. to crush. Additionally, Beijing and Moscow have studied various directed-energy weapons like lasers that can track, disrupt, and destroy space objects.
If ever the United States were in armed conflict with Russia or another major space power, the Pentagon would urgently need SpaceX to launch a large number of additional or replacement satellites.
SpaceX’s Starlink program has highlighted the importance of the feature in helping the Ukrainian government, armed forces and people maintain internet services in the face of Russian efforts to control Ukrainians’ territorial communication capabilities.
In commercial space, the NASA-SpaceX collaboration and other innovative public-private partnership agreements have made the United States competitive again against Russian, Chinese and European companies in the international market for satellite launches. .
But now other countries like China are providing huge subsidies to boost their domestic space launch industries. The PRC has launched hundreds of satellites, second only to the United States, and built its own space station. China has been heavily promoting its commercial space capabilities, hoping to expand its global market share at the expense of the United States and other competitors.
Despite these challenges, Musk’s fascination with Twitter’s transformation could have harmed his management of SpaceX.
Although SpaceX is not publicly traded, the share price of Tesla – Musk’s pioneering electric vehicle and clean energy company – fell more than 30% after it announced its agreement to buy Twitter. Investors feared the Twitter issue could hamper Musk’s resolution of the financial, quality control and other difficulties plaguing Tesla.
The company has recalled hundreds of thousands of cars and faces the imminent threat of federal regulatory action over alleged safety issues. Musk acknowledged that Telsa startups in Austin and Berlin have become “gigantic money furnaces” losing billions of dollars right now because there’s a ton of expenses and virtually no production. »
Several SpaceX issues also warrant Musk’s urgent attention.
The company has experienced repeated delays in launching major civilian and national security missions due to quality control issues and other issues.
SpaceX’s Starship prototype, intended to launch hundreds of people and satellites into orbit and possibly beyond, has suffered years of setbacks. A few days ago, an engine on one of his boosters exploded in Texas.
Most Falcon Heavy payloads also experienced significant delays. Recent reports have disrupted a Space Force (USSF-44) mission to place a prototype micro-satellite into geosynchronous Earth orbit, the first Air Force mission (USSF-52) won through a tender for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and NASA’s Psyche mission to explore a metal-rich asteroid between Mars and Jupiter.
In addition to depriving the United States of critical urgent capabilities, these delays are costing taxpayers millions of dollars in additional expenses. They also increase the risk of another major mission failure that could derail years of bipartisan investment in rebuilding the US space program.
Musk’s fixation on Twitter led SpaceX employees to take the extraordinary step last month by circulating an open letter calling on company executives to “[p]publicly address and condemn Elon’s harmful behavior on Twitter.
While Musk may have made valuable contributions to Twitter, he must remain laser-focused on making SpaceX a more reliable company at a time when business and geopolitical developments have created a more challenging environment for the United States in the world. space.
Photo 138644926 / Space X © Ilfede | Dreamstime.com