SpaceX's prospects will turn on whether the company can pull off a year of firsts. In 2017, the Hawthorne space company is planning the first reflight of a previously used first-stage rocket booster; the long-awaited debut of its larger Falcon Heavy rocket; and an unmanned test flight of its capsule, which eventually will ferry astronauts to the International Space Station. Most important, from a revenue-generating standpoint, SpaceX also intends to increase its launch cadence, potentially sending up rockets as frequently as once every two to three weeks. Experience with rocket recovery also is important for the company's eventual plans to colonize Mars. SpaceX's next launch is targeted for Feb. 18, when the company will carry supplies for NASA to the International Space Station.
SpaceX is having a pretty great year. It's only June and the Elon Musk-founded company has already launched nine missions to orbit, exceeding their previous annual launch total of eight. SpaceX is also consistently landing Falcon 9 rocket stages back on Earth after lofting those missions, an extraordinary feat considering that the company hadn't successfully landed a booster back on Earth at all until December 2015. SEE ALSO: SpaceX's second launch-and-land of a used rocket was a nail-biter "Two years ago, they hadn't landed any rockets, and in one weekend, they landed two rockets, and one was already reused," Phil Larson, a former SpaceX employee, said in an interview. Larson is currently an assistant dean at the University of Colorado at Boulder.
A little over a year ago, SpaceX pulled off a showy first launch for its new rocket, the Falcon Heavy. The flight dispatched founder Elon Musk's cherry-red Tesla convertible, with an empty spacesuit dubbed Starman in the driver's seat, on a multimillion-year journey around the solar system. After the launch, the rocket's three first-stage boosters returned to Earth to attempt an unprecedented synchronized landing. Now that rocket is getting ready to fly again. The Falcon Heavy represents SpaceX's ambition of competing for lucrative heavy-launch commercial and government contracts, which would require transporting payloads weighing more than 40,000 pounds into geosynchronous orbit.