The successes achieved by SpaceX is enormous and with their latest launch it has been even more historic but facts should not be obscured and people need to know the hidden secrets and strategies Elon Musk followed. Behind the individual initiative of Elon Musk and the innovations mobilizes around his multiple projects are the secret recipe that has revolutionized the Space industry. It is important to emphasize that SpaceX has been able to benefit from considerable public funds for the conduct of its activities.
” Hello everyone, my name’s Elon Musk. I am the founder of SpaceX. In five years, you will be dead!”. It was in these provocative terms, in March 2006, at the Washington DC Satellite Show in the United States, that the young billionaire addressed his audience. More than fourteen years later, it seems that SpaceX has won its bet. The reality is more nuanced.
The space sector cannot be properly understood without reference to the notions of power and rank. Space is also part of a battle of images between rival nations and their companies. The exceptional media coverage from which Crew Dragon was tied to the ISS is a perfect illustration of this. Elon Musk knows how much space must above all mobilize symbols and tell a story. President Donald Trump also saw the communication potential of this success, saying that it was one of the exploits that America alone seemed capable of. The success of SpaceX similarly ignited certain media, convinced of seeing in SpaceX as the future of space and the end of a model linked to the Old World. What is it really like?
The Advent Of New Space
SpaceX is a company from New Space: a group of private players, mainly from the digital sector, who have chosen to direct a variable part of their activities in space. Born in 2002 under the impetus of a billionaire convinced of being able to bring humans to Martian soil. SpaceX has diversified its activities to become an essential link in the pursuit of several space programs, including the ISS. To finance his company, Elon Musk had drawn from his own fortune and mobilized, above all, private investors.
SpaceX’s strategy has been to select the best existing technologies rather than develop its solutions. To do this, it drew on a wide variety of sectors, such as automobile construction or information technology. SpaceX’s differentiation policy also involves choosing to manufacture in-house what other companies would have preferred to distribute among several subcontractors.
Another fact is, 85% of each launcher is designed within the company. While most space companies develop launchers one by one, SpaceX has chosen to manufacture its launchers in series, aligned side by side inside hangars. Where the company’s comparative advantage resides is to have sought out skills outside the company. SpaceX has therefore given up scaffolding its internal skills to go and poach those that existed in other sectors of activity. This process allowed the billionaire to optimize the solutions in order to offer the best prices.
In many aspects, SpaceX represents the embodiment of new space entrepreneurship. This trend is driven by a community of leaders, mostly from the digital sector, which we group together under the label “Libertarian”. The future of the space conquest would therefore belong to private initiative. This very company would be the best equipped, both intellectually and technologically, to meet the future challenges of the sector.
Public and Private Sector Customers
It has been mentioned before that, SpaceX has been able to benefit from considerable public funds for the conduct of its activities. The companies created by Elon Musk have received no less than $ 4.9 billion from the United States government.
The successes of the SpaceX company are also those of NASA which chose to subcontract some of its activities to the company of Elon Musk. For the US government, the choice of SpaceX is part of a strategy to escape dependence on Russian launchers . Some launches have also focused on strategic projects for the United States and, in particular, the US Air Force. On September 7, 2017, the Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral launch pad 39A, the USAF X-37B space plane, an autonomous and reusable technological demonstrator. This launch ended with the return of the first stage of the Falcon 9 to its launch base.
The Vaporization Of The Old Bureaucracies
It is therefore important to qualify the opposition usually made between “New Space” and “Old Space” . Elon Musk’s deconstruction of industrial processes in the space sector was carried out with the very support of NASA, which wished to see the decreased cost of its programs. NASA also supported SpaceX in this process to put pressure on its two other main subcontractors, Boeing and Lockheed Martin, to lead them towards similar management methods. Furthermore, we observe that, even if SpaceX explored sectors other than space for the search for skills, many of these also came from the “old bureaucracies” responsible for the American space program.
Too Much Dependence On Its Leader?
If it embodies the concretization of new (and most contested) management methods in the space sector, SpaceX is at the same time the illustration of an American scientific and technological culture open to risk-taking by the private sector, even on equity, when it comes to ultimately offering innovative solutions to public authorities. In this, SpaceX does not seem to be fundamentally different from the historic companies which, until recently, carried the American space program.
The successes so far achieved by SpaceX should not conceal the failures that have been scattered, like any innovative company, its journey and its development. They also do not allow to prejudge the future of a company essentially dependent on the emblematic figure of its leader.