Dragon Launch Slips to April as Musk Eyes SpaceX IPO

SpaceX’s launch of the first Dragon flight to the International Space Station has been delayed a month into late April, the company announced in a statement.

“The primary driver for the schedule continues to be the need to conduct extensive software testing,” SpaceX said. “This is a challenging mission and we intend to take every necessary precaution in order to improve the likelihood of success.”

Meanwhile, SpaceX founder Elon Musk says that the rocket company could make its initial public offering (IPO) of stock in 2013:

“There’s a good chance that SpaceX goes public next year,” Musk, 40, said yesterday in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California, without elaborating.

Tesla Motors Inc., Musk’s electric-car company, sold shares for the first time in 2010. SolarCity Corp., a developer of rooftop solar-power systems of which Musk is chairman, is also preparing to file for an IPO this year, three people with knowledge of the matter have said.

SpaceX has contracts to launch satellites and is scheduled to begin shipping cargo to the International Space Station in April. Musk started the company in 2002 with money from that year’s IPO of PayPal Inc., which he co-founded, and the subsequent sale of his stake in the Internet-payment company when it was acquired by EBay Inc.

“SpaceX, in terms of launches awarded, is the world leader in space launch,” Musk said. “We’re beating the Russians, the Chinese, the Europeans, everyone.”

That’s true in terms of launch contracts and deposits. In terms of actually launching things, SpaceX lags behind everyone, including Ukraine. There were six successful launches of Ukrainian rockets last year; SpaceX launched nothing in 2011, and it has four successful flights in its entire history.

SpaceX is looking to pick up the pace this year, so by the time it goes IP it will have a number of successful launches under its belt.

  • Paul451

    This is becoming worrying. I could understand if the Dragon launch schedule was slipping, provided they were still flying their commercial payloads on Falcon 9s which don’t require Dragon capsules. But they seem to have completely come to a halt.

  • Laser Steve

    Creating all that production and launch infrastructure is an incredible amount of work, and to be accomplished by one company is nothing short of astounding.

  • JohnHunt

    Are they having to develop a NASA-level of risk aversion? Is this why they are delaying so much? It will be 16 months since their last launch.

  • I think that SpaceX just isn’t ready with the capsule yet. And from what I understand, it’s not just the software. There are other issues.

    The first Dragon mission was a bit misleading. It wasn’t a full vehicle, and it flew three times around the Earth and then landed without any real on-orbit maneuvering. A good test flight, but significantly below the complexity of a 3-week mission to ISS.

    The software issues are interesting given Musk’s background with PayPal. But, having done some software beta testing, I’m not all that surprised. The Silicon Valley approach is to launch early and often. You work out the bugs as the software gets used by a lot of people.

    You can’t do that sending an untested cargo vessel to an irreplaceable space station with six people on it. Everything has to be very precise or you end up with a very bad day.

  • JayJay

    Sorry – but you’d be insane to not buy some of this.

    Look at his other businesses

    I’ll be buying as much as I can afford

  • g.r.r.

    Hopefully, SpaceX will NOT go IPO in 2013. I would rather they wait until they have human launch. At that point, they own the industry. The problem is, that they could probably use the money to accelerate everything.

    Doug, you have it 100% correct. About a year ago, their CIO made the statement that they had ZERO flaws in their code. Right away, I KNEW that they had not done their testing. There the only thing absolute about complex software is that there is NO ZERO FLAW CODE. EVER. And his statement indicates that he did not do his homework.

    JJ, you are are correct. When this goes, I will dump as much money as possible into it either that AM, OR in about a week’s time.

  • I thought the first Dragon did on orbit maneuvering in order to communicate with TDRSS? It was certainly a very complicated flight and I’m sure they learned a lot from it, but you’re right Doug, it wasn’t a full vehicle. It was battery-powered, with no trunk (so obviously no solar panels), and I don’t think they had the berthing mechanism on top (why would they need one if they’re not docking). They’ve made so much progress though, I’m sure they will overcome whatever issues they have.

  • Paul451

    As I said, I understand why a Dragon flight would be delayed. But why is this flight delaying their other commercial payloads? Is there a reason why they can’t fly any other Falcon 9 missions until the Dragon COTS flight is done? Not enough room in the factory? No staff to spare? Specific contract with NASA that requires them to be the third F9 flight?

  • JohnHunt

    Might their delay in also launching Falcon 9 commercial payloads be because they are putting all of their resources on the COTS flight because it is their highest-profile mission as well a representing their single biggest current and future customer?

  • If SpaceX goes the IPO route, I truly hope that Elon maintains control of the company. Once the Lilliputian management/shareholder class gets a hold, they’re like a virus with only one concern…shareholder profits. Which admittedly is their job. I just hope they are not allowed to change the company (for that read Elon’s) philosophy.