Space Exploration Technologies Corporation — SpaceX — has won broad support in Washington by offering a low-cost, innovative alternative to traditional launch providers for lofting satellites into orbit. However, the company is struggling to meet commitments to its government customer, and eventually that may tarnish its image. The company’s biggest source of revenue is a $1.6 billion NASA contract to carry cargo to and from the International Space Station, which called for a total of twelve missions — one in 2011, three each in 2012, 2013 and 2014, and two in 2015. However, it failed to launch any missions in 2011 and has only executed one per year in 2012, 2013 and 2014 (a second mission may occur in 2014). In addition, its Falcon 9 launch vehicle has exhibited numerous “anomalies” in flight that raise doubts about its reliability. It appears that the commercial contract under which NASA procures launch services from SpaceX affords the company unusual latitude in meeting commitments. I posted an analysis of these issues at the Forbes.com web-site for several hours on August 15; it is no longer accessible at that site.
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