Dinner will start at 7 o’clock sharp, can we read the invitation card. On the menu, grilled halibut with marinated shrimp, cilantro and chocolate-raspberry cheesecake. The wines are definitely Californian. This is May 6, 2001. At an opulent villa in the Portola Valley high up between San Francisco and San Jose, all the space enthusiasts flock to a dinner hosted by local tech entrepreneur Bill Clancy. For $500, they came to hear Mars Society founder Robert Zubrin, a sort of guru who preaches the conquest of Mars.
But the real star of the evening is James Cameron, the multi-Oscar winner the titanic A few years ago. A stranger in shirt sleeves slapped down $5,000 to sit next to him. Elon Musk is 30 years old, has millions of dollars in his bank account after selling his shares in PayPal, and the illusion of a head full of cosmos. A year later, almost to the day, in May 2002, he built SpaceX.
2022, the year of all records for Space X
Two decades later, the South African-born billionaire hasn’t colonized the Red Planet, but he’s working hard there. His Martian and even multiplanetary ambitions for humanity lie at the heart of the empire he has built. With breathtaking speed, Space X has revolutionized one of the most technological and expensive industries, returning the pride of Europe to the ranks of the dusty Challenger Ariane. The statistics speak for themselves: in 2021, SpaceX made 31 flights with its Falcon 9 launcher, compared to just 15 for Arianespace. And all records should be broken in 2022, with 32 already launched between January and June. No company in the world does it well. The Falcon 9 now supplies the International Space Station (ISS), and its Starship mega-rocket will be the vehicle that returns humans to the Moon before they discover Mars… at least that’s what Musk promises.
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Musk and Space X, it’s a dual revolution. Technological firsts, including a reusable rocket that halved the average cost of each launch. “This technology has been on the desks of researchers for at least fifteen years, but for us it had no real economic interest,” explains Philippe Baptiste, president of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES). ”
A technological but economic revolution
But it is on the economic model that the Big Bang Mask is fiercest. Space, before then, was the subject of states, government agencies and a handful of public companies. Kasturi brought in the private sector, investment funds and their billions of dollars. When the very opportunity of public order is taken advantage of. Because Musk is also Uncle Sam’s son. A man will put his feet when a rocket does not fly. Michael Griffin, a physics engineer who mentored him, was appointed NASA administrator in 2005. It never recovered from the explosion of its Challenger shuttle and decided to rely on the private sector to develop the rockets that would supply the ISS. Better yet, it changes the rules and allows Space X to not reimburse the public for progress in the event of failure. A decisive boost that allows Musk to take all the financial risk. Over twenty years, his company will receive nearly $20 billion from the US state to fund development and missions. Falcon missions that NASA buys at a premium, about $100 million each, allow Musk to halve the price in the market for private launches. “A sustainable dumping for the Europeans”, believes, still shocked, an Arianespace pundit.
The other “Muskian” revolution was bringing venture capitalists into a world where only public money had been known until then, turning space into an asset class like any other. The richest man on the planet, who has driven Tesla’s valuation to more than $700 billion, “has an extraordinary ability to raise funds in his sole vision of the future”, underlined Euroconsult consultant Maxime Puteaux. In early June, SpaceX raised another $1.7 billion, valuing the launcher company at $125 billion, which is not listed on the stock exchange, up from $100 just a year ago. Investors who did not hesitate to get their hands on the wallet because they also realized that humanity was on the verge of a decisive stage in the conquest of space. The latter is no longer a matter of a symbolic race for the stars, where it is a question of demonstrating one’s technological prowess to the opponent, as was the case in the summer of 1969 when the first astronauts walked and planted on the moon. American flag on the nose and beard of the Soviet Union.
Permanently colonize the universe
Space today is virgin territory for economic conquest, rich in promise. High-speed Internet everywhere on the planet thanks to the multiplication of satellite constellations – starting from Starlink in Musk -, the mining of rare earths in asteroids, the placement of orbit server farms used for computing clouds or the “sale” of industries to clean the Earth, an orbital solar power plant.. .projects abound, often led by start-ups for which SpaceX has opened doors. And that’s just the beginning. Man now seeks to establish himself permanently in the universe, to colonize it in the first sense of the word, making space a new terrain of geostrategic conflict between the two great rival powers, the United States and China.
“Beijing’s spectacular acceleration in space – in 2019 the Chinese first placed a rover on the dark side of the moon – prompted Trump to launch the Artemis program, which should see the United States return to the moon. The moon around 2025”, explains Maxime Puteaux. An acceleration that also involved the creation of the United States Space Force, the sixth branch of the United States military, to prepare the first world power for a possible clash with China in the stars.
The “big fucking rocket” factor
“A unique connection between the strategic and the commercial means that we are today at an important moment in the conquest of space, where everything will evolve exponentially”, emphasizes Jean-Marc Astorgue, director of CNES strategy. An important moment that Emmanuel Macron could not avoid: last February, on the occasion of a European space conference, the French president expressly requested the 27-seven to set off to attack the stars. “There will be Americans, Chinese, of course Indians: if we don’t go there ourselves, we will only have an increasingly narrow folding seat”, looses the European pundit of the space industry.
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If a race for the stars which should accelerate more “Big Fucking Rocket” (“fucking big rocket”), as Elon Musk has affectionately given his starship, is on schedule to make its first orbital flight by the end of the year. At over 120 meters tall, this mastodon can actually divide the price of a launch by five. Or a list price of $10 million, whereas ten years before the Space X landing it cost $100 less! a reality Game changer That will make the space accessible to almost all budgets and open the door to the most outlandish projects.
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