A successful rocket engine test, a breakthrough contract and a victory over suppliers for Inc's 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year.
Elon Musk's Falcon 9 rocket may not have gotten off the ground Saturday, but the South African-born PayPal co-founder (and Inc's 2007 Entrepreneur of the Year) has plenty to be fired up about.
First, Musk's upstart space company SpaceX, pulled off a successful test-fire of the rocket's engines Saturday, paving the way for a possible real launch within a month. Then this weekend a newsletter from Tesla, Musk's luxury electric car company, announced that its Roadster will still be offered in 2012. (Securities and Exchange Commission documents filed in January ahead of an initial public offering revealed that problems with suppliers would force Tesla to yank the $109,000 car, its most visible product.) And finally, on Monday Loral Space & Communications Inc. announced a contract -- thought to be valued at about $50 million -- to launch a major commercial satellite aboard the Falcon 9.
The hot-fire – a 3.5 second test of Falcon 9's nine kerosene and liquid oxygen-burning motors – occurred at Florida's Cape Canaveral. It was Space X's second attempt: On March 9 launch technicians had to abort with two second to go. The next step: The inaugural launch of the rocket, already two years behind the company's initial projections. President Barack Obama, who has big plans to outsource space flights to companies like SpaceX, has a big space speech in Florida April 15 -- and the rumor mill suggests a launch of the black-and-white 735,000-lb rocket could happen as early as April 12.
Of course, SpaceX's first offering, the sleek Falcon 1 booster, took four attempts to launch successfully. "Most likely, some set of unexpected things will happen that push launch to May or June," Musk e-mailed the Wall Street Journal about the Falcon 9 launch.
Meanwhile, Tesla's new agreement with its suppliers to keep churning out Roadsters simplifies the company's stock market debut and closes a potential gap for rivals to step in. (Irvine, California-based Fisker Automotive's $87,900 luxury gasoline-electric Karma will go into production late this year. And Nissan last week announced it had some 56,000 pre-orders for its $25,000 Leaf EV electric sedan, which will hit the road in 2012. Tesla's own sedan, the Model S, will also appear in 2012, but will sell for $49,900 with a federal tax credit.)
From the current Tesla newsletter: "Responding to customer demand, Tesla has negotiated agreements with key suppliers that will increase total Roadster production by 40% and extend sales into 2012."
The mailing on to say the company would begin selling in Asia and Australia next year, making the car available in 25 countries (the first Roadsters arrived in Spain and Ireland in February). The six-year-old start-up has sold some 1,000 Roadsters so far.
Inc. contributing editor COURTNEY RUBIN was for five years a London-based staff writer for People magazine. Rubin, a former senior writer for Washingtonian magazine, has written for the New York Times magazine, Time, Marie Claire, and other publications. She is the author of The Weight-Loss Diaries.