SpaceX was scheduled to launch its Falcon 9 rocket Thursday night before delays forced the company to reschedule. The mission will deliver a broadcast satellite for its client, European satellite company SES, into orbit, but SpaceX already admitted this week that "a successful landing [immediately after] is not expected."
The Falcon 9's specific destination in space will put it into a higher orbit than some previous launches, making it even more challenging to execute a successful upright landing on SpaceX's floating platform in the ocean. This isn't the first time that Musk has had to talk publicly about failure on SpaceX's ambitious missions. When he does, he typically manages the news confidently and thoughtfully. Here's why any entrepreneur attempting to achieve a big, risky goal can learn from how Musk does it.
1. Transparency and realistic goals build trust in risky endeavors.
In January, Musk tweeted that he expected roughly a 70 percent landing success rate for SpaceX rockets launched in 2016, before "hopefully" increasing to 90 percent in 2017. Given that the company's upcoming launch is anticipated to be one of the most difficult for landing upright, it just makes sense for Musk to be honest and transparent about his company's chances of success this time around. It also doesn't hurt to send a message that you have realistic expectations when you've previously announced that you want to colonize Mars. Musk has established himself as someone who thinks big but who hasn't lost sight of reality.
2. A crash landing isn't a total failure.
While preserving an expensive rocket for future use would certainly help SpaceX's bottom line, the company's real mission for its next launch is to deliver a commercial communications satellite for its client, SES--not stick the landing. Also, every time SpaceX's Falcon 9 crashes, the company learns more about the process of executing an upright landing successfully. And rather than emphasize the missed landing, Musk tends to share what the company learned with the world.
After another recent failed landing attempt, Musk posted a video of the crash on Instagram, writing, "Falcon lands on droneship, but the lockout collet doesn't latch on one [of] the four legs, causing it to tip over post landing. Root cause may have been ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff."
3. Smart leaders manage expectations.
Considering SpaceX has already crashed three rockets while attempting a safe landing on its floating platform, the public perception of a fourth consecutive crash won't raise as many eyebrows now that Musk has already stated he expects one. If the rocket somehow manages to land safely, however, the feat will look all the more triumphant, as everyone will have been expecting to see it burst into flames.