Space colonization: Elon Musk and Space X, the story of a double revolution

Dinner will start promptly at 7pm, read on the invitation card. The menu includes marinated shrimp, grilled halibut with cilantro and chocolate raspberry cheesecake. The wines are, of course, Californian. May 6, 2001 At a luxurious villa in the Portola Valley, high up between San Francisco and San Jose, all space fans gather for a dinner hosted by Bill Clancy, a local technology entrepreneur. For $500 each, they came to listen to Robert Zubrin, the founder of the Mars Society, a kind of guru who promotes the conquest of Mars.

But the real star of the evening was James Cameron, winner of several Oscars for Titanic a few years earlier. A near-stranger in a sleeved shirt slapped $5,000 to sit next to her. Elon Musk is 30 years old, millions of dollars in his bank account after selling his stake in PayPal and hallucinating space full of head. A year later, almost to the day, in May 2002, he created Space X.

2022, the year of all records for Space X

Two decades later, the South African-born billionaire has still not colonized the Red Planet, but is hard at work there. His Martian and even multi-planet ambitions for humanity are at the heart of the empire he created. With breathtaking speed, Space X has revolutionized one of the most technical and costly industries, returning to the ranks of the dusty Ariane challenger, the pride of Europe. The numbers speak for themselves: In 2021, Space X flew 31 flights with its Falcon 9 launch vehicle, compared to 15 flights by Arianespace. And 2022 should break all records: from January to June, 32 launches have already been made. No company in the world does it better. Falcon 9 is now supplying the International Space Station (ISS) and its Starship mega-rocket will be the vehicle that will get a man back to the moon before he discovers Mars… At least that’s what Musk is promising.

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Musk and Space X, it’s a double revolution. First, from a technical point of view, with a reusable rocket that halved the average cost of each launch. “This technology has been on the table of researchers for at least fifteen years, but it was of no real economic interest to us,” explains Philip Baptiste, president of the National Center for Space Studies (CNES). .”

Technical but also economic revolution

But it is Musk’s Big Bang economic model that is the most radical. Space before him was the business of states, government agencies, and a handful of public companies. Musk has attracted the private sector, investment funds and their billions of dollars. At the same time, it is very useful to take advantage of the public order. Because Musk is also a child of Uncle Sam. A person will put his foot in the stirrup when he has not yet flown a rocket. Michael Griffin, the physicist who advises him, was named NASA administrator in 2005. The American agency then drifted; he never recovered from the explosion of his shuttle Challenger and decides to rely on the private sector to develop the rockets that will power the ISS. What’s more, it changes the rules and allows SpaceX not to refund public advances in case of failure. A decisive momentum that allows Musk to take all the financial risks. Twenty years from now, his company will receive nearly $20 billion from the US government to fund development and missions. The Falcon missions, which NASA buys at a hefty price tag of nearly $100 million each, allows Musk to halve prices in the private launch market. “Unacceptable dumping for Europeans,” admits the Arianespace spokesman, still stunned.

Another Muskian revolution was to bring venture capitalists into a world that had previously only known public money, making space an asset class like any other. The richest man on the planet, who raised Tesla’s valuation to over $700 billion, “has an extraordinary ability to raise funds based on his only vision of the future,” says Maxime Puteaux, a consultant at Euroconsult. Space X also raised another $1.7 billion in early June, valuing the unlisted carrier company at $125 billion, up from $100 just a year ago. Investors who do not hesitate to take a wallet in their hands, because they also realized that humanity is on the verge of a decisive step in the conquest of space. The latter is no longer just a matter of a symbolic race for the stars, where it is about demonstrating to the enemy one’s technological power, as was the case in the summer of 1969, when the first astronauts set foot on the moon and planted the American flag in the nose and beard of the USSR.

Forever colonize the universe

Space today is virgin territory for economic conquest, promising. High-speed Internet everywhere on the planet thanks to the multiplication of satellite constellations – starting with Musk’s Starlink – mining rare earths on asteroids, putting into orbit server farms used for the computing cloud, or industries “selling” to clean up the Earth, an orbital solar power plant… projects abound, most often they are carried out by startups to which SpaceX has opened the door. And this is just the beginning. Now man seeks to permanently settle in the universe, to colonize it in the first sense of the word, turning space into a new territory of geostrategic confrontation between two great rival powers – the United States and China.

“Beijing’s spectacular acceleration in space — the Chinese were the first to place a rover on the far side of the moon in 2019 — prompted Trump to launch the Artemis program, which would see the United States return to the moon. Moon around 2025. , — explains Maxim Pyuto. Acceleration, which was also involved in the creation of the United States Space Force, the sixth branch of the United States Army, which is to prepare the world’s first power for a possible confrontation with China in the stars.

The “big fucking rocket” factor

“The unique combination of strategic and commercial means that we are at a pivotal moment in space exploration today, where everything will evolve exponentially,” insists Jean-Marc Astorg, director of strategy for CNES. A key moment that did not escape Emmanuel Macron’s attention: last February, on the occasion of the European space summit, the French president apparently pleaded with the “twenty-seven” to also go to attack the stars. “There will be Americans, Chinese, probably Indians: if we don’t go there ourselves, we will only have an increasingly narrow jump seat,” jokes a European space industry expert.

Starship, the largest rocket ever built in the world (at the Starbase in Boca Chica)

Starship, the largest rocket ever built in the world (at the Starbase in Boca Chica)

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A race to the stars that should speed up even more if “the big fucking rocket,” the affectionate name Elon Musk has given his starship, can make its first orbital flight as planned here at the end of the year. At over 120 meters tall, this mastodon could indeed split the launch price by a factor of five. Or a list price of $10 million, when ten years ago, before Space X landed, it cost $100 less! A real game-changer that will make space accessible to almost any budget and open the door to the craziest projects.


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