Musk’s Other Rocket, SpaceX, Makes 1st Commercial-Satellite Launch Today

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Elon Musk is going on a rocket ride this evening, and it has nothing to do with the price of Tesla’s stock. The serial entrepreneur will be watching as his other high-profile startup, SpaceX, is scheduled to make a critical commercial-satellite launch at 5:41 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral.

It’ll mark entry by SpaceX into the commercial-satellite market with its Falcon 9 rocket after a series of test flights and launches for NASA and the Canadian Space Agency. It will be the second of three flights the upgraded Falcon 9 must make before it can qualify for US military-launch business. The launch also will mark a crucial update on the progress of a company that plans to put rank-and-file passengers into space sometime in 2014.

And, of course, the launch will mark another testament to the engineering and entrepreneurial skills of the much-lauded Musk. He’s been busy lately with Tesla, the electric-vehicle startup that has rocketed to the national and investor forefront over the last several months.[more]

The EV maker’s shares are up more than 275 percent this year, making it the biggest gainer among stocks in the Nasdaq-100 index except Netflix. And Tesla’s market value at this point, according to the Wall Street Journal, is roughly the equivalent of Harley-Davidson, a whole different kind of vehicle maker.

Yet Tesla’s shares have dropped by about 35 percent over the last several weeks, the newspaper noted, in large part because of the aftermath of three fires in its Model S car. The federal government is investigating their causes despite Musk’s insistence that Model S vehicles are much safer than gasoline-powered cars and his complaints that Tesla is being targeted by “the media.”

Nothing is more inherently dangerous than rocketing equipment and people into space, of course, and of that Musk is well aware. This particular launch already was scrubbed twice last week over technical concerns.

But Musk recently offered reassuring comments about the next SpaceX flight. “We’ve done everything we can think of to maximize the reliability of this launch system,” he told reporters, according to Mashable. “We’re really happy with this rocket design and it’s an incredibly capable vehicle.”

A lot may be riding on whether Musk is right. Probably more than he wants to think.

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