Like many startups, Elon Musk owns

Start-up SpaceX : How Elon Musk created a leading space company from scratch

The pandemic still has the US firmly in its grip. And yet the whole nation is excited when the “Falcon 9” rocket is detonated for a very special mission on Saturday for the second attempt. For the first time since 2011, the US wants to shoot two astronauts to the space station on its own. All these years they have been dependent on the Russians.

If all goes well, the first stages of the rocket will land safely in Florida a little later, as in the cartoon, the "Crew Dragon" capsule will fly on, dock at the ISS space station and set the two Americans down for the stay in space.

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If the project succeeds, a private company will direct the transport of space travelers into space for the first time. And it would be another triumph for Elon Musk - the man who was initially ridiculed by Daimler, BMW Co. for his attempts at fully electric and autonomous driving; and who meanwhile teaches them to fear. Musk is behind SpaceX, the company responsible for the trip. Next to Tesla, SpaceX is the eccentric's second mainstay.

How did Musk manage to stir up space travel in less than 20 years with the start-up SpaceX, which was founded in 2002 - economically and technologically?

From start-up to space

He had the money to tackle his idea. The founder has made an estimated $ 300 million from the sale of the payment service PayPal. He is likely to have brought 120 to 150 million of this into SpaceX. Jan Wörner, head of ESA (European Space Agency), gives further reasons: “His first attempt with the Falcon 1 failed. He continued anyway. "

[More on the subject: Follow the SpaceX launch on Saturday at 21:22 CET in the livestream]

Musk offers its employees a lot, such as a canteen in the middle of the factory hall. But he also expects them to do a lot. Employment contracts, for example, that could not be made with German trade unions. The wages are not considered generous either, but all employees receive shares in return. Musk succeeds in recruiting good staff. The German Hans Koenigsmann, the chief engineer responsible for the starts, plays a key role.

He was ridiculed by professionals

Musk has a business idea. The launch vehicles should no longer be disposable, but should land and be recycled. Although this is original, it earns the mockery of the experts. He presented the concept to Wörner in 2007: "All the experts said afterwards: It never works," remembers Wörner. But it works. Under astonishing conditions: In order for the rockets to land again, a third more fuel is required.

In addition, there is a high degree of entrepreneurial coolness at Musk. Wörner: "He said from the start that he wanted to force the other players out of the market."

SpaceX calculates its offers very creatively: Institutional customers such as NASA and the US Department of Defense pay high prices for transport services. On the other hand, he bills other customers - such as the Bundeswehr, which wants to put a reconnaissance satellite into orbit - at unrivaled low prices. Just competitive prices.

Musk found a supporter in Trump

The mixed calculation looks like this: The well-paid US public contracts subsidize the contracts with which he wants to conquer world market shares. Musk is also fortunate to find a supporter in US President Donald Trump, who is thirsting for American success stories: Trump himself had announced himself for the first attempt at launch. When the Europeans shoot new “Galileo” satellites into space with the “Ariane”, the responsible commissioner usually does not even come.

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In 2012, SpaceX succeeded in docking at the ISS station for the first time during a flight into space. Musk rose to become a transport service provider to the space station. NASA gave him 22 options for transport contracts. Hansjörg Dittus, Board Member for Space Research and Technology at the German Aerospace Center (DLR), analyzes: "It was clear that Musk would eventually get into the transport of people to the space station." ISS flushed the necessary money into the SpaceX till to advance the development of the "Crew Dragon" space capsule.

Europe lacks a visionary mind

And Europe? The relevant industry is there, public funding would also be available. What is missing is the visionary head. But it is also related to the market.

The US market for rocket launches and transport flights is much larger than in the EU. While the government in the US is paying high prices to SpaceX and the other providers for public contracts, the cheapest provider in Europe wins the contract. Efforts to fly in Europe only with European missiles were thwarted.

ESA boss Wörner understands this: "We Europeans are so dependent on open markets that we should think carefully about whether 'Buy European' is the right answer." Europe is also concentrating on sending large telecommunications satellites into space bring. However, this market is currently on the ground. The skills to bring material or even astronauts into space are lacking in Europe.

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