Could SpaceX be completely taken away from Elon Musk?

elon, musk, mars

The apple of the South African tycoon's eye is his space company. Elon Musk's predilection for SpaceX is well known, and just as well rewarded. Although less known than Tesla, the rocket company is worth a staggering $180 billion.

X-37 in space
Only image of the mysterious X-37B vehicle in space. It was taken on a previous mission by a camera located on the cowl of the launch vehicle, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V. Source: ULA

Space, a military terrain

Space has been military before it was even conquered. The first object to reach space was the Nazi V2. The infamous German weapon of World War II laid the foundation for modern rocketry with its various advancements. Eighty years later things are turning camouflage green again beyond the Karman line.

It is not a process that has had a decline at any time. But now there is an increase in tension, the causes? Varied.

Among the most notable is the democratization of access to space. After the fall of the Iron Curtain, it began to be more open, but in recent years the SpaceX revolution with Elon Musk and microlaunchers, is a burst. On the other side of the world, China had been gaining momentum for years, now they are reaping the fruits of it, and India is maintaining its momentum in a far from easy scenario.

But there is another critical aspect where SpaceX and Elon Musk have a lot to say, the megaconstellations. Starlink was the first worthy of the name by numbers, although One Web was already pointing out ways. And now, The military use that the former have received on the Ukrainian battlefield makes them priority targets in a war.

Starlink satellites ready for launch
Image prior to a launch of Starlink satellites with them not yet fully inserted into the Falcon 9 cowl. Source: SpaceX

There are precedents

As soon as something has military utility, it starts to have secret parts. Parts you don't want others to have access to. Here come into discussion the relations or only the good tune from Elon Musk with the Russian authorities. It is also worth noting that Tesla used very favorable conditions and unique to install in China. For example, they continue to be the only automotive company that has not been obligatory to have a local partner to set up a factory. These also continued after the construction of the factory in Shanghai, with contracts to obtain the minerals necessary for batteries with the country. 

But there are already two precedents, and very different ones, that could knock Elon Musk off his “space throne.” Notably dangerous was the first, which did not go unnoticed by anyone, It sparked the construction of another separate Starlink constellation for military use.

During the invasion of Ukraine, Starlink proved to be one of the most valuable military assets. Without him, many victories in the Black Sea on the Ukrainian side would not have occurred, but there could have been more. During the course of one of these attacks, Elon Musk ordered to cut off the flow of data to Ukraine upon learning of this military use, frustrating it.

In another completely different case, but perhaps more dangerous An owner of an aerospace company was forced to leave the company, becauser complete.

Max Polyakov is a curious man, you can't say no. However, no one questioned his legitimacy in command, more for property than any other reason and it is not believed that he was involved in engineering. But after saving Firefly Space Systems and refounding it as Firefly Aerospace, it achieved a successful launch.

Which he no longer even saw as a majority shareholder. In November 2021 he received letter of the American Committee on Foreign Investment. In her he was ordered to liquidate a 50% he owned in Firefly. The reason was “National security".

AND even after fulfilling, unceremoniously, forced to liquidate he rest of his control of the company that he himself refloated. 

Promotional CGI of MLV rocket, formerly called Beta from Firefly Aerospace
Computer image of what the MLV will look like, previously called Firefly Aerospace Beta, and which will share the first stage with the Antares 330.

This is not the first time that Elon Musk's leadership at SpaceX has been questioned. The only obvious thing is that no one, not even him, is irreplaceable. We will see how events evolve in the medium term, with the dispute for the oval office and Russian interference on the board.

Martin Morala Andres