Space Exploration Technologies, Elon Musk’s rocket company, has accomplished a lot since it was one failed launch away from going out of business, in 2008.
The company, which Mr. Musk hopes will be his vehicle for starting a human colony on Mars, charges far less than any other competitor to send satellite and other equipment to space. Its manifest lists more than 40 planned launches in the next few years for clients like Nasa, the U.S. Air Force and satellite-services firms from Israel to Japan, representing billions of dollars in potential revenue. And it has plenty of money: Google and Fidelity Investments invested $1 billion in SpaceX at a roughly $12 billion valuation earlier this year.
But not all is well. The company had 19 successful commercial launches over the past five years before suffering a failure in June, and it won’t have another launch until September at the earliest. In the meantime, investors and industry veterans say there are several more fundamental and interrelated issues that Mr. Musk needs to confront before making his voyage to Mars. (This article is the fourth in a series by The Information on the big strategic questions facing the most valuable private technology companies.)