When someone mentions Elon Musk and SpaceX, there’s a 99% chance ‘Malaysia’ is not the first word that comes into your mind. In case you don’t know who Elon Musk is, he is the CEO of Tesla Motors and the founder of SpaceX, an aerospace company founded in 2002. When he started SpaceX, his main goal is to make space transportation cheaper so we could one day colonise Mars.
Malaysia actually has an interesting connection to SpaceX in its early stage back in 2009. We found out about this from a Twitter post; although it didn’t specifically mention Malaysia, we spotted Jalur Gemilang and half of the Jata Negara logo on the side of the rocket. So, we got a bit curious as to how this happened and did some research.
15 years ago, today, SpaceX attempted to launch their first Falcon 1 rocket. Didn't go well for them.
— Pranay Pathole (@PPathole) March 24, 2021
Turns out, the rocket was Falcon 1 and it was carrying the satellite RazakSAT.
RazakSAT was designed to make life better for us.
RazakSAT was designed by Astronautic Technology (M) Sdn Bhd (ATSB), a Malaysian aerospace company that also designed Malaysia’s first satellite TiungSAT-1. If it’s not obvious enough, RazakSAT was named after Tun Abdul Razak Dato’ Hussain.
RazakSAT was also the world’s first remote sensing satellite to be launched into low Earth’s orbit. In terms of what is a remote sensing satellite, it’s a type of satellite that detects and monitors the Earth’s surface. RazakSAT’s main task was to capture ‘high resolution images of Malaysia that can be applied to land management, resource development and conservation, forestry and fish migration‘. Essentially, the satellite can take hi-res images from space more frequently so we can plan and track stuff better.
Okay, now that you know the background information on the satellite, how did SpaceX come into the picture?
SpaceX was *probably* chosen because it cost less.
We couldn’t find any sources that explicitly explain why Malaysia made a deal with SpaceX. However, we did find enough sources to make some educated guesses, and the most important one is that SpaceX is the cheapest option.
“SpaceX is […] designed to increase the reliability and reduce the cost of both manned and unmanned space transportation, ultimately by a factor of ten.” – excerpt taken from Nasa
Musk had invested $200 million into SpaceX and he started to face a huge financial problem when he failed his first three launches (which we will talk about in the next point). Many people in Silicon Valley and the media began to lose confidence in SpaceX too. So, during this particular time, the Malaysian launch probably became a very important deal for them.
“SpaceX had a commercial flight booked to carry a satellite into orbit for the Malaysian government, but that launch and the payment for it would not arrive until the middle of 2009. In the meantime, SpaceX simply struggled to make its payroll.” – excerpt taken from “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance.
Again, these are just our conjectures so maybe take it with a grain of salt
and don’t come at us with pitchforks.
RazakSAT was Space X’s first big success.
By the time SpaceX launched Falcon 1 with RazakSAT, it was already their fifth flight. The first three flights ended in failure and as mentioned earlier, brought a huge hit to SpaceX. Everyone at SpaceX was incredibly stressed out, and you can definitely sense that from this very pAsSiONatE quote below.
“It was like the worst f****** day ever [after the third launch failed]. You don’t usually see grown-ups weeping, but there they were. We were tired and broken emotionally.” – excerpt taken from “Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future” by Ashlee Vance.
SpaceX could finally exhale when they successfully launched a dummy spacecraft into low earth orbit, which had always been the goal.
The success of the fourth launch was very important for both SpaceX and Malaysia because the contract signed between SpaceX and ATSB required one successful demonstration flight with Falcon 1 before ATSB employed their service.
RazakSAT was launched on 14 July 2009 from Omelek Island in the Kwajalein Atoll, and it was a success too! This was a monumental moment for SpaceX because it was the first functioning satellite they put into the orbit, making Falcon 1 the first privately-developed rocket to achieve this feat in history.
“We nailed the orbit to well within target parameters, pretty much a bullseye.” – Elon Musk on the successful launch of RazakSAT to Spaceflight Now.
The satellite was functioning very well in the beginning…
However, it began to go wonky after a while. For instance, the images it captured were 37km off their intended target — think of this like you’re trying to take a photo of your girlfriend, but your camera takes a photo of the aiskrim uncle behind you instead. Useless, kan?
There weren’t many details released on the attempts to fix this issue. What we do know is that unfortunately for RazakSAT, ATSB l and the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation (MOSTI) found a younger and better programme to focus on — RazakSAT2. In December 2010, RazakSAT was abandoned.