San Francisco — When SpaceX launches a batch of satellites into low-earth orbit on Friday evening from California’s central coast, it will cap a record year for the closely held company led by Elon Musk. If the launch goes well, SpaceX will have completed 18 missions in 2017; that’s more than any competitor this year and far exceeds the eight it launched in 2016 before a September explosion grounded the company for the rest of the year while an investigation took place. "SpaceX has had a phenomenal year, and they’ve motivated and inspired a lot of people as to what is possible," said Eric Stallmer, president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, an industry group for the private space sector. The coming year is expected to be even bigger. With three launch pads now at their disposal after repairing the one damaged in the September 2016 blast, Musk and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell have said they expect to fly roughly 30 missions in 2018. This tally will include several...

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