SpaceX: an idea, movement, and revolution conceptualized by Elon Musk in 2001; designed ambitiously to send a biological payload the furthest its ever traveled; and raise awareness about human aerospace endeavor. After meeting resistance from the Russian ICBM and rocket-sales community, Musk used profits from selling Paypal to circumnavigate the restrictive methodology of sending payloads to space. One year later, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) was founded, and so began the ascension towards what has become an exceedingly innovative, and inspirational private launch-provider.
Starting from the ground-up, SpaceX engineers sought to drastically reduce the costs associated with orbital payload delivery, while repeatedly injecting new technologies to instigate continual growth thereafter. In September of 2008, the Falcon 1 made history after being the first private-sector rocket to reach orbit, following a series of failed launches in the years preceding. After the F-1, came the updated Falcon 9 with enhanced thrust and delivery capabilities flying its maiden voyage in June, 2010.
A series of Grasshopper test flights, which were integral for future landing successes, began “hopping” and then hovering in 2012. In September 2013, the Falcon 9 v1.1 – a highly upgraded model of the F-9 debuted for service, greatly increasing delivery capability. A year later in 2014, additional test-flights via the F9R were initiated to bring SpaceX closer to the designed goal of rocket first-stage recovery after launch. The first successful landing occurred in Cape Canaveral, Florida in December of 2016 at “LZ-1” following several failed ASDS (Autonomous Spaceport Droneship) attempts and soft landings in the ocean. To date, SpaceX has successfully landed 8 boosters— three on land and five at sea (Four in the Atlantic, and one in the Pacific.) A feat just years ago that was thought to be a technological impossibility.
The next model in line to fly this year, is the Falcon Heavy – which will become the world’s largest and most capable active rocket in the human arsenal. In addition to landing all three rocket boosters back on Earth after launching, the Falcon Heavy will soon be transporting 2 private citizens on a trip around the moon in 2018! Another first-ever for a company which has built a business in doing the impossible.
After speaking with Elon Musk directly at the CRS-8 launch in 2016, he confirmed that it was his intent to urge other launch-providers to also follow-suit with reusability – citing it as “Really quite fundamental” When questioning Hans Koenigsmann at the CRS-9 launch a few months later, he also confirmed additional plans to reuse payload fairings on the rocket in the near future as well. When speaking with the COO and President of SpaceX, Gwynne Shotwell she also confirmed that they will be eventually reusing the second stage of their rockets, in addition to the first-stage which when combined with reused payload fairings lends to a nearly entirely reusable rocket. A game changer.
The Falcon 9 is currently capable of transporting 50,265 pounds of cargo to Low Earth Orbit (LEO,) 18,300 lbs to Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO,) and 8,860 lbs to Mars. The Falcon Heavy, once flying is designed to deliver 119,930lbs to LEO, 48,940 lbs to GTO, and eventually 29,980 lbs to Mars. SpaceX also utilizes their Dragon Cargo Capsule in conjunction with their rocket, wherein the majority of parts for both are made in-house, or in the US. The ‘Dragon’ capsule has completed multiple resupply missions to the International Space Station already, making them the first private company to do so. Dragon can carry up to 6,000 pounds, and is fully capable of returning to Earth with 3,000 pounds of cargo. A new version of the Dragon, the Dragon Crew Capsule will soon begin ferrying astronauts to space under the NASA Commercial Crew program, aiming for the end of 2018. SpaceX currently uses launch complexes within the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and is actively constructing the world’s first commercial launch site in Boca Chica, Texas. SpaceX has already begun testing, and firing their next generation engine named the ‘Raptor’ which is said to be designed for interplanetary missions.
Just a few short years after the conceptualization of his dream to send payloads to our sister planet Mars, Elon Musk is said to have planned to begin Red Dragon missions in 2020. These missions will employ both SpaceX rockets and capsules, and is designed to prepare Mars for eventual colonization. The dream, is no longer a dream. We are in the future.