SpaceX was established in 2002 when its founder, billionaire Elon Musk, started working toward his lofty goal of sending a mission to Mars. The company is now much past the beginning phase in the space industry.
The Hawthorne, California-based corporation regularly recycles rockets, uses its Dragon spacecraft to deliver supplies to the International Space Station, and will also transport astronauts for NASA and other organisations. SpaceX has also launched the enormous Falcon Heavy and has ambitions to fly the Starship and its Super Heavy booster, an even bigger rocket, to the moon, Mars, and beyond.
The slideshow that follows contains further information about SpaceX’s history of developing rockets and spacecraft.
Editor’s note: On May 20, 2020, this story, which was originally published on May 10, 2018, was updated.
The first rocket made by SpaceX was the Falcon 1. It operated from 2006 and 2009 and was capable of launching 670 kilogrammes (1,480 lbs) into low Earth orbit.
On September 29, 2008, Falcon 1 launched a mock payload into space following three launch failures (opens in new tab). On July 14, 2009, the Malaysian Earth observation satellite RazakSAT was launched into orbit during its fifth and final mission.
Omelek Island, a portion of the Pacific Ocean’s Kwajalein Atoll, saw the launch of Falcon 1 rockets. The 68-foot-tall (21-meter) rocket was propelled by a single engine that burned liquid oxygen and kerosene made for rockets, hence the “1” in its name.
If it helps, Musk modelled the Falcon rockets after the Millennium Falcon spacecraft from “Star Wars.”
Many companies looking for a heavier-lift rocket rapidly expressed interest in SpaceX. The business had thought about creating the Falcon 5 (opens in new tab), an intermediate rocket, but instead got started on the Falcon 9 (opens in new tab) because of its nine-engine first stage.
Up to 28,991 lbs. in payload weight can be launched by this rocket into low Earth orbit (13,150 kg). It is a two-stage rocket that is 12 feet (3.7 m) broad and 230 feet (70 metres) tall. On June 7, 2010, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida launched the first Falcon 9, which SpaceX had initially publicly announced intentions for in 2005.
Bigelow Aerospace, Avanti Communications, and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates were some of the rocket’s first users.
SpaceX has been interested in deploying the Falcon 9’s first stage more than once to reduce launch costs since since the rocket’s inception.
However, the landing’s initial tests were unsuccessful. SpaceX attempted to regulate the booster’s landing on the first, second, and sixth launches of the Falcon 9, but each time the stage crashed into the water. Below is a supercut of those unsuccessful SpaceX landings.
On April 18, 2014, SpaceX launched its ninth Falcon 9 rocket, making it the fourth controlled-landing attempt. This was a critical first step toward eventual reusability.
On December 21, 2015, a Falcon 9 rocket made its maiden successful landing at Landing Zone 1, a SpaceX pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The first 18 months of the Dragon cargo ship’s development were kept secret by SpaceX. When the business submitted a proposal for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration programme in March 2006, it then made Dragon publicly available. Creating a private spaceship to transport cargo to the International Space Station was the ultimate objective.
NASA chose SpaceX’s Dragon in December 2008 as one of the businesses offering commercial resupply services to the space station after SpaceX achieved numerous milestones. (The opposing business was Orbital Sciences, became Orbital ATK, and currently Northrop Grumman.)
At the time, SpaceX’s contract had a minimum value of $1.6 billion and an option to increase it to $3.1 billion; since then, the business has been awarded a new contract for cargo launch services.
The name Dragon was inspired by “Puff the Magic Dragon,” according to Musk.
On Dec. 8, 2010, Dragon successfully completed its first flight from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Then, on May 22, 2012, Dragon launched in an attempt to berth the spacecraft with the International Space Station, which was a significant test.
Despite having some issues with a laser device that was supposed to determine the craft’s distance to the orbiting complex, Dragon arrived at the station on May 25 of that year without incident. Worldwide praise followed the achievement. The private spacecraft docked with the space station for the first time at that time.
Since then, SpaceX has improved their unmanned Dragon cargo aircraft so that they are now reusable for at least two trips.
At SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas, test facilities, a 100-foot-tall rocket prototype named Grasshopper was launched to offer the corporation additional practise landing boosters vertically.
Although Grasshopper received less public attention than some of SpaceX’s previous initiatives, it was crucial to the advancement of the reusable first stage for the Falcon 9.
Between 2012 and 2013, the Grasshopper rocket conducted eight test flights, with the last one seeing it travel to a height of 2,440 feet (744 meters).
Then, the Grasshopper project was terminated to let SpaceX to devote more resources to the creation of the Falcon 9.
In 2012, SpaceX unveiled the Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicle, which was based on the Falcon 9’s first stage.
Between April and August 2014, the business conducted five flights using this technology at the SpaceX McGregor facility, with some flights reaching a maximum height of over 3,280 feet (1,000 m).
Due to a blocked sensor, the last rocket, which launched on August 22, 2014, exploded.
This image depicts Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, which is used for the first stage of the Falcon 9’s terrestrial landings. On December 21, 2015, SpaceX performed the first of its controlled ground landings here.
On ground on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station that the corporation had leased from the U.S. Air Force, the pad was constructed. (Landing Zone 1 is located on the site where Launch Complex 13 once stood.) Because the previous Falcon 9 flight, in June 2015, ended tragically with an explosion, this landing was especially wonderful.
On December 21, 2015, SpaceX’s first successful Falcon 9 touchdown in Landing Zone 1(opens in new tab) was heralded as a turning point for rocket reusability. The business made an effort to build on that success, though.
In 2014 and 2015, SpaceX attempted a mixture of successful and unsuccessful water landings.
Pictures from SpaceX’s Magnificent Falcon 9 Rocket Landing
SpaceX attempted to make an oceanic drone ship landing in 2015. Even though these landing attempts kept failing, Musk would broadcast the images and videos to his Twitter account, admitting the errors and encouraging the business to get better before the next trip.
On April 8, 2016, a Falcon 9 first stage gently landed on a drone ship called “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean. This was the culmination of Musk and his team’s perseverance. The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, an inflatable module, was delivered to the International Space Station by the Dragon spacecraft that this Falcon 9 rocket lifted off.
After the mission in April 2016, SpaceX’s success percentage with drone landings significantly increased, albeit occasionally boosters would still miss the mark. The Falcon 9 flight success rate for the corporation is also high; the most recent failure occurred in September 2016, when a rocket exploded on the launch pad prior to takeoff.
“Just Read the Instructions,” a second drone ship owned by SpaceX, is utilised for Pacific Ocean landings following launches from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Station. Both ships bear the names of imagined starships from Iain M. Banks’ science fiction novels.
On February 6, 2018, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket, a heavy-lift variant of the Falcon series, successfully completed its first flight from NASA’s Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The most potent rocket in operation right now is the Falcon Heavy. It consists of a potent upper stage and three first-stage core boosters based on SpaceX’s reliable Falcon 9 rocket.
The rocket successfully carried a Starman spacesuit-clad mannequin on its inaugural voyage as well as a Tesla automobile into orbit. Musk serves as the CEO of Tesla Motors as well. Nearly 141,000 lbs. (64 metric tonnes) of payload can be carried by the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) Falcon Heavy into low Earth orbit.
This is twice what the United Launch Alliance’s Delta IV Heavy, its closest rival, can launch into orbit.
The twin side boosters of the Falcon Heavy rocket successfully land in this image taken on February 6, 2018, following the rocket’s first launch.
The rocket’s core stage quickly collided with the water while the rocket’s booster stages safely landed in Landing Zones 1 and 2 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, close to the Kennedy Space Center.
One final burn was performed on the rocket stage carrying the Tesla automobile to launch it into Mars’ orbit. Radiation, however, might obliterate the car in less than a year, according to sister site of Space.com Live Science.
SpaceX started creating a human-rated version of the Dragon spacecraft to transport humans to the International Space Station while they launched commercial missions.
For these launch services, the business was awarded a contract in 2014 with a maximum value of $2.6 billion. SpaceX revealed the interior of the crew quarters in September 2015. Black bucket chairs, many flat-panel screens, white walls, and four windows allow for a simple, minimalist design.
In March 2019, the first unmanned Crew Dragon test mission took off successfully on a journey to the International Space Station and returned.
To hasten the development of the crewed ship, SpaceX intended for the crew and cargo versions of Dragon to be quite similar.
According to SpaceX, “this commonality streamlines the human-rating process, allowing crucial systems for crew and space station safety to be thoroughly evaluated on unmanned cargo flights.”
SpaceX is working diligently to prepare the crewed Dragon for two commercial crew test missions that won’t take off until spring 2020.
All astronauts are currently transported to the International Space Station by the Russian Soyuz spacecraft, although NASA is working to reduce its reliance on it. NASA must pay millions of dollars for each astronaut seat aboard the Soyuz.
Additionally, the agency makes an effort to use American launch services wherever possible. During the final space shuttle mission in 2011, there was the last crewed launch from American land.
Compared to Falcon 9 launches, which cost $62 million each, Falcon Heavy launches are offered for roughly $90 million each.
Two further Falcon Heavy missions were launched by SpaceX in 2019: the first carried the Arabsat 6A communications satellite in April, while the second lifted the Space Test Program 2 for the U.S. Air Force and the Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 in June.
The Block 5 booster, the final iteration of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, was unveiled in May 2018. This launcher, which is intended to be as reuse-friendly as possible (the goal is at least 10 missions), will send NASA astronauts into orbit aboard Dragon spacecraft.
Bangabandhu-1, the nation of Bangladesh’s first communications satellite, was launched with the first Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket. That mission was launched in May 2018, and an Indonesian satellite was later launched in August 2018 by the Block 5 rocket utilised on that flight.
Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX, revealed a brand-new vehicle for his company in September 2019: a gigantic, fully reusable rocket and booster that would someday carry humans to Mars. The Starship and Super Heavy were thus created.
The futuristic system, originally known as the Interplanetary Transport System and later known as the Big Falcon Rocket (or Big F Rocket, as Elon Musk has hinted), was designed for Mars exploration but could also be used for moon missions, trips to other planets in deep space, and round-trips around the Earth.
Over the past few years, Musk has changed the design multiple times, releasing various specs in 2017 and 2018, and finally settling on a design in 2019.
The Starship with its Super Heavy launcher will stand 387 feet (118 metres) tall (including the spaceship) and be able to launch 110 tonnes (100 metric tonnes) into low Earth orbit in their current forms.
About 100 passengers will fit inside each rocket, which is completely reusable. Musk claimed that he intended to launch fleets of these rockets, each carrying hundreds or thousands of travellers to Mars. Musk intends to stop all Falcon lines in the 2020s, with the exception of Super Heavy, which would be used for a variety of missions. Mars, the International Space Station, and satellite launch orbits in the vicinity of Earth are just a few of the potential destinations.
At its launch facility in Boca Chica, Texas, SpaceX launched Starhopper, a prototype for the Starship, in a series of test hops in 2019.
The Grasshopper prototype that SpaceX used to develop the technology for its reusable Falcon 9 rockets is analogous to the Starship in Starhopper. The squat, three-legged stainless steel craft performed a series of test firings and tethered flights, culminating in a single grand hop on August 27, 2019. It was powered by a single Raptor rocket engine.
Starhopper made a large hop during which it took off from a SpaceX pad, rose to an altitude of around 500 feet (150 m), and then turned sideways to land on a landing platform not far away. It took around a minute to complete the flight.
After that hop, the Starhopper’s fourth and largest test, SpaceX retired the craft and moved forward with its Starship project.
After months of anticipation, SpaceX unveiled its first Starship prototype, the Starship Mark 1, on September 28, 2019. (or Starship Mk1).
The Starship Mk1 is comprised of stainless steel and was also put together in SpaceX’s Boca Chica facility in Texas. With two fins instead of three, the vehicle incorporates more Starship design revisions and was created exclusively for test flights without crew.
With the intention of entering orbit in 2020, SpaceX plans to launch Starship Mk1 on a 12-mile-high test mission in 2019.
Since then, SpaceX has produced numerous iterations of the Starship prototypes (the current one is called Starship SN4, or Serial No. 4). Tests on SN4 are being conducted in preparation for a 2020 “hop” flight.
The launch of SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon carrying astronauts is set for May 27. NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be launched on that voyage to the International Space Station for a mission that might last up to four months.
Demo-2(opens in new tab), the test flight, comes after a number of other tests. As part of its Demo-1 mission, SpaceX launched an unmanned Crew Dragon demonstration flight to the station in March 2019. The business conducted an In-Flight Abort test in January 2020 to show off the Crew Dragon’s emergency escape mechanism for launch emergencies.
Additionally, the business has put Crew Dragon’s parachutes and other crucial equipment to the test.
For complete coverage of the SpaceX Crew Dragon mission, check here(opens in new tab).