Space has always been a fantasy and adventurous topic, including space exploration. However, this fantasy turns into reality when the world’s billionaire Elon Musk launched SpaceX in 2002. Musk leaves his mark in the space arena with the launch of a variety of commercial space flights. In 2006, SpaceX launched the inaugural flight, Falcon 1, a two-stage liquid-fueled craft designed to send small satellites into Earth orbit. The Falcon 1 was reportedly cheaper to build and operate compared to its competitors. Space is largely occupied by spacecraft built by publicly-owned and government-funded organizations including Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
With the successful launch of Falcon 1, SpaceX earned millions of dollars in terms of launching orders, many of them from the U.S. government. The company also won the NASA contract to develop and demonstrate spacecraft that could potentially service the International Space Station (ISS) that was worth over US$1 billion.
The Beginning of SpaceX
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., abbreviated as SpaceX, is an aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. In the year 2001, the founder Elon Musk conceptualized a project, named Mars Oasis, to land a miniature experimental greenhouse and grow plants on Mars. He tried to purchase cost-effective rockets from Russia but failed to find rockets for an affordable price. After that, he started his own space company and founded SpaceX in 2002.
The development cost of the first SpaceX Falcon 1 was nearly US$90 million, but after failing to attain Earth orbit between 2006 and 2008, Falcon 1 achieved success in September 2008. This success allowed SpaceX to focus on the development of a larger orbital rocket, the Falcon 9. Launched in 2010, the Falcon 9 rockets are now run-in rockets that can successfully carry their load into orbit.
In December 2010, SpaceX became the first commercial company, released a spacecraft, the Dragon capsule, into orbit and successfully returned it to Earth. Reportedly, the SpaceX production line was manufacturing one Falcon 9 (and Dragon spacecraft) every three months by December 2010.
As part of its second-round Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, NASA, in April 2011, issued a US$75 million contract for SpaceX to develop an integrated launch escape system for Dragon in preparation for human-rating it as a crew transport vehicle to the ISS. In May 2012, when the Dragon C2+ was launched, Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the ISS. In August same year, SpaceX won a NASA contract to develop a successor to the space shuttle that would transport astronauts into space.
In May 2020, the first crewed flight of a Dragon capsule to the ISS launched with astronauts Doug Hurley and Robert Behnken. SpaceX also announced the successor to the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy: The Super Heavy – Starship system, originally called the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket). The Super Heavy first stage would be capable of lifting 100,000 kg to low Earth orbit. Starship was designed for several purposes, including providing fast transportation between cities on Earth and building bases on the Moon and Mars.
Furthermore, SpaceX planned to use the Starship for a flight around the Moon carrying Japanese businessman Maezawa Yusaku and several artists in 2023.
According to the report, SpaceX is sending a payload to the moon in 2023, using its Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. The mission will fly a lander developed by space startup Astrobotic. The startup itself will be carrying NASA’s VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover).
SpaceX today is revolutionizing the space industry with orbital-class launch vehicles. Some of the leading SpaceX competitors are Boeing, Blue Origin, Virgin Orbit, Northrop Grumman, etc.