SpaceX

SpaceX
SpaceX (Image Source: Instagram SpaceX)

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (doing business as SpaceX) is a Hawthorne, California-based American spacecraft manufacturer, space launch provider, and satellite communications organization.

Elon Musk launched it in 2002 with the purpose of lowering space transportation costs to enable Mars settlement. It builds Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, as well as various rocket engines, the Cargo Dragon, crew spacecraft, and Starlink communications satellites.

To provide commercial internet access, SpaceX is creating the Starlink satellite internet network. The Starlink constellation became the biggest satellite constellation ever launched in January 2020, and as of September 2022, it consists of nearly 3,000 tiny satellites in orbit. Starship, a privately financed, totally reusable, super heavy-lift launch vehicle for interplanetary and orbital travel, is also being developed by the business.

Once operational, it will be SpaceX’s principal orbital vehicle, replacing the Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon fleets. It will have the biggest payload capacity of any orbital rocket ever built when it makes its debut in 2022, subject to launch license approval.

SpaceX’s accomplishments include being the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach Earth’s orbit; the first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft; the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station; the first vertical take-off and vertical propulsive landing for an orbital rocket booster; the first reuse of such booster; and the first private company to send astronauts to orbit and to the International Space Station. SpaceX has flown and landed the Falcon 9 rocket series more than a hundred times.

SpaceX Data

Trade nameSpaceX
OwnerElon Musk Trust (47.4% equity; 78.3% voting control)
TypePrivate
IndustrySpace, communications
FoundedMarch 14, 2002; 20 years ago in El Segundo, California, U.S.
FounderElon Musk
Number of employees12,000 (April 2022)
HeadquartersHawthorne, California, United States
Key peopleElon Musk (CEO, Chairman & CTO, 2002–present), Gwynne Shotwell (president and COO)
ProductsSeveral launch vehicles, Several rocket engines, Dragon capsules, Starship (in development), Starlink
SubsidiariesSwarm Technologies
ServicesOrbital rocket launch, satellite internet
RevenueUS$2 billion (2018)
Websitewww.spacex.com
SpaceX Data

SpaceX Board of directors (2021)

Year of JoiningNameTitles
2002Elon MuskFounder, chairman, CEO and CTO of SpaceX; CEO, Product Architect, and former chairman of Tesla; former chairman of SolarCity
2002Kimbal MuskBoard member, Tesla
2009Gwynne ShotwellPresident and COO of SpaceX
2009Luke NosekCo-founder, PayPal
2009Steve JurvetsonCo-founder, Future Ventures fund
2010Antonio GraciasCEO and Chairman of the Investment Committee at Valor Equity Partners
2015Donald HarrisonPresident of global partnerships and corporate development, Google
SpaceX Board of directors

First Falcon 9 to complete 14 flights to orbit, and SpaceX’s first 5 burn mission

History of SpaceX

2001-2004: Establishment

Elon Musk gave $100,000 to the Mars Society in early 2001 and briefly served on its board of directors. He was invited to give a plenary session at their conference, during which he revealed Mars Oasis, a proposal to deploy a modest experimental greenhouse and cultivate plants on Mars in order to rekindle public enthusiasm for space travel. Musk first sought to buy a Dnepr ICBM for the project using Jim Cantrell’s Russian contacts.

However, two months later, the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty and established the Missile Defense Agency, heightening tensions with Russia and igniting fresh strategic interest in quick and reusable launch capabilities akin to the DC-X.

When Musk returned to Moscow with Michael Griffin (who managed the CIA’s venture finance arm In-Q-Tel), they found the Russians increasingly hostile. Musk said on the journey home that he could instead launch a firm to make the inexpensive rockets they required. Musk felt that by employing vertical integration, cheap commercial off-the-shelf components when possible, and the modular style of contemporary software engineering, SpaceX could drastically reduce launch costs.

Griffin would subsequently be named NASA administrator and grant SpaceX a $396 million contract before the company had even launched a rocket.

Musk began looking for employees for his new space firm, SpaceX, in early 2002. Musk approached rocket engineer Tom Mueller (later SpaceX’s CTO of propulsion) and asked him to join his company. Mueller agreed to join Musk’s team, and so SpaceX was created. SpaceX was founded in a warehouse in El Segundo, California.

Following the termination of the Brilliant Pebbles program, early SpaceX workers like Tom Mueller (CTO), Gwynn Shotwell (COO), and Chris Thompson (VP of Operations) came from adjacent TRW and Boeing firms. The firm has 160 workers by November 2005.

2005-2009: Falcon 1 and the first orbital launches

SpaceX used internal funds to create its first orbital launch vehicle, the Falcon 1. The Falcon 1 was a two-stage-to-orbit small-lift launch vehicle that could be reused. Falcon 1’s entire development cost was estimated to be between $90 and $100 million. The name Falcon was inspired by the DARPA Falcon Project, which is part of the US military’s Prompt Global Strike program.

SpaceX announced intentions in 2005 to pursue a human-rated commercial space program until the end of the decade, which would eventually become the Dragon spacecraft. NASA chose the business in 2006 to deliver personnel and cargo resupply demonstration contracts to the ISS under the COTS program.

The United States Department of Defense acquired the first two Falcon 1 flights as part of a program that examines new US launch vehicles suitable for use by DARPA.

The financial position began to improve shortly after the first successful launch, with the fourth attempt on September 28, 2008. Musk divided his remaining $30 million between SpaceX and Tesla, and NASA gave SpaceX the first Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract in December, rescuing the firm financially.

2010 to 2012: Contracts for Falcon 9, Dragon, and NASA

SpaceX has planned to follow its small Falcon 1 launch vehicle with a medium-capacity rocket, the Falcon 5. Instead, in 2005, the corporation opted to move through with the development of the Falcon 9, a reusable heavier lift vehicle. NASA pushed Falcon 9 development by committing to purchase numerous commercial flights provided particular capabilities were demonstrated.

The first operational Dragon spacecraft was launched aboard COTS Demo Flight 1, the Falcon 9’s second flight, in December 2010 and successfully returned to Earth after two orbits, accomplishing all mission goals. By December 2010, the SpaceX manufacturing line was producing one Falcon 9 and one Dragon every three months.

NASA awarded SpaceX a US$75 million contract in April 2011 as part of its second-round Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program to develop an integrated launch escape mechanism for Dragon in preparation for human-rating it as a crew transport spacecraft to the ISS.

Musk held almost two-thirds of SpaceX’s equity in early 2012, and his 70 million shares were then valued at US$875 million on private markets, valuing SpaceX at US$1.3 billion. Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to transport goods to the International Space Station in May 2012, with the launch of the Dragon C2+.

SpaceX’s active reusability testing program began in late 2012, with low-altitude, low-speed parts of landing technology being tested.

2013-2015: Commercial launches and fast growth

In 2013, SpaceX launched its first commercial flight for a private client. In 2014, SpaceX won nine of the 20 contracts that were openly competed for throughout the world. Arianespace requested increased funding from European governments that year in order to compete with SpaceX. Beginning in 2014, SpaceX’s capabilities and price began to have an impact on the market for the launch of US military payloads, which had been controlled for almost a decade by the huge US launch provider United Launch Alliance (ULA).

SpaceX secured $1 billion in capital from Google and Fidelity in return for 8.33% of the firm in January 2015, putting the company’s worth at around $12 billion. The same month, SpaceX announced the building of a new satellite constellation named Starlink, which would use 4,000 satellites to deliver worldwide broadband internet coverage.

In late June 2015, the Falcon 9 suffered its first significant failure when the seventh ISS resupply mission, CRS-7, detonated two minutes into the flight. A failing 2-foot-long steel strut that supported a helium pressure tank came loose owing to the force of acceleration and was found to be the source of the problem. This resulted in a breach, allowing high-pressure helium to leak into the low-pressure propellant tank, resulting in the failure.

2015-2017: Reusability Milestones

SpaceX made its first successful landing and recovery of a first stage in December 2015 with Falcon 9 Flight 20. In April 2016, the firm made its first successful landing in the Atlantic Ocean on the autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) Of Course I Still Love You.

A Falcon 9 exploded during a fuel fill operation during a regular pre-launch static fire test in early September 2016, resulting in a second significant rocket failure. The payload, a $200 million communications satellite named Amos-6, was destroyed.

In March of the following year, SpaceX flew a returning Falcon 9 for the SES-10 satellite. This was the first time a payload-carrying orbital rocket was re-launched into space. The first stage was retrieved again, making it the first landing of an orbital class rocket that had previously been reused.

2017-2018: Leading worldwide commercial launch provider

SpaceX obtained a 45% global market share for awarded commercial launch contracts in 2017. By March 2018, SpaceX has over 100 launches on its manifest, totaling around US$12 billion in contract income. Customers on the contracts included both commercial and government (NASA/DOD) entities. This elevated SpaceX to the top spot among worldwide commercial launch providers based on manifested launches.

SpaceX launched a subsidiary, The Boring Company, in 2017 and began the development of a short test tunnel on and adjacent to the SpaceX headquarters and production facility, which was finished in May 2018 and opened to the public in December 2018. The Boring Company was spun out into a distinct business corporation in 2018, with SpaceX receiving 6% of the shares, early workers receiving less than 10%, and Elon Musk receiving the remaining equity.

SpaceX said in January 2019 that it would lay off 10% of its workers to help fund the Starship and Starlink programs. Initial prototypes and tests for Starship began in early 2019 in Florida and Texas. Later that year, all Starship building and testing were relocated to SpaceX’s new South Texas launch facility.

SpaceX’s valuation soared to US$46 billion on August 19, 2020, following a US$1.9 billion capital round, one of the greatest single fundraising drives by any privately owned firm. SpaceX secured an additional US$1.61 billion in an equity transaction from 99 investors in February 2021, at a per-share value of around $420, bringing the company’s worth to approximately US$74 billion.

According to Reuters, the European Space Agency (ESA) initiated preliminary talks with SpaceX in August 2022, which might result in the company’s launchers being utilized temporarily, given that Russia banned access to Soyuz rockets during the Ukraine crisis.

SpaceX social media:

SpaceX clip:

Hardware

Vehicles for launch

Three launch vehicles have been developed by SpaceX. The Falcon 1 small-lift launch vehicle was the first to be created and was decommissioned in 2009. Both the medium-lift Falcon 9 and the heavy-lift Falcon Heavy are in service.

Falcon 9 is a medium-lift launch vehicle capable of carrying up to 22,800 kilograms (50,265 lb) to orbit, competing with the Delta IV and Atlas V rockets, as well as other global launch providers. In its first stage, it features nine Merlin engines.

The Falcon Heavy is a heavy-lift launch vehicle that can transport up to 63,800 kilograms (140,700 lb) to LEO or 26,700 kg (58,900 lb) to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO).

Rocket engines

Since its inception in 2002, SpaceX has developed numerous rocket engines – Merlin, Kestrel, and Raptor – for use in launch vehicles, Draco for the Dragon series of spacecraft’s reaction control system, and SuperDraco for abort capabilities in Crew Dragon.

The Merlin rocket engine family employs liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 propellants. Merlin has first used to power the first stage of Falcon 1 and is currently utilized on both stages of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles.

Raptor is a new series of full-flow staged combustion cycle engines powered by liquid oxygen and liquid methane that will power the first and second stages of the in-development Starship launch system.

Dragon spacecraft

The Dragon spacecraft was created by SpaceX to transfer goods and personnel to the International Space Station. The original version of Dragon, which was solely used for freight, was released in 2010. The presently operating second-generation Dragon spacecraft, known as Dragon 2, made its maiden unmanned voyage to the International Space Station in early 2019, followed by a crewed flight in 2020.

SpaceX unveiled the Dragon XL in March 2020, as a resupply ship for NASA’s proposed Lunar Gateway space station as part of a Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) contract. Dragon XL will be launched on the Falcon Heavy and will be capable of transporting over 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) to the Gateway. The Dragon XL will be moored at the Gateway for a period of six to twelve months.

Autonomous spaceport drone ships

After orbital missions, SpaceX frequently returns the first stage of its Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. The rocket uses just its own propulsion systems to fly and land at a designated landing point.

SpaceX also intends to launch from floating platforms. These are modified oil rigs that will be used in the 2020s to give a sea launch option for their second-generation launch vehicle: the Super Heavy booster and Starship second stage.

Starship

Starship is a completely reusable super-heavy lift launch system being developed by SpaceX. It consists of a reusable first stage named Super Heavy and a reusable second stage and space vehicle called Starship.

In 2016, SpaceX envisioned a 12-meter-diameter ITS design specifically for Mars transit and other interplanetary purposes.

The Starship system was updated in 2018 to employ stainless steel rather than carbon fiber construction to boost performance while substantially lowering costs. Yusaku Maezawa, a private passenger, has contracted to go around the Moon in a Starship vessel in 2023.

In 2019, SpaceX began producing the first Starship prototypes in its Boca Chica, Texas, facility, which was eventually dubbed Starbase.

SpaceX is developing the Starlink broadband satellite network. It will employ 4,425 cross-linked communications satellites in orbits of 1,100 km.

SpaceX submitted plans with the FCC in March 2017 to field a constellation of 7,518 more V-band satellites in non-geosynchronous orbits to offer communications services.

Astronomers have questioned the proposed vast number of Starlink satellites owing to worries about light pollution, with the brightness of Starlink satellites in both optical and radio wavelengths interfering with scientific investigations.

Facilities

SpaceX’s headquarters and principal production facilities are both in Hawthorne, California. The corporation has a research and development facility in Redmond, Washington, as well as a test facility in Texas and three launch sites, with another in the works. SpaceX also has regional offices in Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. SpaceX was founded in Delaware.

Headquarters, manufacturing, and refurbishment facilities

The SpaceX headquarters are in Hawthorne, California, a Los Angeles suburb. SpaceX’s office space, mission control, and Falcon 9 production facilities are housed in the massive three-story complex, which was originally built by Northrop Corporation to produce Boeing 747 fuselages.

The area has one of the highest concentrations of space sector headquarters, facilities, and/or subsidiaries in the United States, including the main satellite building campuses of Boeing/McDonnell Douglas, Aerospace Corp., Raytheon, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the United States Space Force’s Space Systems Command at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and AECOM, among others, with a large pool of aerospace engineers and recent college engineering graduates.

SpaceX produces rockets and rocket engines with a high degree of vertical integration.

SpaceX declared in January 2015 that it will enter the satellite manufacture and global satellite internet markets. The first satellite facility is a 30,000 square foot (2,800 square meters) office building in Redmond, Washington.

Development and test facilities

SpaceX’s Rocket Development and Test Facility is located in McGregor, Texas. All SpaceX rocket engines are tested on rocket test stands, and low-altitude VTVL flight testing of the Falcon 9 Grasshopper was done at McGregor in 2012-2013.

Beal Aerospace sold the McGregor facilities to the business, which renovated the biggest test stand for Falcon 9 engine testing. Since its purchase, SpaceX has made a number of upgrades to the site and expanded its size by acquiring numerous acres of surrounding property.

Launch facilities

SpaceX presently maintains three orbital launch sites: Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Vandenberg Space Force Base, and Kennedy Space Center, with a fourth in the works near Brownsville, Texas.

The USAF approved SpaceX’s usage of Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) in April 2007. Since 2010, the facility has been utilized for Falcon 9 launches, mostly to low Earth and geostationary orbits. SLC-40 is unable to accommodate Falcon Heavy launches.

Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4E), which was leased in 2011, is utilized for polar orbit payloads.

SpaceX obtained a 20-year lease for Launch Complex 39A on April 14, 2014.

SpaceX builds and flies Starship test spacecraft at Starbase in Boca Chica, Texas, with orbital Starship missions planned for 2021.

SpaceX began ground on the new launch site in 2014, with development heating up in the later part of 2015. The facility’s first suborbital flights are scheduled for 2019. Some Boca Chica Village homeowners and environmental groups attacked the location and the Starship development scheme in numerous ways.

Contracts

NASA awarded SpaceX demonstration and operational supply contracts for the International Space Station (ISS) using technologies developed by the corporation. SpaceX is also authorized to fly Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class (EELV) payloads for the United States military. SpaceX has around US$12 billion in contracts with roughly 30 flights on the docket for 2018.

Cargo to ISS

SpaceX was awarded a NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Phase 1 contract in 2006 to demonstrate cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS), with the possibility of a human transport contract option. NASA gave SpaceX US$396 million under this contract, created by NASA to provide “seed money” through Space Act Agreements for developing new capabilities, to develop the cargo variant of the Dragon spacecraft, while SpaceX constructed the Falcon 9 launch vehicle with their own resources.

SpaceX became the first commercial firm to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft with the launch of the SpaceX COTS Demo Flight 1 mission in December 2010. During SpaceX COTS Demo Flight 2 in May 2012, Dragon successfully berthed with the ISS, a first for a commercial spacecraft.

Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) are a series of contracts issued by NASA between 2008 and 2016 for the transportation of cargo and supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard privately operated spacecraft. The first CRS contracts were signed in 2008, awarding SpaceX US$1.6 billion for 12 cargo delivery missions through 2016.

Since then, CRS flights have flown to the ISS around twice a year.

Crewed

NASA astronauts are transported to and from the International Space Station by SpaceX. The NASA contracts began as part of the Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, which intended to produce commercially operated spacecraft capable of transporting humans to the International Space Station (ISS).

NASA selected SpaceX and Boeing in September 2014 as the two businesses that will be financed to build systems to carry US personnel to and from the ISS. SpaceX was awarded $2.6 billion in order to develop and certify Dragon 2 by 2017.

SpaceX successfully performed the first important flight test of their Crew Dragon spacecraft, a Pad Abort Test, in May 2015, and a full uncrewed test flight in early 2019.

On May 30, 2020, NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley launched the Crew Dragon Demo-2 mission to the International Space Station, marking the first time a crewed vehicle has flown from the United States since 2011, and the first commercial crewed launch to the ISS.

SpaceX also provides private people with compensated crewed spaceflights. Inspiration4, the first of these missions, launched in 2021 on behalf of Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman.

National Defense

SpaceX stated in 2005 that it had been given an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract, allowing the US Air Force to buy up to $100 million in launches from the business. SpaceX announced its first two launch contracts with the US Department of Defense in December 2012.

In 2015, the Falcon 9 v1.1 was approved for National Security Space Launch (NSSL), allowing SpaceX to contract launch services to the Air Force for any national security payloads.

SpaceX received an extra US$290 million contract from the US government in March 2018. The Air Force will launch three more GPS III satellites.

The National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) of the United States also bought SpaceX launches, with the first taking place on May 1, 2017. In February 2019, SpaceX received a $297 million contract from the United States. The Air Force plans to undertake three new national security missions in the fiscal year 2021. In August 2020, the United States National Security Space Launch (NSSL) contracts were given by the Space Force over the next 5-7 years. SpaceX was awarded a contract for one launch for US$316 million.

Culture in the workplace

According to former NASA deputy administrator Lori Garver, the corporation, like the spaceflight sector in general, has a male-dominated employee culture. Claims of workplace sexual harassment from five former SpaceX workers, ranging from interns to full engineers, were revealed in December 2021.

According to an unidentified acquaintance of a flight attendant, a Business Insider report published in May 2022 claimed Musk participated in sexual misconduct with a SpaceX flight attendant aboard a private plane in 2016.

The organization has also been regarded as having a burnout culture and a work culture that drives people to work excessively.

SpaceX clip:

Pricing pressure and launch market competition

SpaceX’s cheap launch prices, particularly for communications satellites going to geostationary transfer orbit (GTO), have pushed competitors to cut their own pricing. Prior to 2013, Arianespace (flying the Ariane 5) and International Launch Services dominated the openly competitive comsat launch market (flying the Proton). Falcon 9 rockets were the cheapest in the business, with a quoted price of $56.5 million per launch to low Earth orbit.

When SpaceX began competing for national security missions, it broke the United Launch Alliance’s (ULA) monopoly on US military payloads. In 2015, expecting a decline in domestic, military, and espionage launches, ULA said that it would cease operations unless it received commercial satellite launch orders.

According to SpaceX’s congressional testimony in 2017, the NASA Space Act Agreement process of “setting only a high-level requirement for cargo transport to the space station [while] leaving the details to industry” allowed SpaceX to design and develop the Falcon 9 rocket on its own at a significantly lower cost. SpaceX’s overall development cost for the Falcon 9 rocket, including the Falcon 1 rocket, was estimated at US$390 million, according to NASA’s own independently confirmed data.

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