SpaceX, also known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is a well known private manufacturer of spacecraft and service provider of space transport in America. With its headquarters in Hawthorne, California, this company was founded by Elon Musk in the year 2002 with the aim of minimising the expenses of space transportation. Another objective of Musk, also the founder of Tesla Motors, was to start this company to promote the chances of Mars colonisation.
Ever since, its formation, the company has exhibited launches of several successful space launch vehicles and rockets. Falcon launch vehicle series and Dragon spacecraft series are the most popular developments of this aerospace company. The company is coming forward with amazing SpaceX designs for a series of spacecraft in 2018 and the coming years.
History: Much before its actual foundation in 2002, in 2001, Elon Musk came up with a project to land a mini experimental greenhouse on Mars to grow plants. However, unable to find affordable rockets from NASA, he returned empty-handed, and this is where he realised the need to build his affordable missiles for this project. After doing all the financial calculations about the raw materials, he started up with the smallest orbital rocket.
It was then in 2002 that Musk got assistance from Tim Mueller, a rocket engineer to create the planned rocket for the soon to be named company SpaceX. Finally, the company was founded and had a staff strength of about only 160 in 2006. The company had officially had over 40 space launches by the year 2012, and many more SpaceX designs were lined up to launch in future.
Objectives: Musk initiated this aerospace company with an aim to reduce the cost of accessing space with unique spacecraft and launch pads. However, the company kept changing the central objective time to time. For instance, in 2013, the aim was to make a rapidly reusable launch system. Later, in 2014, the objective is to develop reliable lift products for space.
In the year 2011, during an interview, Musk revealed the company’s goal to send humans to the surface of Mars in a span of 10 to 20 years. Later in 2013, SpaceX used the Mars Colonial Transporter descriptor to fund the development project and also to build rocket engines, space capsules and launch vehicle systems for humans to travel to Mars and back to Earth.
Achievements: Space Exploration Technologies Corp. has achieved many new milestones in the world of space technology ever since its foundation. The list of SpaceX’s accomplishments starts with the launch of first privately funded rocket – Falcon 1 Flight 4 – running on liquid fuel in September 2008. The launch of Falcon 9 Flight 2 was the first successful launch in orbit to recover a spacecraft by the first privately funded aerospace company.
Later in May 2012, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Flight 3 got all the limelight for being a spacecraft travelling to the International Space Station by the first-ever privately funded company. Falcon 9 Flight 7, on the other hand, was the company’s first attempt to send a satellite in geosynchronous orbit, while Falcon 9 Flight 20 was the company’s first orbital rocket’s experience on land. Falcon 9 Flight 23 achieved the milestone of landing on an ocean platform, while Falcon 9 Flight 35 was the first time when SpaceX flighted a commercial cargo spacecraft.
Obstacles: Every successful journey is marked with a set of barriers too, and this holds true in case of SpaceX’s mission of achievements. Time and again, the developers at this well-known company faced setbacks. For instance, in 2013, the famous Dragon spacecraft was found with some issues in its thrusters, when in orbit. In spite of several attempts by the experts, the shuttle was unable to control itself correctly, and as a result, landed on the International Space Station one day after its expected arrival.In the year 2015, within 2 minutes of Dragon capsule launch on Falcon 9, loss of helium pressure was detected, and the spacecraft exploded in its second stage.
In the year 2016, a similar explosion of Falcon 9 took place right there during an operation to fill fuel. With this explosion, the company lost its $200 million valued Spacecom Amos-6 communications satellite.
1. Headquarters & Manufacturing Unit: Currently, the headquarters of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. located in Hawthorne, California in a three-story large building built by Northrop Corporation. This large facility was built to house together with the office space of SpaceX along with its vehicle factory and mission control units. Due to its size, this headquarters counted amongst the most significant aerospace headquarters in the whole US.
In fact, this particular facility also houses campuses of various satellite building companies like Raytheon, the well-known Jet Propulsion Lab of NASA, BAE Systems, AECOM and Northrop Grumman. It is here at these headquarters, where the experts from SpaceX develop not just spacecraft but rocket engines, rocket stages, and principal avionics.
2. Development & Test Facility: On the other hand, all the rocket development and test facility of the company done in McGregor, Texas. It is here that all the rocket engines created by the company tested on their rocket test stands. Even flight testing is conducted here for Falcon 9 launch vehicles.
Over the years, the company has improved this development and test facility that was once bought by Beal Aerospace. Later, in 2011, SpaceX revealed its plan to upgrade this facility to make it apt for the launch testing of a VTVL rocket.
Spacecraft & Hardware for Flights: At the moment, the company founded by Musk engaged in manufacturing two main classes of rocket engines including Merlin engines capable of running on kerosene fuel and Draco or SuperDraco Vernier Thrusters capable of running on hypergolic fuel. Merlin engines comprise of two primary vehicles for space launches including the Falcon 9 and the bulky Falcon Heavy. On the other hand, the company is also manufacturing Dragon and Dragon 2 spacecraft as part of its latest developments for spacecraft and flight hardware.
Company’s Aerospace Engines and Systems:
1. Rocket Engines:
Ever since its foundation in 2002, SpaceX has brought forward three generations of rocket engines including Merlin and Kestrel, both for propulsion of launch vehicles and Draco Control Thrusters. The entire Falcon launch vehicle family depends on Merlin for proper execution of planned missions. The other one is the LOX/RP-1 pressure fed rocket engine called Kestrel, which used RCS or reaction control system thrusters for the Dragon spacecraft.
On the other hand, with an aim to use monomethyl hydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidiser, Dracos are brilliant hypergolic liquid propelled rocket engines developed by SpaceX. Draco thrusters also produced a more powerful version called SuperDraco engines. Then, there are the latest Raptor engines designed to work on methane-fuelled combustion cycles.
2. Falcon Launch Vehicles:
The company’s entire fleet of spacecraft and launch vehicles is incomplete without the mention of its popular Falcon launch vehicles. It was since 2010 that all the critical missions from SpaceX had conducted on Falcon 9. It is a medium-lift vehicle capable of carrying up to 22,800 kilograms of weight to the earth’s orbit. As per a data received in 2017, Falcon 9 has made about 30 missions with success including two failures.
SpaceX also developed Falcon 1 as a small rocket that was capable of depositing hundreds of kilograms in the lower earth orbit. It was an early testing launch vehicle produced by the company before several other concepts clicked. Between 2006 and 2009, Falcon 1 made about five attempts, but it was only during the 4th attempt when it could finally reach the orbit.
Now, the emphasis is on developing the super-heavy version of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle by the name called Falcon Heavy. This one will be a massive lift launch vehicle to carry up to 24,681 kilograms in the earth’s orbit.
3. Dragon Capsules:
This American aerospace company also planned to enter a commercial space program in 2005 and Dragon Capsule was part of it only. The first Dragon capsule was designed to carry up to seven astronauts or carrying cargo in orbit and even beyond in the space. Later, the company also used this same capsule to demonstrate cargo resupply and crew transportation to space.
In 2017, the company launched Dragon 2 in a test flight to the ISS or International Space Station. Now, in 2018, the company aims to start a crewed Dragon 2 with US astronauts to the ISS. Apart from this, the company has separate plans for its Mars mission that seems to comprise of Red Dragon, which will be a low-cost trans-Martian injection vehicle to be developed by 2022.
4. Interplanetary Transport System:
As part of its plan to establish a super heavy lift launch vehicle, Space Exploration Technologies Corp.is developing an ITS launch vehicle. This vehicle is expected to feature an entire booster stage and will be a complete integrated second stage spacecraft capable of conducting interplanetary space missions.
Raptor too was part of this interplanetary transport system that first unveiled in 2009. However, later in 2012, Musk revealed the company’s new methodology for propulsion by developing LOX or methane-based engines both for the main as well as upper stages. Moreover, in an interview, Musk expressed his interest in developing something for travelling to Mars for human colonisation by the year 2025. He aims high and believes that by 2035, many rockets will fly to Mars to take people up there for human settlement.
5. Reusable Launch System:
Up next in the most talked about SpaceX designs comes the reusable launch system that first announced in 2011. Its designing phase got over in 2012 with the low-speed concept of landing technology. F9R Dev or Falcon 9 Reusable Developed Vehicles and Grasshopper that demonstrated vertical takeoffs and landings were the company’s experimental reusable rockets.
In 2013, the company started testing with the booster atmospheric return technology, and the testing went on until 2016. Finally, SpaceX achieved a successful method of reusing the first stage of its first rocket, Falcon 9 with propulsive vertical landings on proper solid surfaces. Now, the aim is to make modifications to set the sea as the target for the reusable returning first stage vehicles.
Launching Facilities: At the moment, SpaceX has three operating orbital launch facilities, including one at Vandenberg, the second one at Cape Canaveral and the third one at Kennedy Space Center. Moreover, the company has recently announced its plans to start a launch site at Brownsville, Texas. The officials at the company also firmly believe that they look forward to a great launch business for each of these sites in the future.
All the launchings of payloads in the polar orbits are done by the company’s Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E). The same site is also capable of launching the latest Falcon Heavy and the ever famous Falcon 9. However, the site is not yet able to start any vehicle to lower orbits.
2. Cape Canaveral:
Almost all the Falcon 9 launches to low Earth and the first geostationary orbits done from the Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Moreover, the formerly referred as Launch Complex 13 or the now renamed as Landing Zone 1 used for the first stage booster landings of Falcon 9.
3. Kennedy Space Center:
Since 2013, Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A or (LC39A) has been in the developing phase by the company. Moreover, later when NASA expressed its wish to choose SpaceX as its new commercial partner, it was then that Musk thought to shift a majority of launches like crew missions and commercial cargo for NASA to this developing site. Building up a new hanger somewhere around this site is also one of the necessary plans for the future revealed by the company.
Finally, in 2014, the officials from Space Exploration Technologies Corp. announced the company’s plan to build a unique site at Brownsville, Texas for launching only commercial spacecraft. In 2014, itself, the company began working on this new facility and expected to finish with the first launches from it by the end of 2018.
Satellite Prototyping: In the year 2015, the company proudly announced that it would soon enter the business of satellite production and internet business for global satellites. SpaceX’s satellite factory will be built in Seattle, Washington and will hire about 60 talented engineers to work on the innovative SpaceX designs. Later in 2016, this aerospace company further acquired 740sq.mt of creative space in Irvine, California to work majorly on all means of communications with satellites.
Research & Development: By and large, we have acquainted you with all things about spacecraft and flight hardware as well as test and development facilities of this prestigious space travel company. The company puts the significant focus on developing reusable launch vehicles, a network of global telecommunications and an interplanetary transport system.
During GPU Technology Conference held in 2015, the company revealed its computational fluid dynamics or CFD software designed to enhance the simulation capability for evaluating the combustion designs of rocket engines. Continuous research and development through the latest space technologies conducted at different sites of the company.
Various Successful Launch Contracts: Time and again NASA has given appealing contracts to SpaceX for developing space technology to resupply to the ISS or International Space Station. Apart from this, the company founded by Musk has been certified for the US military space launches of EELV payloads or Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle category payloads.
Moreover, in 2013, this company was given a commercial launch mission of launching about 23 missions in 4 years. Last year in 2017, the company revealed that the company has a list of 60 tasks on its manifest costing to over $7B in the contract. Besides, the following were a list of deals given to this company excelling in space technology.
1. NASA Contracts:
a. COTS: SpaceX got a COTS or Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract from NASA in 2006 to put up an example of how cargo can deliver to the ISS. The deal fetched the company about $278 million that wisely invested in developing the famous Falcon 9 spacecraft. Later COTS Demo Flight 1 and Flight 2 were launched in 2010 and 2012 respectively, and SpaceX became the first ever private company not just to start but orbit and even recover a spacecraft with success.
b. Commercial Cargo: Between 2008 and 2016, NASA gave a series of contracts called CRS or Commercial Resupply Services to this company. 12 missions to resupply ISS planned under this contract, and all these missions fetched the company a whopping $1.6 billion. Later the second phase of the similar deal was proposed in 2014.
c. Commercial Crew: CCDev or the Commercial Crew Development Program launched with an aim to design spacecraft with commercial operation to transport astronauts to the ISS. Although the company was unable to win the agreement in the first round, the tables turned in the second round, and the company fetched the contract worth $75 million to invest in developing a launch escape system and progress in designing a spacecraft for crew transportation.
2. Commercial Contracts: In the year 2010, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was contracted by SES SA, to launch a telecommunication satellite SES-8 and it successfully started it in 2013. In fact, it was the company’s debut launch in a geostationary comsat. In 2010 itself, the company won the biggest commercial launch contract worth $492 million for launching Iridium satellites through its Falcon 9 launch vehicles.
3. Defence Contracts: United States Air Force awarded this company with an IDIQ contract or Indefinite Delivery and Indefinite Quantity contract for its RSS or Responsive Small Spacelift services in 2005. In 2008, NASA gave an IDIQ contract to the same company worth $1billion. Later in 2012, the company proudly revealed its first two contracts for launches with the United States Department of Defense. Year after year, the company managed to bag notable launch contracts from the United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center for missions like Space Test Program 2 or STP-2 and Deep Space Climate Observatory or DSCOVR.
Zuma Mission: Recently, SpaceX launched a military satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on January 7th, 2018. Secretly referred to as the Zuma, this mission was expected to launch Zuma spacecraft from a two-stage rocket Falcon 9 to enhance maximum reliability and reduce the cost of satellite transport.
However, later failing to receive any latest reports from its Strategic Command that is capable of monitoring over 23,000 satellites in space, speculations are high that Zuma mission was a failure. Moreover, experts believe that somewhere in the middle, the spacecraft got lost and crashed into the sea. Although Musk or NASA have officially revealed nothing, rumours say that the probe had a malfunctioning in its latter stages and finally collapsed.
On the other hand, the company’s officials revealed that Zuma mission was a partial success because at least it successfully landed the first stage of the rocket for reuse in a launch in the future. The spokesperson revealed that it speculated that somehow the Zuma was not able to separate itself entirely from the second stage.
Iridium-4 NEXT Mission: Last year on December 22nd, 2017, SpaceX successfully ended with its Iridium-4 NEXT Mission by deploying ten new Iridium-NEXT communication satellites. It considered as the fourth group of such communication satellites in Iridium-NEXT constellation stationed at the low Earth orbit. Built in partnership with Thales Alenia Space and Orbital ATK, the Iridium-NEXT satellites first deployed between 1997 and 2002.
Falcon 9 rocket used for this mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base situated in California. A proper backup prepared beforehand but everything went well, and the launch conducted with success. A total of 81 such payloads will be tested by the Iridium and Thales Alenia Space Company and 75 out of them will be finally launched by Musk’s company by mid of 2018. In the recent mission held in 2017, only ten started. The remaining satellites will be launched on eight other Falcon 9 launch vehicles.
During this mission, the launch vehicle was not fitted with any landing legs but ideally supported with grid fins. Indicated that the company aimed to attempt to guide a stage for a controlled ocean landing further. The same technique was used earlier in many Falcon 9 missions for test landings. Moreover, it speculated that this Iridium-4 NEXT Mission was another attempt by the company to recover the fairing for a rocket payload.
BFR & Mission to Mars: With an aim to make life multi-planetary, Musk initiated the Mission to Mars. Musk aimed to update a SpaceX design under its latest BFR spacecraft as a medium to serve different planets. BFR that is an acronym for Big Falcon Rocket mainly comprises of a 31 engine rocket with a capability of carrying about 100 people or even more to space. It will be a reusable, economical feasible vehicle to enhance the chances of Mars colonisation.
If everything goes well, this updated spacecraft design will be able to cater to the orbits of Earth as well as Mars. It is expected to design with a single system comprising just one ship and one booster. With such a fantastic design, it might even replace the famous Falcon 9, Dragon and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles.
On the other hand, as part of the Mission to Mars, Musk aims to send the first cargo in 2022. The primary goal of this highly anticipated mission will be to confirm the presence of water resources and detect potential hazards of mining, placing power and installing life-supporting infrastructure on Mars. After that, the second mission will be to send both a crew and a cargo in 2024 to build a propellant depot as well as to make preparations for crew flights in the future. Ultimately, if everything goes well as planned, Elon Musk hopes to start a civilisation and a living city up there on planet Mars.
According to the information revealed by SpaceX officials, BFR will be made to enter the atmosphere of Mars at high speed of 7.5km per second, which will gradually decelerate. Perhaps, this is the reason that the head shield of BFR has designed with a material capable withstanding multiple entries. To generate funds BFR mission to Mars, the company might even redirect resources from Dragon, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles.
Moreover, the company also aims to use BFR for the earth to earth transportation and not to restrict itself to multi-planetary transit. In just about half an hour, most of the long-distance journeys across the planet will be conducted using BFR rocket. However, the mission in this rocket will be a great matter of affordability for those who will be interested.
Upcoming Missions & Future Prospects:
1. Falcon Heavy Rocket Launch with Tesla Roadster on Mars:
Up next as part of the forthcoming space missions of the company, Musk is going to send his own personal Tesla Roadster battery operated car aboard a Falcon Heavy Rocket to planet Mars. Yes, SpaceX’s new super-heavy spacecraft Falcon Heavy will be launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center to land a Tesla Roadster on Mars in the first quarter of 2018.
Elon Musk himself revealed that the debut flight of Falcon Heavy would carry his own company’s Tesla Motors vehicle to the Martian orbit. For those of you who are not aware of what Tesla Roadster is all about, let is inform that it the latest and the quickest car of the world capable of accelerating with a record-setting of accelerating from 0 to 60mph in just 1.9 seconds. Roadster Designed to perform effortlessly on a set of batteries, this car features an elegant removable glass roof for an equivalent driving experience.
Moreover, this will be no ordinary Tesla Roadster, but Musk’s car and many believe that the chances are high that the rocket carrying this four-seater sports car may even blow up in the middle. However, if the launch goes successfully, it will turn out to be the first car to land on any other planet like Mars and will be seen as a great piece of achievement for the entire human civilisation living on planet Earth.
2. Citizen Landing on Moon Aboard Dragon 2 Spacecraft:
Next big mission drafted by Musk, the man behind SpaceX or Space Exploration Technologies Corporation is to send two private citizens around the moon aboard the company’s Dragon 2 capsule in the year 2018 itself. Moreover, the company has already chosen those two citizens to sent to the planet for this mission.
It is going to be the first human trip to deep space in the last 45 years, and at the same time, it is speculated to be launched by the same old Apollo programme launching pad that was used in 1969 for the first time human landing on Moon. If everything goes as planned, then this will turn out to be the first record-breaking mission to send a human life this far in the solar system in the fastest way.
The primary aim of this mission is to carve out a stepping stone for human transport to planet Mars in the coming decade. What he ultimately wishes is to make a colony of live people on the red planet. With this aim in mind, he has already embarked upon a mission that is expected to finalise by 2020. Furthermore, not just Musk but the current US President Donald Trump too has expressed his wish to send human beings up there to Mars by 2030 and setting this as a goal, NASA has charted out a two-decade plan to send human beings to Mars.
3. Four Rocket Launches in February 2018:
Although everyone has been waiting with bated breath for the launch of Falcon Heavy that has got delayed for some reason, the company has something else on its mind. According to the latest inside leaks from the company, SpaceX is aiming to launch three or maybe four space missions in February 2018. For this, two geostationary communication satellites have already parked at Cape Canaveral Facility in Florida, and the third one is presumed to stationed on the West Coast of Vandenberg Air Force Base.
GovSat-1 or SES-16 –NET weighing about 4000kg is going to launch in orbit in late January on a Falcon 9 space vehicle. The second one in the row of these expected launched from the company will be PAZ commercial imagine satellite developed to provide high-resolution images of Earth from a low polar orbit of about 500km. This mission is expected to launch on a Falcon 9 booster on February 10th, 2018.
Then, there are rumours for satellites to launch in a Starlink constellation in February 2018. More details regarding Starlink and PAZ to carry Microsat 2A and 2B test satellites are still to be fetched by the officials. However, we speculate these launched to mark the debut starting from the company’s Western landing pad also known as the SLC-4 West.
Finally, line up for grand space launch in mid- February 2018 is the Hispasat 30W-6(1F) commercial communication satellite weighing approximately 6000kg. Conducted aboard a new Falcon 9 spacecraft. The aim here will be to place the first stage of this satellite in a geostationary transfer orbit, while the booster will then head for a landing at sea after accomplishing its complete task. If everything goes well as planned, this will be the first new booster to expand the company’s list of achievements in 2018.
Calendar for SpaceX Launches and Missions:
1. Musk aims to launch the company’s very first unmanned private mission to Mars in May 2018.
2. Up next in 2020, SpaceX will schedule for the second unmanned mission to the red planet, Mars.
3. In 2024, the company aims to launch its very first manned mission to Mars in its innovative ITS or Interplanetary Transport System Project.
4. Lastly, the much awaited Falcon Heavy Rocket will be launched at a still to be decided date in future.
Stay tuned to get the latest updates about the ongoing and upcoming missions and launches of SpaceX.