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Title: SpaceX  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Dragon Spacecraft Qualification Unit, Dragon C2+, SpaceX CRS-3, Red Dragon (spacecraft), SpaceX COTS Demo Flight 1
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Type Private
Industry Aerospace
Founded 2002
Founders Elon Musk
Headquarters Hawthorne, California, USA
Key people Elon Musk (Founder, CEO and Chief Designer)
Gwynne Shotwell (President and COO)[1][2]
Tom Mueller (VP of Propulsion)[3]
Services Orbital rocket launch
Employees 4,000 (Oct 2014)[4]
Website .comSpaceX

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is a space transport services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. SpaceX was founded with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars. It has developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles, both of which were designed from conception to eventually become reusable. SpaceX also developed the Dragon spacecraft, which are flown into orbit by the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, initially transporting cargo and later planned to carry humans to the International Space Station and other destinations.

Historic achievements by SpaceX, among others, include the first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket (Falcon 1) to reach orbit on 28 September 2008; the first privately funded company to successfully launch (by Falcon 9), orbit and recover a spacecraft (Dragon) on 9 December 2010; and the first private company to send a spacecraft (Dragon) to the International Space Station on 25 May 2012.[5] SpaceX launched their first satellite into geosynchronous orbit on 3 December 2013.

In order to control quality and costs, SpaceX designs, tests and fabricates the majority of its components in-house, including the Merlin, Kestrel, and Draco rocket engines used on the Falcon launch vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft. This has allowed SpaceX to offer one of the lowest launch prices in the industry and to significantly reduce conventional rocket development time.. In November 2013, the French company Arianespace which is the market leader in commercial launches, said that it would take a flexible approach to pricing for the "lighter satellites" it carries to geostationary orbits aboard its Ariane 5 because of pressure from SpaceX.[6]

In 2006, NASA awarded the company a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract to design and demonstrate a launch system to resupply cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX, as of April 2014 has flown four missions to the ISS.[7] NASA has also awarded SpaceX a contract to develop and demonstrate a human-rated Dragon as part of its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program to transport crew to the ISS. SpaceX is planning its first crewed Dragon/Falcon 9 flight in 2016, when it expects to have a fully certified, human-rated launch escape system incorporated into the spacecraft. Besides NASA contracts, SpaceX has signed contracts with private sector companies, non-American government agencies and the American military for its launch services, filling a growing launch manifest. As of November 2014, it has already launched twelve Falcon 9 rockets and has at least 30 planned future launches for clients.[8]


The company's headquarters, located in Hawthorne, California.

Founding and growth

SpaceX was founded in June 2002 by PayPal and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk, because he wanted to do more with his wealth than just retire or do philanthropy. He thought cheap reliable access to space was a market opportunity that could be exploited in the United States if the duopoly that Boeing and Lockheed Martin held on federal government contracts could be broken. His vision was to build a simple and relatively inexpensive reusable rocket that would go into space multiple times, similar to the turn around time capabilities that commercial airliners currently exhibit. Ultimately, he wanted to reduce the cost of space travel by a factor of ten. By March 2006, Musk had invested US$100 million of his own money into the company.[9]

On 4 August 2008, SpaceX accepted a further $20 million investment from the Founders Fund.[10] In early 2012, approximately two-thirds of the company was owned by its founder[11] and his 70 million shares were then estimated to be worth $875 million on private markets,[12] which roughly valued SpaceX at $1.3 billion as of February 2012.[13] After the COTS 2+ flight in May 2012, the company private equity valuation nearly doubled to $2.4 billion.[14][15]

In 2012, an initial public offering (IPO) was perceived as possible by the end of 2013,[16] but then Musk stated in June 2013 that he planned to hold off any potential IPO until after the "Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly."[17]

The company has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2002, growing from 160 employees in November 2005 to more than 500 by July 2008, to over 1,100 in 2010,[18][19] 1800 in early 2012,[20] and 3000 by early 2013.[21] By October 2013, the company had grown to 3,800 employees and contractors.[22]

In January 2005, SpaceX bought a 10% stake in Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd.[23]

On 16 June 2009, SpaceX announced the opening of its Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance Department. It hired former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox to oversee the department as a vice president of the company.[24] However, it has since been reported that the former astronaut subsequently left SpaceX in late 2011. No reason was given and no replacement in that position has been announced.[25]


SpaceX is a privately funded space transportation company.[26] It developed its first launch vehicle—Falcon 1—and three rocket enginesMerlin, Kestrel, and Draco—completely with private capital. SpaceX contracted with the US government for a portion of the development funding for the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, which uses a modified version of the Merlin rocket engine.[26] SpaceX is developing the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, the Raptor methane-fueled rocket engine, and a set of reusable launch vehicle technologies with private capital.

As of May 2012, SpaceX had operated on total funding of approximately $1 billion in its first ten years of operation. Of this, private equity provided about $200M, with Musk investing approximately $100M and other investors having put in about $100M (Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, ...).[27] The remainder has come from progress payments on long-term launch contracts and development contracts. As of April 2012, NASA had put in about $400–500M of this amount, with most of that as progress payments on launch contracts.[28] By May 2012, SpaceX had contracts for 40 launch missions, and each of those contracts provide down payments at contract signing, plus many are paying progress payments as launch vehicle components are built in advance of mission launch, driven in part by US accounting rules for recognizing long-term revenue.[28]

In August 2012, SpaceX signed a large development contract with NASA to design and develop a crew-carrying space capsule for the "next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities", in order to re-enable the launch of astronauts from U.S. soil by 2017. Two other companies, Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation, received similar development contracts. Advances made by all three companies under Space Act Agreements through NASA's Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap) initiative are intended to ultimately lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for both government and commercial customers. As part of this agreement, SpaceX was awarded a contract worth up to $440 million for contract deliverables between 2012 and May 2014.[29][30]

At year-end 2012, SpaceX had over 40 launches on its manifest representing about $4 billion in contract revenue—with many of those contracts already making progress payments to SpaceX—with both commercial and government (NASA/DOD) customers.[31] As of December 2013, SpaceX has a total of 50 future launches under contract, two-thirds of them are for commercial customers.[32][33] In late 2013, space industry media began to comment on the phenomenon that SpaceX prices are undercutting the major competitors in the commercial commsat launch market—the Ariane 5 and Proton[34]—at which time SpaceX had at least 10 further geostationary orbit flights on its books.[33]

A small US$50–200 million funding round is being floated as of April 2014.[35]


Musk believes the high prices of other space-launch services are driven in part by unnecessary bureaucracy. He has stated that one of his goals is to improve the cost and reliability of access to space, ultimately by a factor of ten.[36] SpaceX became the first private company to both successfully launch and return a spacecraft from orbit on 8 December 2010, after its Dragon capsule returned from a two-orbit flight.[37] Space Foundation recognized SpaceX for its successful Dragon launch and recovery with the Space Achievement Award in 2011.[38]

At various conferences, SpaceX has revealed concept slides for future engine, stage, and launch vehicle designs. Development of these designs would be predicated on demand for increased performance. Company plans in 2004 called for "development of a heavy lift product and even a super-heavy, if there is customer demand" with each size increase resulting in a significant decrease in cost per pound to orbit. CEO Elon Musk said: "I believe $500 per pound ($1,100/kg) or less is very achievable."[39]

Elon Musk has stated the personal goal of eventually enabling human exploration and settlement of Mars.[40] He stated in a 2011 interview that he hopes to send humans to Mars' surface within 10–20 years.[40] In June 2013, Musk used the descriptor Mars Colonial Transporter to refer to the privately funded development project to design and build a spaceflight system of rocket engines, launch vehicles and space capsules to transport humans to Mars and return to Earth,[17] and the new SpaceX launch facility at Boca Chica TX uses Mars-themed names for the real estate packages.[41] In March 2014, COO Gwynne Shotwell said that once the Falcon Heavy and Dragon v2 crew version are flying, the focus for the company engineering team will be on developing the technology to support the transport infrastructure necessary for Mars missions.[42]

Future products that are in development include the Falcon Heavy launch system, a full set of reusable launch vehicle technologies intended for use on both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, and a new liquid-methane-based rocket engine. The Falcon Heavy is based on Falcon 9 technology, and when completed, it will be the most powerful rocket in the world since the Apollo-era Saturn V. Falcon Heavy can be used to send a crewed Dragon spacecraft on lunar orbiting missions – such as the Apollo 8 mission; or be used to send a modified unpiloted Dragon on a Mars landing mission.[43] Musk has stated that his intention for the company is to help in the creation of a permanent human presence on Mars.


Headquarters and rocket manufacturing plant

SpaceX Headquarters is located in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne at 1 Rocket Road, Hawthorne, California. The large facility, formerly used to build Boeing 747 fuselages, houses SpaceX's office space, mission control, and vehicle factory. The area has one of the largest concentrations of aerospace headquarters, facilities, and/or subsidiaries in the U.S., including Boeing/McDonnell Douglas main satellite building campuses, Raytheon, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, BAE, Northrop Grumman, and AECOM, etc., with a large pool of aerospace engineers and recent college engineering graduates. Many of the original NASA space shuttles were built and/or designed in the area, and the Los Angeles International Airport is also located in the vicinity. [44]

SpaceX utilizes a high degree of vertical integration in the production of its rockets and rocket engines. Unusual for the aerospace industry, SpaceX builds its rocket engines, rocket stages, spacecraft, principal avionics and all software in-house in their Hawthorne facility. Nevertheless, SpaceX still has over 3000 suppliers with some 1100 of those delivering to SpaceX nearly weekly.[45]

SpaceX opened an office in the Seattle region in 2014 and is heavily recruiting engineers and software developers to staff it.[46]

Test and post-flight disassembly facilities

SpaceX has two rocket test facilities: the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas and a leased VTVL (vertical takeoff, vertical landing) test facility at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico. All SpaceX rocket engines are tested on rocket test stands, and low-altitude VTVL flight testing of the Falcon 9 Grasshopper v1.0 test vehicle are done at McGregor. High-altitude, high-velocity flight testing of Grasshopper v1.1 are planned to be done at Spaceport America. In addition, the McGregor facility is used for post-flight disassembly and defueling of the Dragon spacecraft.

The company purchased the McGregor, Texas, testing facilities of defunct Beal Aerospace, where it refitted the largest test stand at the facilities for Falcon 9 engine testing. SpaceX has made a number of improvements to the facility since purchase, and has also extended the size of the facility by purchasing several pieces of adjacent farmland. In 2011, the company announced plans to upgrade the facility for launch testing a VTVL rocket,[47] and then constructed a half-acre concrete launch facility in 2012 to support the Grasshopper test flight program.[48]

SpaceX McGregor engine test bunker, September 2012

SpaceX builds all of its rocket engines and thrusters at its main facility in Hawthorne, CA where the largest SpaceX campus is located, and where most of the high-technology components are engineered. A test facility in McGregor, TX is one of the secondary locations where the company tests each new engine off of the assembly line, as well as those being developed for future missions to orbit and beyond"[49] before each one can be used on a flight mission. As of October 2012, the McGregor facility has seven test stands that are operated "18 hours a day, six days a week"[49] and is building more test stands because production is ramping up and the company has a large manifest in the next several years.

The Dragon spacecraft, following use on a space mission, splashdown and recovery, are shipped to McGregor for de-fueling, cleanup, and refurbishment for potential reuse in future flight missions.

In May 2013, SpaceX announced that the high-altitude, high-velocity flight test program of Grasshopper v1.1—the second-generation of the SpaceX experimental VTVL suborbital technology-demonstrator—would be conducted at Spaceport America near Las Cruces, New Mexico. SpaceX signed a three-year lease with the spaceport.[50][51] and has constructed a 30 by 30 metres (98 ft × 98 ft) pad at Spaceport America, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) southwest of the spaceport's main campus. It will lease the pad for US$6,600 per month plus US$25,000 per Grasshopper flight. The spaceport administrator expects SpaceX to be operational at the Spaceport sometime between October 2013 and February 2014, and that is the time that the lease payments will begin.[51][52]

Flight operations

The first Falcon 1 at Vandenberg AFB. This vehicle was removed from VAFB due to delays and eventually launched from Kwajalein.

SpaceX currently uses two orbital launch sites—Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Space Launch Complex 4—and have announced plans for two more. SpaceX has indicated that they see a niche for each of the four orbital facilities and that they have sufficient launch business to fill each pad.[53] In addition, SpaceX utilizes two facilities for suborbital launch operations and flight tests, the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas and a high-altitude flight test facility at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Cape Canaveral space launch complex 40 (SLC-40) was used to launch Falcon 9 into low-earth and geostationary orbits, while Vandenberg AFB SLC-4E was used for payloads to polar orbits. The Vandenberg site is also intended for the first Falcon Heavy launch, scheduled in 2014.

All Falcon 1 launches took place at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site, Omelek Island, Kwajalein Atoll, Marshall Islands (northern Pacific Ocean). SpaceX abandoned Omelek when the Falcon 1 was retired.

New commercial-only launch site

After considering potential locations including [56] and Puerto Rico,[57] on August 4, 2014 Texas Governor Rick Perry and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced SpaceX selected a location near Brownsville, Texas for a new commercial-only launch facility.[58]

The proposed location for the new commercial-mission-only spaceport is in south Texas near Brownsville.[59] The FAA released the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Texas facility in April 2013, and "found that 'no impacts would occur' that would force the Federal Aviation Administration to deny SpaceX a permit for rocket operations,"[60][60] and issued the permit in July 2014.[61] SpaceX expects to start construction on the new launch facility no earlier than 2014, with the first launches from the facility no earlier than 2016.[62] Real estate packages at the location have been named by SpaceX with names based on the theme "Mars Crossing."[41]

Crewed-mission leased launch site

As of December 2013, SpaceX has entered negotiations to lease Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, following NASA's decision to lease the unused complex out as part of a bid to reduce annual operation and maintenance costs.[63] The SpaceX bid is for exclusive use of the launch complex to support their future crewed missions. A competing bid for commercial use of the launch complex was submitted by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, who was bidding for a shared non-exclusive use of the complex such that the launchpad can interface with multiple vehicles, and costs can be shared over the long term. One potential shared user in the Blue Origin notional plan was United Launch Alliance.[64]

Corporate governance

As of February 2014, SpaceX is governed as a corporation by the following individuals:

  • Elon Musk - CEO & Chief Designer[65]
  • Gwynne Shotwell - President & COO[65]
  • Bulent Altan - Vice President of Avionics
  • Tim Buzza - Vice President of Launch and Test[65]
  • Adam Harris - Vice President of Government Sales[65]
  • James Henderson - Vice President of Quality Assurance[65]
  • Tim Hughes - Senior Vice President and General Counsel[65]
  • Bret Johnsen - Chief Financial Officer[65]
  • Mark Juncosa - Vice President of Structures[65]
  • Dr. Hans Koenigsmann - Vice President of Mission Assurance[65]
  • Andy Lambert - Vice President of Production[65]
  • Barry Matsumori - Vice President of Commercial Sales and Business Development[65]
  • Tom Mueller - Vice President of Propulsion Development[65]
  • Jeff Perkins - Vice President of Human Resources[65]
  • Robert Reagan - Vice President of Machining[65]
  • Marv Vander Weg - Vice President of EELV Customer Office[65]
  • Ken Venner - Chief Information Officer[65]

In addition, SpaceX is governed by the following members of its board of directors:

NASA collaborations

Commercial cargo contracts

The COTS 2 Dragon is berthed to the ISS by Canadarm2

On 18 August 2006, NASA announced that SpaceX had won a NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract to demonstrate cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS) with a possible option for crew transport. [69] This contract, designed by NASA to provide "seed money" for development of new boosters, paid SpaceX $278 million to develop the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, with incentive payments paid at milestones culminating in three demonstration launches. [70] In December 2008 SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation each won a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract. That of SpaceX is for at least 12 missions for $1.6 billion to carry supplies and cargo to and from the ISS. [71] On 9 December 2010, the launch of the COTS Demo Flight 1 mission, SpaceX became the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft.

The original NASA contract called for the COTS Demo Flight 1 to occur the second quarter of 2008;[72] this flight was delayed several times, occurring at 15:43 UTC on 8 December 2010.[73] Dragon was successfully deployed into orbit, circling the Earth twice, and then made a controlled reentry burn that put it on target for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Mexico.[74] With Dragon's safe recovery, SpaceX become the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft; prior to this mission, only government agencies had been able to recover orbital spacecraft.[74]

According to the original schedule, in COTS Demo Flight 2 the Dragon spacecraft would make its second flight and would rendezvous with the ISS but not be berthed. The third flight would see Dragon being berthed to the ISS.[72] However, after the success of the first mission, NASA conditionally agreed on 15 July 2011 that the two flights would be combined, and the next Dragon mission was to have Dragon being berthed with the ISS.[75] On 9 December 2011, NASA formally approved the merger of the COTS 2 and 3 missions into the COTS 2 flight, but yet again delayed the tentative launch date by another month to 7 February 2012.[76] However, on 16 January 2012, SpaceX announced it needed more time for engineering tests, and postponed the launch date again, with no replacement date initially announced.[77] On 19 May at approximately 4:55AM EDT the launch for the COTS 2+ mission was automatically aborted when the pressure in one of the engine chambers was higher than expected. The COTS Demo Flight 2 launch was postponed to 22 May 2012, at which point it succeeded in putting the Dragon spacecraft into orbit. Several days later, the Dragon capsule successfully berthed with the International Space Station, marking the first time that a private spacecraft had accomplished this feat.[78][79]

Commercial crew contracts

SpaceX is planning a crewed Dragon/Falcon 9 flight in future years when it expects to have a fully certified, human-rated launch escape system incorporated into the spacecraft.[80] NASA's Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program intends to develop commercially operated manned spacecraft that are capable of delivering crew to the ISS. SpaceX did not participate during the first round, however during the second round of the program NASA awarded SpaceX with a contract worth $75 million to further develop their launch escape system, test a crew accommodations mock-up and to further progress the Falcon 9/Dragon crew transportation design.[81][82] SpaceX later submitted a proposal for the third round of the CCDev program which became Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap).[83]

On August 3, 2012, NASA announced new agreements with SpaceX and two other companies to design and develop the next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities, enabling a launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in the next five years. Advances made by these companies under newly signed Space Act Agreements through the agency's CCiCap initiative are intended to ultimately lead to the availability of commercial human spaceflight services for government and commercial customers. As part of this agreement, SpaceX was awarded $440 million, to continue development and testing of its Dragon V2 spacecraft.[84]

On September 16, 2014, NASA chose SpaceX and Boeing as the two companies that will be funded to develop systems to transport U.S. crews to and from the space station. SpaceX won $2.6B to complete and certify Crew Dragon spacecraft by 2017. (Boeing won $4.2B to complete and certify their CST-100.) The contracts include at least one crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut aboard. Once Crew Dragon achieves NASA certification, the contract requires SpaceX to conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station.[85]

"Red Dragon" Mars mission concept

In addition to SpaceX's privately funded plans for an eventual Mars mission, as of July 2011 NASA Ames Research Center had developed a concept for a low-cost Mars mission that would use Falcon Heavy as the launch vehicle and trans-Martian injection vehicle, and the Dragon capsule to enter the Martian atmosphere. The concept, called 'Red Dragon', would be proposed for funding in 2012/2013 as a NASA Discovery mission, for launch in 2018 and arrival at Mars several months later. The science objectives of the mission would be to look for evidence of life — detecting "molecules that are proof of life, like DNA or perchlorate reductase ... proof of life through biomolecules. ... Red Dragon would drill 1.0 meter (3.3 ft) or so underground, in an effort to sample reservoirs of water ice known to lurk under the red dirt." The mission cost was projected to be less than $425,000,000, not including the launch cost.[86]

Other contracts

On 2 May 2005, SpaceX announced that it had been awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for Responsive Small Spacelift (RSS) launch services by the United States Air Force, which could allow the Air Force to purchase up to $100 million worth of launches from the company.[87] On 22 April 2008, NASA announced that it had awarded an IDIQ Launch Services contract to SpaceX for Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launches. The contract will be worth up to $1 billion, depending on the number of missions awarded. The contract covers launch services ordered by 30 June 2010, for launches through December 2012.[88] Musk stated in the same 2008 announcement that SpaceX has sold 14 contracts for flights on the various Falcon vehicles.[88]

In December 2012, SpaceX announced its first two launch contracts with the United States Department of Defense. "The United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center awarded SpaceX two Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class missions:" Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and Space Test Program 2 (STP-2), to be launched in 2014 and 2015, respectively. DSCOVR will be launched on a Falcon 9 launch vehicle while STP-2 will be launched on a Falcon Heavy.[89]

SpaceX announced on 15 March 2010 that it would launch SES-8, a medium-sized communications satellite for SES, on a Falcon 9 vehicle, and it was successfully launched on 3 December 2013.[90] SES was SpaceX's first contract for a geostationary communications satellite launch.[33][90] In June 2010, SpaceX was awarded the largest-ever commercial space launch contract, worth $492 million, to launch Iridium satellites using Falcon 9 rockets.[91]

Launch market competition and pricing pressure

SpaceX's low launch prices, especially for communication satellites flying to geostationary (GTO) orbit, have resulted in market pressure on its competitors to lower their own prices. In recent years, the communications satellites launch market has been dominated by "Europe's Arianespace, which flies the Ariane 5, and International Launch Services (ILS), which markets Russia's Proton vehicle."[92] In November 2013 Arianespace announced new pricing flexibility for the "lighter satellites" it carries to orbits aboard its Ariane 5 in response to SpaceX's growing presence in the worldwide launch market,[6] and followed in early 2014 with a request to European governments for additional subsidies to face the competition from SpaceX.[93]

By late 2013, with a published price of US$56.5 million per launch to low Earth orbit, "Falcon 9 rockets [were] already the cheapest in the industry. Reusable Falcon 9s could drop the price by an order of magnitude, sparking more space-based enterprise, which in turn would drop the cost of access to space still further through economies of scale."[94] Falcon 9 GTO missions 2014 pricing was approximately US$15 million less than a launch on a Chinese Long March 3B.[95]

In April 2014, seven European satellite operator companies—including the four largest in the world by annual revenue—requested the ESA to "find immediate ways to reduce Ariane 5 rocket launch costs and, in the longer term, make the next-generation Ariane 6 vehicle more attractive for smaller telecommunications satellites. ... [C]onsiderable efforts to restore competitiveness in price of the existing European launcher need to be undertaken if Europe is [to] maintain its market situation. In the short term, a more favorable pricing policy for the small satellites currently being targeted by SpaceX seems indispensable to keeping the Ariane launch manifest strong and well-populated."[96] In competitive bids during 2013 and early 2014, SpaceX was winning many launch customers that formerly "would have been all-but-certain clients of Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium, with prices that are $60 million or less."[96]

In June 2014, Arianespace CEO Stephane Israel announced that European efforts to remain competitive in response to SpaceX' recent success have begun in earnest, including the creation of a new joint venture company from Arianespace's two largest shareholders: the launch-vehicle producer Airbus Group and engine-producer Safran. No specific details to become more competitive were released at the time.[97]

In August 2014, Eutelsat, the third-largest fixed satellite services operator worldwide by revenue, indicated that it plans to spend approximately €100 million less each year in the next three years, due to lower prices for launch services and by transitioning their commsats to electric propulsion. They indicated that they are using the lower prices they can get from SpaceX against Arianespace in negotiation for launch contracts.[98] By November 2014, SpaceX had "already begun to take market share"[99] from Arianespace. Eutelsat CEO Michel de Rosen said, in reference to ESA's program to develop the Ariane 6, "Each year that passes will see SpaceX advance, gain market share and further reduce its costs through economies of scale."[99]

In October 2014, the large US launch provider United Launch Alliance announced a major restructuring of processes and workforce in order to decrease launch costs by half. One of the reasons given for the restructuring and new cost reduction goals was competition from SpaceX. ULA has had less "success landing contracts to launch private, commercial communications and earth observation satellites" than it has had with launch US military payloads, but CEO Tory Bruno believes the new lower-cost launcher can be competitive and succeed in the commercial satellite sector.[100]

In the market for launch of US military payloads, ULA faced no competition for the launches for nearly a decade, since the formation of the ULA joint venture from Lockheed Martin and Boeing in 2006. But SpaceX is also upsetting the traditional military space launch arrangement in the US, which has been called a monopoly by space analyst Marco Caceres and criticized by some in the US Congress. In order to do so, SpaceX must be certified by the USAF to launch the expensive satellites which are considered essential to US national security.[101] The decision date on certifying SpaceX is expected in December 2014, as is a separate decision on a contract to launch an NRO "spy satellite," which is due to be awarded by 31 December.[101]

SpaceX has publicly indicated that if they are successful with developing the reusable technology, launch prices in the US$5 to 7 million range for the reusable Falcon 9 are possible.[102]

Commercial and government launch contracts summary

As of January 2013, SpaceX has a purely commercial launch manifest of "23 missions scheduled over the next 4 years, exclusive of US government flights, Dragonlab flights and the anticipated demo flight for Falcon Heavy"—of a total of 40 flights scheduled through 2017.[103] "Somewhat incongruously, its primary US competitor, United Launch Alliance, still maintains that it requires a large annual subsidy, which neither SpaceX nor Orbital Sciences receives, in order to remain financially viable, with the reason cited as a lack of market opportunity, a stance which seems to be in conflict with the market itself."[103]

On 3 December 2013 SpaceX launched its first satellite into geostationary orbit, SES-8, entering the major commercial launch market.[33] SpaceX prices undercut its major competitors, the Ariane 5 and Proton, in this market,[34] and SpaceX has at least 10 further geostationary orbit flights on its books.[33] Moreover, SpaceX prices for Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are much lower than the projected prices for the new Ariane 5 ME upgrade and its Ariane 6 successor, projected to be available in 2018 and 2021, respectively.[104] As of December 2013, SpaceX has a total of 50 future launches under contract, two-thirds of them are for commercial customers.[32]

SpaceX is however making a concerted effort to be able to make competitive bids for US military launches of EELV-class payloads. If the government opens up launches to competition, the earliest EELV launches that could be contracted with SpaceX as of March 2014 would be in late 2016.[105]

Space vehicles

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft, lifts off during the COTS Demo Flight 1 on 8 December 2010.

SpaceX is currently manufacturing two main space launch vehicles: the large Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class Falcon 9, which flew successfully into orbit on its maiden launch on 4 June 2010[106] and the super-heavy class Falcon Heavy, which is scheduled to make its first flight in 2015. SpaceX also manufactures the Dragon, a pressurized orbital spacecraft that is launched on top of a Falcon 9 booster to carry cargo to low-Earth orbit, and the follow-on Dragon V2 spacecraft, currently in the process of being human-rated through a variety of design reviews and flight tests that began in 2014.[107][108]

It formerly built and flew the Falcon 1 launch vehicle, which made its first successful flight on 28 September 2008,[106][109]

A Falcon 5 and Falcon 9 Air launcher were also planned, but development was stopped on both vehicles before hardware was manufactured, in favor of pursuing development on other launch vehicles.[110]

Falcon launch vehicles

The Falcon 1 prototype at SpaceX's assembly facilities.

SpaceX has flown, or is developing, several orbital launch vehicles: the Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Falcon Heavy. As of 2014, the Falcon 9 v1.1 is currently in active use and the Falcon Heavy is under development.

From left to right, Falcon 1, Falcon 9 v1.0, three versions of Falcon 9 v1.1, and two versions of Falcon Heavy.

The Falcon 1 was a small rocket capable of placing several hundred kilograms into low earth orbit.[106] It functioned as an early test-bed for developing concepts and components for the larger Falcon 9.[106] Falcon 1 made five flights in 2006–2009. On 28 September 2008, the Falcon 1 succeeded in reaching orbit on its fourth attempt, becoming the first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket to do so.[111] The Falcon 1 carried its first successful commercial payload, RazakSAT, into orbit on 13 July 2009, on its fifth launch.[112] SpaceX has now retired the Falcon 1 and transferred Falcon 1 class payloads to be secondary payloads on the Falcon 9, which proved to be more efficient.

The Falcon 9 is an EELV-class medium-lift vehicle capable of delivering up to 10,450 kilograms (23,000 lb) to orbit, and is intended to compete with the Delta IV and the Atlas V rockets, as well as other launch providers around the world. It has nine Merlin engines in its first stage.[113] The Falcon 9 rocket successfully reached orbit on its first attempt in June 2010. The second flight for the Falcon 9 vehicle was the COTS Demo Flight 1 on 8 December 2010, the first launch under the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract, and was similarly successful.[88] Its third flight, COTS Demo Flight 2, launched on 22 May 2012, and was the first commercial spacecraft to reach and dock with the International Space Station.[114] Further launches occurred on 5 August 2014 and 7 September 2014.

The Falcon Heavy began development as a heavy-lift configuration using a cluster of three Falcon 9 first stage cores with a total 27 Merlin 1D engines and propellant crossfeed in 2011.[115][116] [117] SpaceX is aiming for the first demonstration flight of the Falcon Heavy in 2015.[118]


The Dragon spacecraft approaching the ISS
The interior of the COTS 2 Dragon

In 2005, SpaceX announced plans to pursue a human-rated commercial space program through the end of the decade.[119] The Dragon spacecraft is intended to carry up to seven astronauts into orbit and beyond.[120] It is a conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule, which is capable of carrying 7 people or a mixture of personnel and cargo to and from low Earth orbit.[120] It is launched atop a Falcon 9 launch vehicle. The spacecraft's nosecone is jettisoned shortly after launch in the cargo version, but is expected to be kept during the full flight of the crewed version.

In 2006, NASA announced that the company was one of two selected to provide crew and cargo resupply demonstration contracts to the ISS under the COTS program.[121] SpaceX will demonstrate cargo resupply and eventually crew transportation services using the Dragon. NASA's original plan called for COTS demonstration flights between 2008 and 2010.[122][123] SpaceX was not able to meet that schedule, but eventually began test-flights in 2010.

The first flight of a Dragon structural test article took place 4 June 2010, from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during the maiden flight of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle; the mock-up Dragon lacked avionics, heat shield, and other key elements normally required of a fully operational spacecraft but contained all the necessary characteristics to validate the flight performance of the launch vehicle.[124] An operational Dragon spacecraft was launched on 8 December 2010 aboard COTS Demo Flight 1, the Falcon 9's second flight, and safely returned to Earth after two orbits, completing all its mission objectives.[107] In 2012, Dragon began conducting regular resupply services to the ISS with a contract for 12 flights.

In 2009 and 2010, Musk suggested on several occasions that plans for a human-rated variant of Dragon were proceeding and had a 2- to 3-year time line to completion.[125][126] On 18 April 2011, NASA issued a $75 million contract, as part of its second-round commercial crew development (CCDev) program, 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.[127] This Space Act Agreement runs from April 2011 until May 2012, when the next round of contracts are to be awarded.[127] NASA approved the technical plans for the system in October 2011, and SpaceX began building prototype hardware.[80]

Other concepts under development

Several modifications or additions to the Falcon rocket family are currently being developed by SpaceX. These include three vehicles that further technology development objectives toward reusable launch systems: the Grasshopper test vehicle and the commercial launch vehicles Reusable Falcon 9 and Reusable Falcon Heavy.

DragonFly is a test vehicle to develop propulsive and propulsive-assist landing technologies in a series of low-altitude flight tests planned to be conducted in 2014–2015.[128]

A major goal of SpaceX has been to develop a rapidly reusable launch system. As of March 2013, the publicly announced aspects of this technology development effort include an active test campaign of the low-altitude, low-speed Grasshopper vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) technology demonstrator rocket,.[47][48][129] and a high-altitude, high-speed Falcon 9 post-mission booster return test campaign where—beginning in mid-2013, with the sixth overall flight of Falcon 9—every first stage will be instrumented and equipped as a controlled descent test vehicle to accomplish propulsive-return over-water tests.[130] SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said at the Singapore Satellite Industry Forum in summer 2013 "If we get this [reusable technology] right, and we’re trying very hard to get this right, we’re looking at launches to be in the US$5 to 7 million range, which would really change things dramatically." [102]

Comparison of rocket core diameters for SpaceX launch vehicles: (from left) Falcon 9 v1.0 (2010), Falcon 9 v1.1 (2013), and the 10-meter diameter, 9-Raptor, first-stage booster for the Mars Colonial Transporter.

SpaceX has announced the high-level description of a future super-heavy lift launch vehicle that will consist of one or three 10-meter (33 ft)-diameter cores and use nine Raptor LOX/methane engines to power each core.[131][132][133] The MCT launch vehicle is also intended to be reusable and will produce approximately 40 or 120 meganewtons (9,000,000 or 27,000,000 lbf) of thrust at liftoff.[132] Development of the Mars Colonial Transporter and its super-heavy launch vehicle will be the major focus of SpaceX once Falcon Heavy and DragonCrew are flying regularly.[133]

Rocket engines

Since the founding of SpaceX in 2002, the company has developed three families of rocket enginesMerlin and Kestrel for launch vehicle propulsion, and the Draco RCS control thrusters. SpaceX is currently developing two further rocket engines: SuperDraco and Raptor.

Merlin is a family of rocket engines developed by SpaceX for use on its Falcon rocket family of launch vehicles. Merlin engines use LOX and RP-1 as propellants in a gas-generator power cycle. The Merlin engine was originally designed for sea recovery and reuse. The injector at the heart of Merlin is of the pintle type that was first used in the Apollo Program for the lunar module landing engine. Propellants are fed via a single shaft, dual impeller turbo-pump. Kestrel is a LOX/RP-1 pressure-fed rocket engine, and was used as the Falcon 1 rocket's second stage main engine. It was built around the same pintle architecture as SpaceX's Merlin engine but does not have a turbo-pump, and is fed only by tank pressure. Its nozzle was ablatively cooled in the chamber and throat and radiatively cooled, and is fabricated from a high strength niobium alloy.

Draco are hypergolic liquid-propellant rocket engines that utilize a mixture of monomethyl hydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. Each Draco thruster generates 400 newtons (90 lbf) of thrust.[134] They are used as reaction control system (RCS) thrusters on both the Dragon spacecraft and the Falcon 9 launch vehicle second-stage.[135] SuperDraco are a much more powerful version of the Draco thrusters, which will be initially used as launch escape system engines on the version 2 Dragon spacecraft, Dragon V2.

SpaceX has signalled on multiple occasions that it is interested in developing much larger engines than it has done to date. A conceptual plan for the Raptor project was first unveiled in a June 2009 AIAA presentation.[136] In November 2012, Musk announced a new direction for propulsion side of the company: developing methane/LOX rocket engines for launch vehicle main and upper stages.[137] The Raptor methane/LOX engine will use the more efficient staged combustion cycle,[138] a departure from the "'open cycle' gas generator cycle system and LOX/kerosene propellants that the current Merlin 1 engine series uses."[138] The rocket would be more powerful than previously released publicly, with over 1,000,000 lbf (4,400 kN) of thrust.[131] Raptor engine component-level testing will begin in 2014.[139] The Raptor engine will likely be the first in a family of methane-based engines SpaceX intends to build.[139]

See also


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External links

  • Official website
  • Maiden flight slide presentation PDF
  • Michael Belfiore's notes from SpaceX pre-launch conference in 2005
  • Kwajalein Atoll and Rockets (Candid and highly unofficial blog by Elon Musk's brother Kimbal, with on-site pictures and reporting.)
  • Video of Elon Musk discussing his interest in enabling human missions to Mars on YouTube

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