Do you know who is the second wealthiest man in the World, according to Forbes 2023 Billionaire List? That position is now owned by a businessman, Elon Musk.
The South African-born American entrepreneur Elon Musk is known for founding SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla Motors in 2003. Musk made headlines, when SpaceX launched a rocket, sending the first commercial vehicle to International Space Station.
What is SpaceX ?
SpaceX stands for Space Exploration Technologies Corp. It is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company. The company has it’s Headquarters in Hawthorne,California. Founding SpaceX, Musk’s goal was to reduce space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars.
Elon Musk, in 2001, came up with a project, Mars Oasis, to grow plants and to land an experimental greenhouse on Mars. With this, his aim was to regain public interest in space exploration. But his attempt to purchase cheap rockets failed. That was when he thought about starting a company that could build affordable rockets.In 2002, rocket engineer Tom Mueller became his business partner and then SpaceX was born. With SpaceX, Musk’s goal is to decrease the cost and improve the reliability of access to space.
SpaceX has got a number of achievements in it’s name:
- First privately funded, liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1, 2008)
- First private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Dragon,2010)
- First private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station( Dragon, 2012)
- First vertical take-off and vertical propulsive landing of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9, 2015)
- First reuse of an orbital rocket ( Falcon 9, 2017)
- First private company to send astronauts to orbit and to the International Space Station ( SpaceX Crew Dragon Demo-2 and SpaceX Crew-1 missions, 2020)
There are three launch vehicles developed by SpaceX. Falcon 1 was the first one among these. It was retired in 2009. It was a small rocket which has launched five times out of which two was successful.The Falcon 1 was the first privately funded, liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit.
Second one,Falcon 9 is a medium-lift launch vehicle.The Falcon 9 v 1.0 rocket successfully reached orbit on it’s very first attempt in 2010.This was the first commercial spacecraft to reach and dock with International Space Station(ISS). The vehicle has went through many upgradations later on.
The third one, Falcon Heavy is a heavy-lift launch vehicle . It’s inaugural mission was successful, launching Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster into heliocentric orbit.
Both the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are certified to conduct launches for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL).
Several rocket engines have also been also developed by SpaceX. For using in launch vehicles, they developed Merlin, Kestrel and Raptor . They developed Draco for Dragon series of spacecraft and SuperDraco for Crew Dragon . The Merlin family of rocket engine uses liquid oxygen and RP-1 fuels in a gas-generator power cycle.Initially Merlin was used in Falcon 1 only. But now it is being used in Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy also. Kestrel was used as the Falcon 1 rocket’s second stage main engine. Draco is a hypergolic liquid propellant rocket engine. They are used in the reaction control system of Dragon and Dragon 2 spacecraft. SuperDraco is similar to Draco except that the propellants used in SuperDraco is different from that in Draco and the thrust generated by SuperDraco is much more than that produced by Draco. Raptor is a new family used to power the in-development Starship launch system.
Dragon Spacecraft has been developed by SpaceX in order to transport cargo and crew to ISS. First version was launched in 2010. The currently functional second generation Dragon spacecraft is known as Dragon 2. Different variants of this have been developed later . Now, SpaceX has revealed about the upcoming version Dragon XL.
Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ships
SpaceX returns the first stage of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets routinely after orbital launches.The rocket land to a predetermined landing site using only its own propulsion systems. When margins do not permit a return to launch site, rockets return to a floating landing platform in the ocean.That is called a autonomous spacecraft drone ship.
Starship is a a fully reusable super-heavy lift launch system. Starship comprises of a comprises a reusable first stage, called Super Heavy, and the reusable Starship second stage and space vehicle. This system is slowly replacing the company’s all launch vehicle hardwares. SpaceX has a long-term vision of developing the technology and resources suitable for human colonization in Mars. Musk believes that there will be many Starships flying a million people to Mars.
StarLink is an internet satellite constellation under development by SpaceX. The goal is to increase profitability and cash flow, allowing SpaceX to build a Mars colony. Initial test operation of the constellation began in 2020.
SpaceX built a 1.6 km long test-track near SpaceX’s headquarters for conducting competitive events. Currently , in this COVID-19 scenario, SpaceX, in collaboration with doctors and academic researchers encouraged all employees to participate in the creation of a COVID-19 antibody testing program .