Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
|Headquarters||Hawthorne, California, USA|
|Key people||Elon Musk (CEO and CTO)
Gwynne Shotwell (President)
Tom Mueller (Co-Founder and VP of Propulsion)
|Services||Orbital rocket launch|
|Employees||3,800 (Oct 2013)|
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, is a space transport company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk. 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 to be flown into orbit by the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, initially transporting cargo and later planned to carry humans.
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. 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). 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. On 22 May 2012, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carried the unmanned Dragon capsule into space, marking the first time a private company has sent a spacecraft to the space station.
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 2015, 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. It has already launched, for a paying customer, a low earth orbiting satellite with its Falcon 1 booster in 2009. And on 3 December 2013, the company launched its first commercial geostationary satellite from a Falcon 9.
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. Future projects in the planning stages included a NASA robotic mission to Mars in 2018. Falcon Heavy is based on Falcon 9 technology, and if construction goes as planned, it will be the most powerful rocket in the American inventory 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. Musk has stated that his intention for the company is to help in the creation of a permanent human presence on Mars.
- 1 History
- 2 Facilities
- 3 NASA collaborations
- 4 Other Contracts
- 5 Commercial and government launch contracts summary
- 6 Space vehicles
- 7 Rocket engines
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
In January 2005, SpaceX bought a 10% stake in Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. On 4 August 2008, SpaceX accepted a further $20 million investment from the Founders Fund. In early 2012, approximately two-thirds of the company was owned by its founder and his 70 million shares were then estimated to be worth $875 million on private markets, which roughly valued SpaceX at $1.3 billion as of February 2012. After the COTS 2+ flight in May 2012, the company private equity valuation nearly doubled to $2.4 billion. In 2012, an initial public offering (IPO) was perceived as possible by the end of 2013, 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."
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, 1800 in early 2012, and 3000 by early 2013. By October 2013, the company had grown to 3,800 employees and contractors.
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. SpaceX became the first private company to successfully launch and return a spacecraft from orbit on 8 December 2010, after its Dragon capsule returned from a two-orbit flight. Space Foundation recognized SpaceX for its successful Dragon launch and recovery with the Space Achievement Award in 2011.
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."
Elon Musk has stated the personal goal of eventually enabling human exploration and settlement of Mars. He stated in a 2011 interview that he hopes to send humans to Mars' surface within 10–20 years. 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.
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. 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.
SpaceX is a privately funded space transportation company. It developed its first launch vehicle—Falcon 1—and three rocket engines—Merlin, 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. 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[update], 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, ...). The remainder has come from progress payments on long-term launch contracts and development contracts. As of April 2012[update], NASA had put in about $400–500M of this amount, with most of that as progress payments on launch contracts. 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.
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.
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. As of December 2013[update], SpaceX has a total of 50 future launches under contract, two-thirds of them are for commercial customers. 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—at which time SpaceX had at least 10 further geostationary orbit flights on its books.
SpaceX Chief Executive Officer Musk stated in June 2013 that he intends to hold off any potential IPO of SpaceX shares on the stock market until after the "Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly."
SpaceX Headquarters is located 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. 
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, and then constructed a half-acre concrete launch facility in 2012 to support the Grasshopper test flight program.
Although SpaceX builds all of its own rocket engines and thrusters at its Hawthorne headquarters they must all "pass through McGregor 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" before each one can be used on a flight mission. As of October 2012[update], the McGregor facility has seven test stands that are operated "18 hours a day, six days a week" and is building more test stands because production is ramping up and the company has a large manifest in the next several years. "The company's headquarters and factory in ... southern California gets a lot of the attention, but most of the noisy, dirty and critical testing work is done just outside this small central Texas town nestled in amid the farm fields." Area residents were warned in late-April 2013 that much louder nine-engine booster tests of the more powerful Merlin 1D engine sets to be used on the Falcon 9 v1.1 first stages are expected to begin soon, with a 10-second test as early as 30 April, followed by a full-duration firing of the nine booster engines a few days later.
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 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 vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) suborbital technology-demonstrator—would be conducted at Spaceport America near Las Cruces, New Mexico. SpaceX signed a three-year lease for land and facilities at the recently operational spaceport.
In mid-2013, SpaceX constructed a 30 by 30 metres (98 × 98 ft) pad at Spaceport America, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) southwest of the spaceport's main campus, and 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.
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. 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.
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 Falcon 1 was retired.
All of the first five Falcon 9 flights—all version 1.0 vehicles—used Cape Canaveral space launch complex 40 (SLC-40). Future launches of Falcon 9s on the SpaceX manifest are planned for Cape Canaveral or Vandenberg AFB SLC-4E (Polar Launches); The Vandenberg site is also intended for use by the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, which is scheduled to be brought on site in 2013 with a test flight no earlier than 2014.
New commercial-only launch site
As of April 2013[update], SpaceX is considering seven potential locations around the country for a new commercial-only launch facility for orbital flights, including Alaska, California, Florida, Texas, Virginia, Georgia, and Puerto Rico.
One of the proposed locations for the new commercial-mission-only spaceport is south Texas which, as of March 2013[update] is the leading candidate for the location of the new SpaceX private launch facility, although Florida, Georgia and other locations remain in the running. 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 near Brownsville."
Crewed-mission leased launch site
As of August 2013[update], SpaceX has submitted a bid for leasing 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. 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 has been submitted by Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, who is 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 is United Launch Alliance.
COTS program and CRS
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.  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.  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.  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; this flight was delayed several times, occurring at 1543 UTC on 8 December 2010. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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. 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.
CCDev and CCiCap programs
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. 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. SpaceX later submitted a proposal for the third round of the CCDev program which became Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap).
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, ostensibly to continue development and testing of its DragonRider spacecraft.
"Red Dragon" Mars mission concept
In addition to SpaceX's privately funded plans for an eventual Mars mission, as of July 2011[update] 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 3.3 feet (1.0 m) or so underground, in an effort to sample reservoirs of water ice known to lurk under the red dirt." The mission cost is projected to be less than $425,000,000, not including the launch cost.
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. 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. Musk stated in the same 2008 announcement that SpaceX has sold 14 contracts for flights on the various Falcon vehicles.
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.
SpaceX announced on 15 March 2010 that it will launch SES-8, a medium-sized communications satellite for SES, on a Falcon 9 vehicle, which was successfully launched on 3 December 2013. SES is SpaceX's first contract for a geostationary communications satellite launch. In June 2010, SpaceX was awarded the largest-ever commercial space launch contract, worth $492 million, to launch Iridium satellites using Falcon 9 rockets.
Launch market competition and pricing pressure
SpaceX's low launch prices, especially for communication satellites flying to geostationary orbit, have resulted in market pressure on its competitors to lower their own prices. 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.
Commercial and government launch contracts summary
As of January 2013[update], 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. "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."
On 3 December 2013 SpaceX launched its first satellite into geostationary orbit, SES-8, entering the major commercial launch market. SpaceX prices undercut its major competitors, the Ariane 5 and Proton, in this market, and SpaceX has at least 10 further geostationary orbit flights on its books. As of December 2013[update], SpaceX has a total of 50 future launches under contract, two-thirds of them are for commercial customers.
SpaceX is manufacturing two main space launch vehicles: the Falcon 1, which made its first successful flight on 28 September 2008, and the large Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV)-class Falcon 9, which flew successfully into orbit on its maiden launch on 4 June 2010. A Falcon 5 launcher was also planned, but its development was stopped in favor of the Falcon 9. SpaceX also developed the Dragon, a pressurized orbital spacecraft that is launched on top of a Falcon 9 booster, that can carry cargo, and is in the process of being human-rated.
Falcon launch vehicles
SpaceX has flown, or is developing, several orbital launch vehicles: the Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Falcon Heavy. As of 2012, the Falcon 9 is currently in active usage and the Falcon Heavy is under development with a large manifest of flights after 2014.
The Falcon 1 was a small rocket capable of placing several hundred kilograms into low earth orbit. It also functioned as an early testbed for developing concepts and components for the larger Falcon 9. Falcon 1 made five flights in 2006-2009. Initial Falcon 1 flights were launched from the US government's Reagan Test Center on the island atoll of Kwajalein in the Pacific Ocean, and represented the first attempt to fly a ground-launched rocket to orbit from that site. 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. The Falcon 1 carried its first successful commercial payload, RazakSAT, into orbit on 13 July 2009, on its fifth launch.
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. It has nine Merlin engines in its first stage. 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. 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.
The Falcon Heavy began development as a heavy-lift configuration using a cluster of three Falcon 9 first stage cores with a total 27 uprated Merlin 1D engines and propellant crossfeed in 2011.  SpaceX is aiming for the first demonstration flight of the Falcon Heavy in 2014.
In 2005, SpaceX announced plans to pursue a human-rated commercial space program through the end of the decade. The Dragon spacecraft is intended to carry up to seven astronauts into orbit and beyond. 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. It is launched atop a Falcon 9 launch vehicle, the spacecraft's nosecone is jettisoned shortly after launch. For NASA cargo missions, Dragon will be equipped with a Common Berthing Mechanism, and will be berthed to the U.S. segment of the ISS by the Canadarm2. For NASA manned missions, Dragon will be equipped with the NASA Docking System and dock to the U.S. segment.
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. 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. 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. 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.
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. 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. This Space Act Agreement runs from April 2011 until May 2012, when the next round of contracts are to be awarded. NASA approved the technical plans for the system in October 2011, and SpaceX began building prototype hardware.[dated info]
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.
A major goal of SpaceX has been to develop a rapidly reusable launch system. As of March 2013[update], 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,. 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.
Other developments include the use of Leap motion devices to better interact with the 3D models of certain parts of the rockets. The project is still in development, however the team believes they can greatly impact how 3D modeling will be viewed in the future.
Since the founding of SpaceX in 2002, the company has developed three families of rocket engines — Merlin and Kestrel for launch vehicle propulsion, and the Draco RCS control thrusters. SpaceX is currently under development of two more rocket engines: SuperDraco and Raptor.
In a June 2009 AIAA presentation, a conceptual plan for the Raptor project was unveiled. As of 2012[update], information was released to the public that Raptor is a higher performance Methane/LOX rocket engine, not an upper stage, and that SpaceX is undertaking a substantial new rocket engine development program for Methane-based engines. When the project originally surfaced, and very little public information was released, "Raptor" was at that time a LOX/liquid hydrogen second stage concept for Falcon 9.
In October 2012, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk publicly announced concept work on a rocket engine that would be "several times as powerful as the 1 Merlin series, and won't use Merlin's RP-1 fuel". The engine is intended for a new SpaceX rocket, using multiple of those large engines, and would notionally launch payload masses of the order of 150 to 200 tonnes (150,000 to 200,000 kg) to low-Earth orbit, exceeding the payload mass capability of the NASA Space Launch System.
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. The Raptor methane/LOX engine will use the more efficient staged combustion cycle, a departure from the "'open cycle' gas generator cycle system and LOX/kerosene propellants that the current Merlin 1 engine series uses." The initial Raptor engine has been designed to produce 2.94 meganewtons (661,000 lbf) of vacuum thrust, about four times the thrust of the Merlin 1D vacuum. Raptor engine component-level testing will begin in 2014.
As of 2010[update], longer term projects under study included the much larger Merlin 2 engine. The Merlin 2 was projected to be potentially used on conceptual heavy-lift launch vehicles Falcon X, Falcon X Heavy, and Falcon XX.
- United Launch Alliance
- Orbital Sciences Corporation
- List of Falcon 9 missions
- Space exploration
- Private spaceflight
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to SpaceX.|
- Official website
- 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
- SpaceX on Twitter
- SpaceX's channel on YouTube
- SpaceX on Facebook