by Mingda Pang – July 2021
As you know, Elon Musk changed the shape of online banking after selling X.com to PayPal. He created Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) because Musk wanted reliable, cheap rockets for Mars. SpaceX changed the game when it came to commercial space launches. They grabbed a ton of market share. Almost instantly, he was on Mars. In 2014, SpaceX spent more than $200 billion on its crewed mission to Mars. Elon Musk’s vision: can SpaceX make it a reality?
An overview of SpaceX
SpaceX has contributed a lot to the lexicon of spaceflight over the past two decades. Elon Musk founded SpaceX in 2002 to pursue reusable rockets. Back then, space hardware like the space shuttle and solid rocket boosters were generally disposable. In the meantime, the SpaceX satellites will host around 30.000 spacecraft in the future. Besides hosting orbital tourism, it serves as a crew station. Several private companies and NASA use SpaceX rockets.
Here’s how SpaceX’s revolutionizing aerospace
These five ways helped SpaceX gain mainstream attention.
SpaceX reuses two boosters: the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy. Reusing stuff keeps costs low. Boosters land in the ocean nine minutes after launch. It was the company’s 100th landing in December 2021. Launches are frequent, and the rockets are reusable.
In Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches, the upper stage is eliminated. Still, it’s reusable. Several Super Heavy landings will occur over time directly to Earth by SpaceX. There are new challenges with this idea. It won’t touch down because the arm catches it mid-flight. A Super Heavy doesn’t need landing legs. Changing the launch mount in minutes also saves mass and money. According to Musk, Mars settlements should be reusable. By 2026, humans could land on Mars aboard a Starship from SpaceX. SpaceX is still on schedule despite forecasts.
SpaceX Launches Cheaply
Using reusable rocket technology, SpaceX estimates lower costs. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is about 60% cheaper per seat than the Russian Soyuz. Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy cost $62 million and $90 million, respectively. Atlas V rockets will cost over $1 billion by 2020. Falcon 9 or Falcon Heavy costs vary depending on your satellite’s size. Multiple CubeSats typically pay less for the “rideshare” than a single Falcon 9 satellite.
Future systems could be cheaper. A Starship can reach Earth’s orbit for only $900K. In 2019, Musk estimated a cost of $200,000 per flight. Consequently, Starship will reduce space access costs. Some of these costs might change depending on supply. SpaceX remains a reliable, low-cost provider.
SpaceX Dream Flights
Wernher von Braun led the Saturn V rocket design during the Apollo program, launching people to the moon. He teamed up with Disney to publicize space stations. A NASA budget cut in the 1970s shifted the agency’s focus to low-cost missions to low Earth orbit. NASA wanted low launch costs, but it failed. In 2002, eBay bought PayPal for $1.8 billion, giving Musk unparalleled control. His fortune went to SpaceX to save the planet. Mars is something he would love to visit. Musk then said he wanted Mars to inspire the nation.
In the meantime, Musk launched satellites, cargo, and people. It took SpaceX years to prove reliability, and Musk was willing to spend millions testing reusable rockets. Starship is a rocket-spacecraft duo Musk and SpaceX are building to reach Mars. One prototype of Starship successfully landed in May 2021.
Billionaire Space Play
Space does not belong to a billionaire. In 2001, Jeff Bezos founded Blue Origin, and Virgin Galactic is part of the Virgin Group. In addition to SpaceX’s high-profile successes, Musk has a strong Twitter profile. Contrary to that, Blue Origin operated in privacy. Virgin Galactic hasn’t flown a single customer yet; Branson has a unique character, but he hasn’t started his company.
Space fans quickly became used to Musk’s tweets, live-streamed Starship progress reports, and other cultural contributions. Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, and Blue Origin unveil space tourism. Tickets for Virgin Galactic cost $450K, implying immense wealth. Only the very wealthy can afford tickets. Rich people tend to favor the industry. In September 2021, SpaceX launched Inspiration4 into Earth orbit.
SpaceX Transformed Spaceflight
As Musk revealed in 2017, NASA astronauts will soon wear spacesuits in space. Musk noted that it was challenging to balance functionality with aesthetics when designing the space suit. The company chose space tests as well as pressure chambers. In 2018 Starman flew with one on Falcon Heavy and Ripley in 2019 with no dials or switches on Crew Dragon.
Launch services expanded worldwide. From SpaceX’s previous experience, reusable rockets defied logic. Reusability is now SpaceX’s secret weapon for surviving the price war. The success of SpaceX has inspired other companies. Worldwide, several experiments are underway to reuse launch stages. Musk’s SpaceX is a big player in these conversations. In the 20s or 30s, SpaceX could make reusable launch systems, and Elon Musk could make Mars human-habitable. There’s more to SpaceX than its finances.