Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, under the belief that "a future where humanity is out exploring the stars is fundamentally more exciting than one where we are not." Musk dreams of living in a spacefaring civilization, like in Sci-Fi movies where humans have the ability to travel to the Moon and live on Mars. The idea of booking space tours to the Moon, as well as embarking on a voyage to Mars aboard a spaceship does inspire many of us to look at the stars and dream with excitement about the future. Though besides making Sci-Fi space travel a reality, Musk believes it is vital for humanity to have the ability of moving away from Earth to preserve the light of consciousness in case there is a massive apocalypse. If there was a threat to all lifeforms on our planet, Plan B would be to avoid a possible human extinction by living on another planet, like Mars, in order to preserve our species. During a presentation Musk wholeheartedly said:
"Conciousness is a very rare and precious thing, we should take whatever steps we can to preserve the light of consciousness. [...] We should do our very best to become a multi-planet species, extend consciousness beyond Earth and we should do it now."
For the past decade, his company has developed the most technologically advanced rockets to make that dream a reality. SpaceX has really gathered the best engineers and talent in the industry. They have all been working together to develop innovative spacecrafts capable of being launched and returned from space.
Before every major goal that SpaceX aims to accomplish, their design teams create awe-inspiring simulations of what the company will attempt during a vital mission. SpaceX goes from creating inspiring video simulations to actually making it a reality! Let's take a look at some videos!
SpaceX's Reusable Launch System
One of SpaceX's major goals is to accomplish rapid spacecraft reusability. Over the past decade they have made huge progress towards achieving it. Most rocket companies only use a rocket once, some do not even attempt to rescue rocket parts to reuse them, and others have not achieved to make their crafts reusable. SpaceX has been engineering the technologies to facilitate full and rapid reusability of space vehicles. Their long term goal is to design a rocket that will allow reuse a few hours after returning it from space, that could also perform multiple flights. Musk wrote via Twitter:
"8 years later, the simulation is mostly real."
8 years later, the simulation is mostly real— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 30, 2019
The first attempt to recover an orbital-class rocket booster on solid ground took place on December 21, 2015, after the Falcon 9 rocket delivered 11 satellites into low Earth orbit. The mission is known as Falcon 9 Flight 20.That day, SpaceX successfully brought back Falcon 9's first stage from space, landing it flawlessly at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Landing Zone 1, near the launch site in Florida. The Falcon 9 settled itself down under the power of its own engines. This is the first time in history an orbital class rocket returned from space to land vertically on a ground pad.
The first reuse of an orbital rocket happened on March 2017, they achieved the world's first second re-flight of an orbital class Falcon 9 rocket after the delivery of cargo to space. Musk, said that day:
"It means you can fly and re-fly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, ultimately, a huge revolution in spaceflight."
Last year, in November 2019, SpaceX reused the same Falcon 9 booster for the fourth time -another first in the history of spaceflight! They designed an upgraded version of Falcon 9 boosters (Falcon 9 Block 5) that could be used up to 10 times. This year, is guaranteed to be exciting in terms of rocket reusability, they plan to fly that same rocket booster a fifth time. Developing the technology to return a rocket's first stage from space is one of the greatest accomplishments SpaceX has contributed to the spaceflight industry. Their rocket recovery technology could one day revolutionize space transportation, do for spaceflight what jet engines did for airplane transportation. They are truly paving the way towards full rocket reusability!
From December 21, 2015 to December 21, 2019 they have successfully launched and landed orbital-class rocket boosters 47 times out of 53 attempts, including synchronized recoveries of the side-boosters during three Falcon heavy rocket missions. It is very impressive technology, no other rocket company has achieved this. The SpaceX Dragon spacecraft has also achieved several reusability milestones. They are currently working on recovering the Falcon 9 fairing halves as well.
SpaceX's Dragon capsule takes cargo to the space station
Another major goal for SpaceX is to create a spacecraft that is capable to safely carry cargo and humans to space. SpaceX earned a contract for NASA's Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) to launch cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). They developed the Dragon spacecraft.
In December 2010, Dragon became the first privately developed craft in history to launch and re-enter from low-Earth orbit. SpaceX also became the first private company to successfully send the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station in May 2012. That step was crucial because the technology proved it could safely dock to the orbiting laboratory.
In total, SpaceX has flown the Dragon spacecraft(s) on 19 CRS resupply missions to the ISS under their partnership with NASA. Every single docking with the station proved it could successful transport humans one day. This year, Dragon will preform another resupply mission called CRS-20 in March. Musk said on December 30, 2019:
"Hard to believe it’s almost time to retire Cargo Dragon after a decade of solid service."
SpaceX will retire Dragon to replace it with an updated version with more advanced technology -Dragon V2, also known as Crew Dragon. The updated craft will launch a crew of astronauts for the very first time this year.
SpaceX's first crewed mission aboard the Dragon spacecraft
SpaceX shared a new simulation video (shown above) of what will happen during their very first manned mission to the space station. The video shows two astronauts wearing SpaceX-made spacesuits walking down an awesome access arm —the hallway like bridge that astronauts will use to walk aboard the craft, at Launch Pad 39A of NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The newly updated Dragon spacecraft will launch atop a Falcon 9 rocket to ferry NASA astronauts to the space station.
In March 2019, during their first unmanned demonstration mission, Demo-1, SpaceX successfully launched the Crew Dragon spacecraft into orbit. It became the first spacecraft in history to dock autonomously to the ISS. SpaceX demonstrated their technology is reliable to carry humans on board that day. SpaceX is - THIS - close to making that simulation a reality, they are scheduled to launch their first crewed mission, Demo-2, this year!
Falcon Heavy launched a Tesla to space
In February 2018, SpaceX inspired millions across the planet by successfully launching a Tesla Roadster with Starman aboard on the debut flight of the world’s most powerful operational rocket, Falcon Heavy. It was the first time the company landed two rocket boosters simultaneously as the world marveled in awe.
In the video above, a Starman astronaut mannequin is in orbit aboard Musk's midnight cherry Tesla Roadster, with Earth in the background shortly after Falcon Heavy's debut lift off on Feb. 6, 2018. The radio was playing David Bowie's song "Life on Mars." Today, the car is orbiting around our sun millions of miles away. Rocket debut flights are risky, which is why SpaceX chose to put silly cargo to inspire the public rather than launching a functional satellite. SpaceX did inspire millions that day, the space industry hadn't had this level of public attention nor excitement since the Moon missions.
The Tesla Roadster is expected to last several million years, an orbit-model study calculated that the Roadster will eventually slam into either Venus or Earth, likely within the next few tens of millions of years. But there's just a 6 percent chance of an Earth impact, and a 2.5 percent chance of a Venus impact, within the next million years.
Starship and Super Heavy
SpaceX will replace ALL the crafts mentioned above one day, with their next-generation spaceship-rocket duo that is currently under development. Starship will be a fully reusable craft capable of carrying 100 passengers on long duration voyages. SpaceX is actively building it with all the technological innovations they have achieved throughout the past decade. In 2020, we will see the first prototypes of Starship conduct test flights.
SpaceX's dedication and achievements really do make voyages to Mars seem possible. One day, all the company's hard-working teams will develop a reusable craft that will enable humans to become a spacefaring civilization!
About the Author
Evelyn J. Arevalo joined Tesmanian in 2019 to cover news as a Space Journalist and SpaceX Starbase Texas Correspondent. Evelyn is specialized in rocketry and space exploration. The main topics she covers are SpaceX and NASA.