SpaceX was founded in 2002 with the ultimate goal of making life multi-planetary. Today is the 10th anniversary of the first successful flight of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. The debut launch took place on June 4, 2010, it deployed a mock-up of the Dragon cargo spacecraft. Six months later, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 with a real Dragon which was launched to orbit then recovered from the ocean. NASA funded the Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft development under a $1.6 billion contract which was awarded to SpaceX in December 2008 to carry cargo resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS). After a couple of years of development, Dragon reached the orbiting lab for the first time on a test flight in May 2012. By December 2012, Dragon performed its first cargo mission for NASA.
Falcon 9 flew for the first time ten years ago today. Completing 85 missions to date, Falcon 9 is now the most flown operational rocket in the United States. pic.twitter.com/duuMDuyv7t— SpaceX (@SpaceX) June 4, 2020
Overall, SpaceX has conducted 20 cargo resupply missions to the ISS laboratory. After Dragon’s final cargo mission in March 2020, the spacecraft was retired and replaced with an upgraded version called Crew Dragon, that is capable of carrying humans. Over the weekend, on Saturday, May 30, a Falcon 9 rocket lifted off with NASA astronauts aboard Dragon for the first time. The mission launched from Launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The agency had not deployed astronauts to space from American soil in nearly a decade. SpaceX’s successful mission returned humans spaceflight capabilities to the United States. The agency signed a deal with SpaceX to conduct 6 crewed missions under a $2.6 billion NASA Commercial Crew Program contract that was signed in 2014. When the NASA Astronaut pair who conducted SpaceX’s first crewed mission return from space in 6 to 16 weeks, another crew of 4 astronauts will be deployed aboard the Dragon spacecraft.
It took the company 18 years to launch the first astronauts to space. Over the last decade, SpaceX has demonstrated the Falcon 9 is a true innovation in the aerospace industry. The massive 229-feet-tall rocket has flown 85 times. “Falcon 9 flew for the first time ten years ago today. Completing 85 missions to date, Falcon 9 is now the most flown operational rocket in the United States,” SpaceX shared today.
Falcon 9’s first-stage rocket booster is powered by nine Merlin engines. These feature aluminum-lithium alloy tanks fueled by liquid oxygen (LOX) and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellant. A Falcon 9 is capable of producing over 1.7 million pounds of thrust as it lifts off through Earth’s atmosphere. In the vacuum of space, it produces over 1.8 million pounds of thrust. The rocket’s second stage, which is the top part that propels the payload or spacecraft in space, is powered by a single Merlin engine. It can carry 25 tons (22.8 metric tons) of payload to low Earth orbit on each mission costing up to $62 million. SpaceX also offers a $1 million ride to space through its SmallSat Rideshare Program, in which customers can hitch a ride to deploy small satellite(s) atop a rocket with a larger payload onboard.
The Falcon 9 is the first orbital-class rocket capable of re-flight. Engineers at SpaceX developed Falcon 9 to be 80% reusable. Falcon 9’s first-stage booster is capable of lifting payload into orbit, then, it returns from space to land vertically on autonomous drone ships at sea (video above). No other rocket in history can do this, landing rockets placed SpaceX as a leader in aerospace innovation. Some of the boosters that have been recovered have flown again. Reusability is key to reducing the cost of spaceflight. SpaceX aims to accomplish flying the same particular rocket up to 10 times. As of today, the reusability record is 5 re-flights, which is already a great achievement because no other rocket company has accomplished reusing orbital-class rockets.
SpaceX is set to perform more crewed flights for NASA on a regular basis. The company also plans on taking private passengers on space tours atop a Falcon 9 rocket aboard the Dragon spacecraft. Meanwhile, engineers are developing the next-generation rocket spaceship duo - Starship - which will conduct missions to the moon and Mars.