For the United States to send American astronauts to space from American soil after a gap of nine years is a milestone in and of itself. That this took place at the time of one of the biggest civil rights upsurges since the 1960s makes it almost like an escape to fantasy. Riding on the wings of a public-private partnership between NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. Let’s take a deep dive into the company, and the man behind such an incredible feat, and break down the facts of SpaceX.
Elon Musk’s renowned goal for the space super giant SpaceX has been to make space travel accessible for “almost anyone” – and that has been the driving factor behind SpaceX, innovating on modern space travel, all while cutting down as many costs as possible. A major goal of SpaceX has been to develop a rapidly reusable launch system, and in 2015, SpaceX successfully landed the first orbital rocket stage on December 21.
Elon Musk is a South African-born American entrepreneur and businessman who founded X.com in 1999 (which later became PayPal), SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla Motors in 2003. Musk became a multimillionaire in his late 20s when he sold his start-up company, Zip2, to a division of Compaq Computers.
Musk made headlines in May 2012, when SpaceX launched a rocket that would send the first commercial vehicle to the International Space Station. He bolstered his portfolio with the purchase of SolarCity in 2016, and cemented his standing as a leader of industry by taking on an advisory role in the early days of President Donald Trump‘s administration.
SpaceX comes in to provide advantages in costs, innovation and safety. In the 2000s, when Mr. Musk showed off his rockets and lobbied in Washington DC, he was mostly ignored, yet now, NASA wanted him to find customers for space flights. This can expand the power of U.S. commerce exponentially. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has already signed up as a potential traveler to the moon and back. With this partnership, Americans have taken yet another leap of faith in creating commerce in space. Technologically, it is a remarkable feat. The collaboration brings in a ‘willingness to fail’ which has kept SpaceX alive. This is coupled to the propensity to ‘qualify every component ’, which has been NASA ’s strength. The emergence of successful partnerships here will likely depend on how well they stand up against the American example of allowing for failure. ‘Fly, test, fail, fix’ has been the rubric followed by SpaceX.
SpaceX has a niche market model, with a specialized customer segment. The company markets its offerings to public and private organizations that want to transport items to space. Its projects included commercial satellite launch, space station resupply, and government national security missions. They offer this at a cost that is very competitive, and the payload can be deployed on the rockets Falcon 1 and 9.
As of 2020, SpaceX operates four launch facilities: Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4E (SLC-4E), Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A), and South Texas Launch Site.In addition, SpaceX uses a suborbital test facility, the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility in Texas. A high-altitude suborbital test facility was under construction in New Mexico, but was abandoned following the switch to flight tests on commercial missions. SpaceX has indicated that they see a niche for each of the four orbital facilities currently in use or under construction, and that they have sufficient launch business to fill each pad, particularly so by the end of the decade if SpaceX business remains strong.
When it comes to competition, companies like Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson’s brain child, as well as the massive commercial air travel giant Boeing have all began to expand into the space of commercial space travel, but as of now, SpaceX has led the race, innovating and finding cost effective solutions that have changed the way we look at modern spaceflight.
A little known fact is that the Falcon 9 burned a 560 mile hole in the atmosphere. When the Flacon 1 was in operation, it could launch a payload of 27,500 kilograms for $1.5 billion, or $54,500 per kilogram. For a SpaceX Falcon 9, the rocket used to access the ISS, the cost is just $2,720 per kilogram.
Wishful thinking? Think again.