SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation) is a space company founded by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk. It develops rockets and spacecraft for missions to Earth orbit and beyond. SpaceX was the first private company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft.

SpaceX Picture


Founded: 2002
Headquarters: Hawthorne, California, USA
Founder: Elon Musk (CEO and CTO)

SpaceX Launch Vehicle Family

SpaceX is a family of launch vehicles includes:

– Falcon1: retired – launched 5 times
– Falcon 9 – in use
– Falcon Heavy Cape Canaveral SLC-40
– BFR (Big Falcon Rocket) in development.

Falcon 1

Falcon 1 was the first orbital rocket developed in the 21st century. Falcon 1 served the small satellite market. Falcon 1 was capable of carrying up to 420 kg to Low Earth Orbit (LEO). All Falcon 1 were launched from Omelek Island, Marshall Islands.

Falcon 9

Falcon 9 serves the medium to large satellite market and was designed for manned spaceflight. Falcon 9 offers the lowest cost per pound/kilogram to orbit in its class. Falcon 9 is capable of carrying up to 10,450 kg to LEO and 4,540 kg to GTO.

SpaceX plans to launch its first commercial geostationary satellite in 2013 from a Falcon 9.

 SpaceX Rockets Picture

SpaceX Rockets – Present & Potential Future Designs.

Falcon Heavy
Falcon Heavy will be capable of carrying up to 63,000 kg to LEO and up to 15,010? kg to GTO. Falcon Heavy could have important implications for Mars exploration and even settlement.


Grasshopper is an experimental vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) technology demonstrator rocket built in 2011 for low-altitude testing. Tests began began in 2012.


BFR is Space-X’s next rocket after Falcon Heavy. Its estimated orbital payload will be 150,000 kg. It was announced in September 2017. It planned to replace the Falcon line of SpaceX launch vehicles. The first stage will use 31 Raptor rocket engines which use methane / oxygen propellants. There will be three versions of the ship: BFR cargo, BFR crew and BFR tanker.

ITS Launch Vehicle

ITS launch vehicle was introduced in September 2016. It was going to be powered by 42 rocket engines using Methane / Oxygen as propellants. The payload was estimated to be 550,000 kg in the expendable version and 300,00kg in the reusable vehicle version. The design was discontinued in September and Space-X announced the BFR, a smaller vehicle as its successor.

What is Dragon? What is DragonLab?

Dragon Spacecraft

Dragon is a reusable spacecraft, designed for transporting cargo and crew to and from orbiting destinations including the International Space Station.  Dragon is being developed in partnership with NASA, under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

The first SpaceX unscrewed Dragon 2 test flight to the International Space Station might be in November 2018 and the first crewed Dragon to the ISS in April 2019. 


DragonRider is the crewed variant of Dragon. It will be able to carry up to a crew of seven astronauts or a combination of crew and cargo, to and from low Earth orbit destinations or to the International Space Station.


Though designed to address cargo and crew requirements for the International Space Station (ISS), Dragon, as a free-flying spacecraft, also provides an excellent platform for in-space technology demonstrations and scientific instrument testing.

DragonLab is an uncrewed version of the Dragon spacecraft which will be used for non-NASA, non-ISS commercial flights. It is reusable, free-flying, and is capable of carrying both pressurized and unpressurized payloads.

Red Dragon

Red Dragon was a concept for a low-cost un-crewed Mars lander that would utilize a SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch vehicle and a modified Dragon capsule to enter the Martian atmosphere. In 2011 SpaceX evaluated Red Dragon as a potential NASA Discovery mission with a potential launch in 2018. It was proposed as a Discovery mission in 2014, but did not receive funding. In 2017 Red Dragon was cancelled when SpaceX announced they would no longer develop propulsive landing system for the Dragon 2 capsule and landing legs would not be added to it.

NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) 

After a rigorous competition and significant due diligence in 2006, NASA selected SpaceX to demonstrate delivery of cargo (with an option to demonstrate crew carriage) to the International Space Station (ISS). Under its Space Act Agreement with NASA for cargo carriage, SpaceX has conduct flights of its Dragon spacecraft aboard the Falcon 9 rocket to demonstrate this capability.

Engines Power for SpaceX Falcon Launch Vehicles

Falcon launch vehicles are powered by internally-developed SpaceX engines.

Falcon 1 first stage was powered by a single SpaceX Merlin 1C regeneratively-cooled turbo-pump engine, the simplest possible design for a pump-fed engine. Falcon 1 second stage is powered by a single SpaceX Kestrel ablatively-cooled engine, a simple pressure-fed system which has dual redundant igniters for added reliability and restart.

Falcon 9 first stage is powered by nine SpaceX Merlin 1C regeneratively-cooled engines, which also employ the ‘hold before release’ system. A single Merlin 1C engine, with a larger vacuum nozzle for efficiency, powers the Falcon 9 upper stage. For added reliability, the engine has dual redundant pyrophoric igniters and four injection ports to ensure engine ignition.

SpaceX Location

SpaceX headquarters is located in Hawthorne, California, near Los Angeles International Airport.

The design and manufacturing facilities are located near the Los Angeles International airport in Southern California . The propulsion and structural test facilities are located in Central Texas. SpaceX also maintains offices in Washington, D.C.

Launch Sites:

SpaceX uses three launch complexes:

  1. Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
  2. Kwajalein Atoll (Reagan Test Site) in the Marshall Islands
  3. Space Launch Complex 40 and Launch Complex 39A at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
  4. Omelek Island, Marshall Islands – located in the northern Pacific Ocean.

SpaceX is building launch site at the Boca Chica site near Brownsville, Texas. It will be used for commercial launches. It might be operational in 2019.


* 2002 – SpaceX was established by Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal and the Zip2 Corporation.

* 2008 – SpaceX won the NASA contract to replace the cargo transport function of the Space Shuttle with Falcon 9 and Dragon. President Obama and NASA Administrator Bolden decided in 2010 to outsource astronaut transport to the commercial sector. Falcon 9 / Dragon was considered by many to be the leading system for that role.

* December 2010 – SpaceX became the first private company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft.

* 25 May 2012 – an uncrewed variant of Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to successfully rendezvous with and be attached to the International Space Station.

* October 2012 – SpaceX CRS-1 was the first commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).

* SpaceX launched its first commercial geostationary satellite SES-8 on a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral SLC-40, Florida on 3 December 2013.

* April 2016 – SpaceX successfully vertically landed a first stage on an ocean drone ship landing platform on 8 April 2016 nine minutes after lift-off. This mission (CRS-8) was a commercial resupply service mission to the ISS and carried a prototype inflatable space habit called Beam (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module).

* First SpaceX launch from Launch Complex 39A was a Falcon 9 rocket on 19 February 2017. It launched SpaceX CRS-10 the 10th cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station and the first unmanned launch from 39A since Skylab.

* First recovered Falcon 9 first stage to be flown again was launched on the SES-10 satellite launch on 30 March 2017. It was first used during the CRS-8 mission in April 2016. This was the second launch a first stage was returned from space and to land on a drone ship.

* First re-flight of a commercial cargo spacecraft was on a Falcon 9 on its 35th flight on 3rd June 2017 on CRS-11 mission.

* SpaceX launched the Falcon Heavy for the first time on 6 February 2018. It payload was a Tesla Roadster car. SpaceX became the first private company to launch an object into orbit around the Sun.

In November 2018 the second stage and spaceship was renamed by Elon Musk to Starship and the first stage was renamed ‘Super Heavy’.

* First Uncrewed Test Flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon on 2 March 2019.

* Crew Dragon Abort System to test the emergency escape system was launched on 19 January 2020 from Launch Complex 39A . The Crew Dragon used its 8 SuperDraco abort rocket engines about 84 seconds after liftoff to pull the spacecraft from the Falcon 9 rocket.

* SpaceX to launch its first astronauts into space in 2020: Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley

Elon Musk – Founder

Elon Musk founded SpaceX (Space Exploration Technologies Corpration) in 2002 and serves as the company’s Chief Executive Officer and Chief Technology Officer.

Musk served as chief engineer for Falcon 1, the first privately developed liquid fuel rocket to reach orbit, as well as Falcon 9 and the Dragon spacecraft.

Musk’s other primary activity is serving as CEO and Product Architect of Tesla Motors, where he has overseen product development and design from the beginning, including the all electric Tesla Roadster and Model S sedan. Musk is also the non-executive chairman of SolarCity, the leading provider of solar power systems in California.

Prior to SpaceX, Musk co-founded PayPal, the world’s leading Internet payment system and served as the company’s Chairman and CEO. Before PayPal, Musk co-founded Zip2, a provider of Internet software to the media industry.

In 2007, Musk was recognized for his work by Research and Development Magazine’s, receiving their Innovator of the Year Award. He received the 2007/2008 American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics award for the greatest contribution to the field of space transportation.

In 2008, Musk was named as one of the 75 most influential people of the 21st century by Esquire magazine and received the Aviation Week 2008 Laureate for the most significant achievement worldwide in the space industry.

In 2009, the National Space Society awarded Musk their Von Braun Trophy, given for leadership of the most significant achievement in space.

In 2010, Musk was recognized as a Living Legend in Aviation by the Kitty Hawk Foundation for creating the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft.

He has a physics degree from the University of Pennsylvania, a business degree from Wharton and currently serves as a member of the Stanford University Engineering Advisory Board.

Did you know?

* NASA’s COTS program is a ‘pay for performance’ partnership between the government and private industry. It is the first program of its kind where the government provides seed money to develop capabilities, but only pays for development after it has taken place.

* To stay informed about SpaceX progress and news is to sign up the AeroSpaceGuide email newsletter.

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