Space Exploration Technologies Corp.

Falcon 9. Photo by Matt Cutshall

Space Exploration Technologies group, or SpaceX is an American aerospace manufacturer and transportation service headquartered in Hawthorne California. SpaceX was founded by Elon Musk the now CEO of the company in 2002. Revolutionizing the space flight industry with the reusability of launch vehicles and components. Amongst other achievements they are the first privately funded liquid propellant rocket to reach orbit. (2008) They are also the first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft.(2010) As well as the first private company to dock a spacecraft at the International Space Station.(2012) They are primary know for being the first company to reuse an orbital rocket. (Falcon 9, 2017) Their primary launch vehicle is the Falcon 9 rocket. They also hold the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V, the Falcon Heavy. Currently the company is working on their Starship program in Boca Chica, Texas which aims to land humans on Mars.

Launch Vehicles:

Falcon 9

Photo by Matt Cutshall

The Falcon 9 rocket is the first reusable orbital class rocket. It’s two stages are designed and manufactured by SpaceX for the safe and reliable transportation of humans, and payloads into Earth orbit and beyond. Powered by nine Merlin 1D engines its first stage provides close to 1.8 million pounds of thrust to deliver the second stage to the desired orbit. Their second stage is compromised of one Merlin 1D vacuum engine with 210,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket is capable of carrying either two fairings which enclose the desired payload, the Dragon Crew Capsule, or the Dragon Cargo capsule depending on the mission requirements. The Falcon 9 rocket is currently launching from three launch sites in the U.S. One at Canaveral Space Force Station, one at the Kennedy Space Center. Both of which are in Florida just a few miles apart. The third launch site is from Vandenburg Air Force Station in California. To date we have seen more than 100 flights of the Falcon 9 with 67 landings out of 76 attempts.

Falcon Heavy

Falcon heavy launch. Photo by: Zac Shaul – NHS

The falcon Heavy is a reusable heavy lift launch vehicle and is the current most powerful rocket in operation by a factor of two. Comprised of three Falcon 9 core boosters for a total of twenty-seven Merlin 1D engines the Falcon Heavy is capable of lifting 64 metric tons into orbit. That’s more than double the next closest rocket. With a thrust of over five million pounds at lift off it equals roughly eighteen 747 aircraft. To date we have seen three Falcon Heavy lift offs with seven out of nine boosters having returned safely and re-flown four of those boosters.

Starship

Starship SN9 during landing burn. Photo by: Kyle Montgomery – NHS

The SpaceX Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket, dubbed “Starship” is the companies most ambitious project yet. It represents a fully reusable two stage to orbit transportation vehicle designed to carry both crew and cargo to Earth orbit, the Moon, Mars, and beyond. When it’s complete it will be the most power launch vehicle ever developed. It will be able to carry in excess of 100 metric tons to Earth orbit. It is compromised of a booster stage “Super Heavy” and a second stage “Starship”. Engine development began in 2012, but the first test was not until 2019 when the vehicle named “Starhopper” made a low altitude low velocity test hop. In 2020 Starship SN8 make it’s first high altitude test to demonstrate most of the atmospheric re-entry maneuvers. To date we have seen SN8, and SN9 make high altitude test flights with many more to happen in 2021.

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