Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company with its headquarters in Hawthorne, California, USA. It was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with the goal of creating the technologies to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonization of Mars. It has developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles, both of which were designed from conception to eventually become reusable, and the Dragon spacecraft which is flown into orbit by the Falcon 9 launch vehicle to supply the International Space Station (ISS) with cargo. A manned version of Dragon is in development.
SpaceX’s achievements include the first privately funded, liquid-propellant rocket (Falcon 1) to reach orbit, in 2008; the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft (Dragon), in 2010; and the first private company to send a spacecraft (Dragon) to the ISS, in 2012. The launch of SES-8, in 2013, was the first SpaceX delivery into geosynchronous orbit, while the launch of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), in 2015, was the company’s first delivery beyond Earth orbit.
NASA awarded the company a Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract in 2006, to design and demonstrate a launch system to resupply cargo to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX, as of May 2015 has flown six missions to the ISS under a cargo resupply contract. NASA also awarded SpaceX a contract in 2011 to develop and demonstrate a human-rated Dragon as part of its Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program to transport crew to the ISS.
“Red Dragon” Mars mission concept
In addition to SpaceX’s privately funded plans for an eventual Mars mission, as of July 2011 NASA Ames Research Center had developed a concept for a low-cost Mars mission that would use Falcon Heavy as the launch vehicle and trans-Martian injection vehicle, and the Dragon capsule to enter the Martian atmosphere. The concept, called ‘Red Dragon’, would be proposed for funding in 2012/2013 as a NASA Discovery mission, for launch in 2018 and arrival at Mars several months later. The science objectives of the mission would be to look for evidence of life — detecting “molecules that are proof of life, like DNA or perchlorate reductase … proof of life through biomolecules. … Red Dragon would drill 1.0 meter (3.3 ft) or so underground, in an effort to sample reservoirs of water ice known to lurk under the red dirt.” The mission cost was projected to be less than $425,000,000, not including the launch cost.
Other concepts under development
Several modifications or additions to the Falcon rocket family are currently being developed by SpaceX. These include three vehicles that further technology development objectives toward reusable launch systems: the Grasshopper test vehicle and the commercial launch vehicles Reusable Falcon 9 and Reusable Falcon Heavy.
DragonFly is a test vehicle to develop propulsive and propulsive-assist landing technologies in a series of low-altitude flight tests planned to be conducted in 2015-2016.
A major goal of SpaceX has been to develop a rapidly reusable launch system. As of March 2013, the publicly announced aspects of this technology development effort include an active test campaign of the low-altitude, low-speed Grasshopper vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) technology demonstrator rocket,and a high-altitude, high-speed Falcon 9 post-mission booster return test campaign where—beginning in mid-2013, with the sixth overall flight of Falcon 9—every first stage will be instrumented and equipped as a controlled descent test vehicle to accomplish propulsive-return over-water tests. SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said at the Singapore Satellite Industry Forum in summer 2013 “If we get this [reusable technology] right, and we’re trying very hard to get this right, we’re looking at launches to be in the US$5 to 7 million range, which would really change things dramatically.”
SpaceX has announced the high-level description of a future super-heavy lift launch vehicle that will consist of one or three 10-meter (33 ft)-diameter cores and use nine Raptor LOX/methane engines to power each core. The MCT launch vehicle is also intended to be reusable and will produce approximately 40 or 120 meganewtons (9,000,000 or 27,000,000 lb) of thrust at liftoff. Development of the Mars Colonial Transporter and its super-heavy launch vehicle will be the major focus of SpaceX once Falcon Heavy and DragonCrew are flying regularly.
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