spacex

SpaceX, the Beginning of the Conquest of the Galaxy

One of the things why space technology had not advanced substantially in the new millennium as it did in the twentieth century was the exclusively governmental interest in it. But now that private companies have taken sides on this, we’re probably going to see incredible things in the coming years… One of these companies that are changing the perspective on space transport is SpaceX.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., which does business under the trademark SpaceX, is a privately held U.S. aerospace services and space transportation services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk (better known worldwide as the creator of Tesla, a company that manufacturing electric cars, another great success today) with the aim of reducing the costs of space transport and allowing the colonization of the planet Mars.

SpaceX has since developed the Falcon family of launch vehicles and the Dragon family of spacecraft, which currently deliver payloads to Earth orbit.

Based on this perhaps it would be redundant to say that we are dealing with one of the companies that are giving more to talk about at the moment, and that is why it also enters our list of favorite startups: it is innovative in all its aspects, in addition to the fact that its entire team has significant creativity, this together will result in a very advanced and fascinating near future.

rocket hangar at Kennedy Space Center (California)
rocket hangar at Kennedy Space Center (California)

SpaceX’s notable achievements

One of these includes the first privately funded liquid booster rocket to reach Earth orbit; it is the first privately owned company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft; it is also the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station; and made the first propulsion landing for an orbital rocket; among other things.

On the other hand, he unveiled an interplanetary transport system, an ambitious initiative to develop interplanetary spaceflight technology with crew on board. If the necessary demand arises, this transport architecture could lead to the creation of sustainable human settlements on Mars in the long term and, quite possibly, to the creation of communication routes with this and other planets.

Dragon_capsule_and_SpaceX_employees_

Let’s learn more about the history and business of this interesting company below:

History of SpaceX

In 2001, South African-born Silicon Valley entrepreneur and entrepreneur Elon Musk conceptualized “Mars Oasis,” a project to land a miniature experimental greenhouse containing seeds with dehydrated gel on Mars to grow plants in its soil, “so this would be as far as life has ever traveled, “Musk said, in an attempt to regain public interest in space exploration and increase NASA’s budget.

Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX
Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX

But the entrepreneur realized that even with a much larger space budget, traveling to Mars would be prohibitively expensive without a fundamental breakthrough in rocket technology. In October 2001, he traveled to Moscow with Jim Cantrell (an aerospace supply solver), and Adeo Ressi (his best friend from college) to purchase refurbished ICBMMs that could send the planned payloads into space.

They met with companies such as Lavochkin and ISC Kosmotras. However, according to Cantrell, Musk was seen as a rookie and was consequently spat at by one of the leading Russian designers, and the group returned to the United States empty-handed.

In February 2002, the group returned to Russia to search for three ICBMs, this time they brought in Mike Griffin, who had worked for the CIA’s venture capital arm, In-Q-Tel; for NASA’s jet propulsion laboratory; and had just left Orbital Sciences Corporation, a manufacturer of satellites and spacecraft.

The group met again with Kosmotras, and they were offered a rocket for $8 million. However, this was seen by Musk as something too expensive and he left the meeting. While on the flight back to America, he realized that he could start a company to build the affordable rockets he needed.

Launch_of_Falcon_9_carrying_ORBCOMM

According to Steve Jurvetson, an initial investor at Tesla and SpaceX, Musk calculated that the raw materials to build a rocket were actually only 3% of the sale price of a rocket at the time. By applying vertical integration, primarily for cost reasons, about 85% of the entire Falcon/Dragon vehicle is produced in-house, and the modular approach of software engineering could reduce the launch price by a factor of 10 and still enjoy a gross profit margin of 70%.

Another reason behind vertical integration was Musk’s belief that reusable rockets cannot be constructed with elements from existing aerospace suppliers. For example, SpaceX had to design a machine that could friction weld the aluminum and lithium alloy for the Falcon 9’s fuselage, because such a machine did not exist.

According to Musk, SpaceX started with the smaller useful orbital rocket (Falcon 1, with about half a ton in orbit) rather than building a more complex and risky launch vehicle, which could have failed and driven the company into bankruptcy.

Musk decided that his company’s first rocket would be called Falcon 1, a nod to star wars’ Millennium Falcon.

In early 2002, Musk was looking for staff for the new company and turned to rocket engineer Tom Mueller. SpaceX was first established in a 75,000-square-foot warehouse in El Segundo, California. Musk decided that his company’s first rocket would be called Falcon 1, a nod to star wars’ Millennium Falcon. Musk planned that the first launch of Falcon 1 would take place in November 2003, 15 months after the company began.

Falcon Heavy on the launch pad
Falcon Heavy on the launchpad

In January 2005, SpaceX bought a 10% stake in Surrey Satellite Technology and by 2006, Musk had invested $100 million in the company. On August 4, 2008, SpaceX accepted an additional investment of $20 million from the Founders Fund and, in early 2012, approximately two-thirds of the company was owned by its founder, with its equity value estimated at $875 million for private markets, which valued SpaceX at approximately $1,300 million.

After the COTS 2+ flight, carried out in May 2012, the company’s private equity valuation almost doubled to 2,400 million.

On June 16, 2009, SpaceX announced the opening of its Astronaut and Mission Safety Department. He hired former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox to oversee the department as the company’s vice president. However, it has since been reported that the ex-astronaut subsequently left there in late 2011. No reason was given and no replacement has been announced in his position.

Artistic representation of a SpaceX interplanetary spacecraft
Artistic representation of a SpaceX interplanetary spacecraft

In 2012, SpaceX announced a launch price of $57 million, while Arianespace announced a price of $137 million per launch. That same year an initial public offering (IPO) was announced for late 2013, but then Musk stated that he planned to delay it until after the “Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly”, and this was reiterated in 2015 indicating that it would be many years before SpaceX becomes an open-ended company.

Musk stated, “I just don’t want SpaceX to be controlled by a private equity firm that milks it for short-term revenue.”

The company has grown rapidly since its founding, from 160 employees in November 2005, to more than 500 in July 2008, 1,100 in 2010, 1,800 in early 2012, and 3,000 in early 2013. It continued to grow to 3,800 employees and contractors in October 2013, and by early 2016 had nearly 5,000.

After the setback of the Launchpadexplosion, SpaceX successfully flew again on January 14, 2017, with its launch of the Iridium satellites. On February 19, 2017, a Falcon 9 with CRS-10 made the first launch from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A. The first stage of the launch scheduled for the end of February 2017, was the recovered and renewed one of April 8, 2016.

Dominating the Space Business

SpaceX is headquartered in the suburb of Hawthorne, Los Angeles, California. The large three-story facility, originally built by Northrop Corporation to build the Boeing 747airframes, houses the office space, mission control, and vehicle factory.

El Dato: The area has one of the largest concentrations of aerospace headquarters, facilities and subsidiaries in the U.S.,including the major Boeing/McDonnell Douglassatellite construction campuses, Aerospace Corp., Raytheon,among others.

SpaceX 's Atlantic landing platform
SpaceX’s Atlantic landing platform

SpaceX uses a high degree of vertical integration in the production of its rockets and rocket engines. It builds its engines, rocket stages, spacecraft, main avionics, and all the internal software at its Hawthorne facility, which is unusual among aerospace companies. However, SpaceX still has more than 3,000 suppliers, of which approximately 1,100 deliver products to it almost weekly.

SpaceX’s low launch prices, especially for communications satellites flying into geostationary orbit (GTO), have brought market pressure on its competitors to lower their own prices as well. Prior to 2013, the openly competitive comsat launch market had been dominated by Arianespace and International Launch Services. With a published price of 56.5 million per launch into low-Earth orbit, falcon 9 rockets were the cheapest in the industry.

Reusable Falcon 9s could lower the price by a wide order of magnitude, leading to the emergence of more space companies, which in turn would further reduce the cost of space access through economies of scale. SpaceX has publicly indicated that if they are successful in developing the reusable technology, launch prices would be reduced to the range of $5 million to $7 million at a time. This would certainly be a spectacular step forward for the space industry.

SpaceX rocket propulsion test
SpaceX rocket propulsion test

In 2014, SpaceX won nine contracts out of 20 that were openly competed around the world with commercial launch service providers. Space media reported that SpaceX “had already begun to take market share” from Arianespace. The latter has called on European governments to provide additional subsidies to deal with competition from SpaceX, which has been seen by many as unfair competition.

European satellite operators are pressuring ESA to reduce future launch prices for the Ariane 6 rocket as a result of competition from SpaceX. According to a director of Arianespace in 2015, it was clear that it was “a big challenge” what was coming with SpaceX, “therefore, things have to change… and the whole of European industry is being restructured, consolidated, streamlined, and simplified.” Jean Botti, director of innovation at Airbus (which makes the Ariane 5)warned that “those who don’t take Elon Musk seriously will have a lot to worry about.”

In 2014, SpaceX’s capabilities and pricing began to affect the market for launching U.S. military payloads. For nearly a decade, the major U.S. launch provider, the United Launch Alliance (ULA), had not faced any competition for military launches. Anticipating a drop in national military and spy launches, ULA stated that it would close unless it obtained commercial satellite launch orders.

To that end, ULA announced a major restructuring of processes and workforce to cut launch costs in half.

SpaceX_Dragon_v2_Pad_Abort_Vehicle

Space: A Round Business

SpaceX is privately funded. It developed its first launch vehicle, Falcon 1, and three rocket engines, Merlin, Kestrel, and Draco, entirely with private capital. It contracted with the U.S. government to obtain a portion of the development funds for the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, which uses a modified version of the Merlin rocket engine.

It is developing the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle, the Raptormethane-powered rocket engine, and a suite of privately funded reusable launch vehicle technologies.

By May 2012, it had operated with total financing of approximately $1 billion. Of this, private capital provided about 200 million. The rest comes from progressive payments on long-term launch contracts and development contracts. By April 2012, NASA had invested between $400 million and $500 million of this amount, and most of it was due to progress payments on launch contracts.

As of May 2012, SpaceX had contracts for 40 launch missions, and each of those contracts provided down payments after signing, and many give progress payments, as launch vehicle components are created before they start organizing a mission.

Theo McDonald at SpaceX Engine Test Bunker (McGregor, Texas)
Theo McDonald at SpaceX Engine Test Bunker (McGregor, Texas)

In August 2012, SpaceX signed a major development contract with NASA to design and develop a space capsule for the “new generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities”, to reactivate the launch of astronauts from U.S. soil in 2017. Two other companies, Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corporation, received similar development contracts.

The advances made by the three companies under the Space Act agreements through NASA’s Integrated Commercial Crew Capability Initiative(CCiCap)are intended to make commercial spaceflight services available to the general public. As part of this agreement, SpaceX was awarded a contract worth up to $440 million for contractual deliveries between 2012 and May 2014.

By the end of 2012, SpaceX had more than 40 launches under its belt, representing approximately $4 billion in contract revenue. Many of those contracts were already making progress payments to SpaceX, with both commercial and government customers.

Facade of SpaceX's headquarters in California
Facade of SpaceX’s headquarters in California

In January 2015, the company raised $1 billion in funds from Google and Fidelity, in exchange for 8.333% of the company, setting the company’s valuation at approximately $12 billion. Google and Fidelity joined the current investment group of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Founders Fund, Valor Equity Partners, and Capricorn.

Although the investment was thought to be related to SpaceX’s launch of a satellite construction business to a global internet satellite service, Gwynne Shotwell said in March 2015 that the investment was not specifically for that, but in the specific case of Google, it had been looking for an Internet satellite partner since the division with O3b Networks and OneWeb.

By March 2018, SpaceX was contracted for more than 100 launches, translating this into 12 billion revenue between commercial and government customers. Over three rounds of funding in 2019, the company raised $1,330 million.

Notable Releases in Recent Years

Tesla Roadster Launch

On February 6, 2018, the company successfully tested the first reusable rocket in history, the Falcon Heavy, and its launch had much comment around the world for being a historic (though not 100% successful) event. Musk said the propellant hit the water at a speed of 300 miles per hour and was about 328 feet away from the floating platform, pulling two of the thrusters of the remote-controlled ship and bathing the deck with shrapnel.

Although, despite all this, it is true that the charge could be successfully left in space and two of the auxiliary rockets landed perfectly on Earth.

Image of the red Tesla inside the rocket before take-off
Image of the red Tesla inside the rocket before take-off

The charge carried by rocket consisted of several elements: the main one was a Tesla Roadster car, with a mannequin that they named “Starman” in honor of David Bowie, there was also a storage device called “Arch”, and designed by the Arch Mission Foundation.

Mannequin dressed as an astronaut named Starman
A mannequin dressed as an astronaut named Starman

Launch of Satellites Providing the Internet

Since 2018, SpaceX since its Starlink project has been launching rockets, whose main payload is satellites that aim to offer high-speed Internet. Those launches have continued in 2019 and 2020, in fact, in 2020 the company launched the Falcon 9 recoverable rocket from Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

This launch marked the thirteenth batch of Starlink satellites, being SpaceX’s seventeenth mission since early 2020 and Flight 94 of the Falcon 9 reusable launch vehicle.

Let us remember that the main reason for these satellites is to be able to provide you with high-speed Internet in those areas of the world that do not have the service. Starlink has begun providing its services in the northern United States and Canada but aims to introduce coverage around the world in 2021.

Launch of Falcon Heavy

The Falcon Heavy was first launched on February 6, 2018, then launched again in April and June 2019, reusing the side thrusters from the previous flight.

Falcon 9 Takes NASA’s First Astronauts into Space after a Decade

On Saturday, May 30, 2020, the Falcon 9 rocket took off successfully, marking another point on Elon Musk’s long list of successes. This trip is quite special because a human crew hasn’t been on human soil since 2011. That liftoff was made from the legendary launch pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The astronauts chosen to reactivate the sending of astronauts from American lands were Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, being in charge of marking a milestone in history since SpaceX is the first private commercial company to undertake a trip to space of this type.

With everything that has happened in the years since SpaceX was founded, we can get an idea of what the future holds for us, with promising space travel and surely new technological inventions that will leave our mouths open.

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