SpaceX was born in 2002, when its founder, billionaire Elon Musk, took the first steps in his grand ambition to send a mission to Mars. Today, the company is way beyond the space startup stage. SpaceX has also launched the massive Falcon Heavy and has plans for an even larger rocket to reach the moon, Mars and beyond the Starship and its Super Heavy booster.
The Falcon 1 was the first rocket manufactured by SpaceX. It had a proposed capacity to carry 670 kilograms (1,480 lbs) to low Earth orbit, and it flew between 2006 and 2009. After three launch failures, Falcon 1 sent a dummy payload to space on Sept. 29, 2008. Its fifth and final launch, on July 14, 2009, sent RazakSAT, a Malaysian Earth-observation satellite, into orbit.
Falcon 1 rockets launched from Omelek Island, part of the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. The 68 feet tall a single engine powered rocket (21 meters) ran on liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene.
So Elon Musk named the Falcon rockets after the Millennium Falcon ship from “Star Wars.”
SpaceX soon received interest from several companies looking for a heavier-lift rocket. The company had considered developing an intermediary rocket called the Falcon 5, but skipped ahead and began work on the Falcon 9.
This rocket can send a payload to low Earth orbit weighing up to 28,991 lbs. (13,150 kg). It is a two-stage rocket that at stands 230 feet (70 meters) tall and is 12 feet (3.7 m) wide. It uses a cluster of nine engines.
SpaceX kept the first 18 months of the Dragon cargo ship’s development under wraps. Then, in March 2006, the company officially made Dragon public when the company submitted a proposal for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demonstration program. So, the goal was to develop a private spacecraft to ferry cargo to the International Space Station.
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After SpaceX hit several milestones, NASA selected SpaceX’s Dragon in December 2008 to be one company providing commercial resupply services to the space station. SpaceX’s contract value was a minimum of $1.6 billion, with options to extend to $3.1 billion; the company has since received a new contract for cargo launch services.
Grasshopper was a 100-foot-tall rocket prototype flown at SpaceX’s McGregor, Texas, proving grounds to give the company more experience in landing boosters vertically. While Grasshopper did not get as much media attention as SpaceX’s other programs, it was key to furthering the development of Falcon 9’s reusable first stage.
The Grasshopper rocket made eight test flights between 2012 and 2013, with the last flight seeing Grasshopper soar to 2,440 feet (744 meters). The Grasshopper program was then retired so SpaceX could focus more resources on Falcon 9’s development.
Drone ship landing
The persistence exhibited by Musk and his employees finally paid off on April 8, 2016, when a Falcon 9 first stage touched down softly on a drone ship called “Of Course I Still Love You” in the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX’s success rate with drone landings improved drastically after the April 2016 flight, although some boosters still missed the mark from time to time. The company’s Falcon 9 flight success rate is also strong; its last failure, in September 2016, saw a rocket explode on the launch pad before taking off.