SpaceX History

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A history of SpaceX in under 1500 words

2001 – A history of SpaceX

Elon Musk dreamed of a project he named”Mars Oasis”. Mars Oasis was an idea that they could land a small greenhouse containing plant seeds and dehydrated gel on Mars. The plants would then grow on Mars meaning that “this would be the furthest that life’s ever traveled”. 

As Musk explored this idea, he realised it would be too expensive to do this ongoing without making rocket technology cheaper and that the industry needed a breakthrough development.

Later in 2001, Musk travelled to Moscow with Jim Cantrell, and Adeo Russi, in an effort to buy re-built ICBMs that could send the payloads of plant life into space. Unfortunately, Musk was seen as a novice and was consequently spat on by one of the Russian chief designers, and the group returned to the US empty-handed.

first year  of SpaceX 2002 - A history of SpaceX

2002 – A history of SpaceX

The SpaceX team returned to Russia looking for three ICBMs. This time they brought Mike Griffin, who had worked for the CIA’s venture capital arm. They met with Kosmotras, the same Russian space company as before, and this time they were offered one rocket for US$8 million.

Musk thought this was too expensive and he left the meeting. On the return flight Musk decided that he could start a company which could build the affordable rockets he needed himself. 

Musk did the math and calculated that the cost of the raw materials for building a rocket actually was just 3% of the sales price. By bringing the rocket production in house and making changes to the launch strategy, materials and creating re-useable rockets he could still maintain a 70% gross margin.

A history of SpaceX - 2002

2003 – A history of SpaceX

Musk began recruiting for SpaceX and approached and signed on rocket engineer Tom Mueller who has become SpaceX’s CTO of Propulsion. 

SpaceX was originally headquartered in a 75,000 square feet warehouse in El Segundo, California where Musk opted to call SpaceX’s first rocket would be Falcon 1, a reference Star Wars’ Millennium Falcon and further illustrating Musk’s ability to draw inspiration from science fiction to create science reality. Musk initially ambitiously planned for Falcon 1’s first launch to occur in November 2003, 15 months after the company started and began work.

A history of SpaceX - SpaceX 2003

2004 – A history of SpaceX

Musk stated that one of his goals was to improve the reliability and cost of the access to space, with the ultimate goal of doing this by a factor of ten. SpaceX plans called for “the development of a heavy lift product and even a super-heavy, if there is customer demand”, with each size increase resulting in a significant reduction in the cost per pound to orbit.

A history of SpaceX 2004

2005 – A history of SpaceX

SpaceX bought a 10% stake in Surrey Satellite Technology, and by March 2006. At this point, SpaceX had 160 employees.

A history of SpaceX 2005

2006 – A history of SpaceX

Musk had invested a total of around US$100 million of his own money into the company.

2006 SpaceX - A history of SpaceX

2007 – A history of SpaceX

Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), previously Launch Complex 40 (LC-40) was leased to SpaceX to launch the Falcon 9 rocket. The complex was previously used as launch pad for rockets located at the north end of Cape Canaveral, Florida and by the United States Air Force for 55 Titan III and Titan IV launches between 1965 and 2005.

A history of SpaceX Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40

2008 – A history of SpaceX

SpaceX accepted a further $20 million investment from Founders Fund and the first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket (Falcon 1) reached orbit. At this point SpaceX had more than 500 employees.

a history of SpaceX 2008

2009 – A history of SpaceX

SpaceX announced the launch of its Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance Department. SpaceX hired ex NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox in a position to oversee the department as a vice president of the company, and he left the position in 2011 with no reason given or announced. At this point SpaceX had over 1,100 employees.

A history of Spacex 2009

2010 – A history of SpaceX

SpaceX became the first privately funded company to successfully launch (Falcon 9) into orbit and recover a spacecraft (Dragon).

SpaceX 2010 - SpaceX launches re-usable rocket - a history of SpaceX

2011 – A history of SpaceX

Musk stated in an interview that he hopes to send humans to Mars’ surface within 10–20 years.

SpaceX had successfully operated on total funding of approximately $1 billion in ten years. From the $1 billon, private equity had provided about $200M, with Elon Musk himself investing approximately $100M. Other investors put in about $100M.

The remainder has come from progress payments on long-term launch contracts and development contracts. NASA would put in about $400–500M of this amount, with most of that as progress payments on launch contracts. SpaceX was about to gain contracts for 40 launch missions.

SpaceX 2011 - A history of SpaceX

2012 – A history of SpaceX

At this point approximately two-thirds of the company were owned by Elon Musk. His 70 million shares were at this time estimated to be worth $875 million, which meant SpaceX could be roughly valued at $1.3 billion. After the Dragon Demo 2 flight, the valuation nearly doubled to $2.4 billion

SpaceX promoted a launch price of just $57 million, which when compared to companies like Arianespace, who were advertising a launch price of $137 million were far better priced. At this point SpaceX had over 1,800 employees.

SpaceX signed a huge development contract with NASA to design and develop a crew-carrying space capsule for the “next generation of U.S. human spaceflight capabilities”.

Elon Musk investment SpaceX 20102 - A history of SpaceX

2013 – A history of SpaceX

A major goal of SpaceX was announced. This was to develop a rapidly reusable launch system, essentially re-useable rockets. This including developing a test program of the low-altitude, low-speed Grasshopper vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) technology demonstrator rocket. Gwynne Shotwell said “if we get this 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.”

A Dragon spacecraft in orbit developed an issue with its thrusters. There was a blockage in the fuel valves, and his meant the craft was unable to control itself correctly. SpaceX engineers were able to remotely clear the blockages, but it arrived the International Space Station one day later than expected.

SpaceX now had a total of 50 future launches under contract, two-thirds of them are for commercial customers

SpaceX Dragon 2013 - A history of SpaceX

2014 – A history of SpaceX

As part of the agreement with Nasa in 2012, SpaceX concluded and completed a contract worth up to $440 million.

SpaceX and Nasa 2014 - A history of SpaceX

2015 – A history of SpaceX

SpaceX became the first company to send a probe beyond Earth orbit, and to the Deep Space Climate Observatory and completed the first landing of a first stage orbital capable rocket.

2 minutes and 19 seconds into the flight of a Falcon 9 carrying an unmanned Dragon capsule intended to take supplies to the International Space Station, a cloud of vapor was seen by the tracking camera forming outside the craft. A few seconds afterwards there was a loss of pressure in the helium tank, after which they exploded, causing a complete failure of the mission.

SpaceX raised $1 billion in funding from Google and Fidelity, in exchange for 8.333% of the company, establishing the company valuation at approximately $12 billion

Explosion of Falcon 9 2016 - A history of SpaceX

2016 – A history of SpaceX

A Falcon 9 rocket blew up. There was an explosion that originated around the rocket’s second stage as SpaceX were preparing for a routine static fire test. This occurred during loading of liquid oxygen minutes prior to igniting the first stage engine as part of the test.

The first water landing of a first stage orbital capable rocket (Falcon 9) was completed.

Falcon 9 explosion 2016 - A history of SpaceX

2017 – A history of SpaceX

After the setback of the launchpad explosion, SpaceX successfully got back launched again with Iridium satellites. The followed a Falcon 9 launch carrying CRS-10 from Kennedy Space Center.

A history of SpaceX 2018 - Iridium

2018 – A history of SpaceX

A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida. This time the rocket was built with a shiny new GPS 3 satellite built by Lockheed Martin for the US Air Force.

This was the 20th flight of a Falcon 9 rocket in 2018, and SpaceX’s 21st flight in total. The previous record was 18 launches in 2017.

2018 - A history of SpaceX

2019 – A history of SpaceX

SpaceX deployed the first batch of 60 satellites out of around 12,000 in its planned Starlink project. The Starlink project aims to provide low latency network communications.

A SpaceX Starhopper fell over and sustained damage due to strong winds in Texas

Starhopper fails - A history of SpaceX

2020 – A history of SpaceX

On May 30, 2020, SpaceX successfully launched two NASA astronauts (Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken) into orbit on a Crew Dragon spacecraft and onto the ISS. This was the first crewed launch from American soil in 9 years. The SpaceX Demo-2 successfully docked with the International Space Station.

SpaceX history

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