Space Exploration Technologies Corp., doing business as SpaceX, is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars. SpaceX has since developed the Falcon launch vehicle family and the Dragon spacecraft family, which both currently deliver payloads into Earth orbit.
SpaceX's achievements include the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008), the first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Dragon in 2010), the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Dragon in 2012), the first propulsive landing for an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2015), the first reuse of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2017), and the first private company to launch an object into orbit around the sun (Falcon Heavy's payload of a Tesla Roadster in 2018). SpaceX has flown 16 resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under a partnership with NASA. NASA also awarded SpaceX a further development contract in 2011 to develop and demonstrate a human-rated Dragon, which would be used to transport astronauts to the ISS and return them safely to Earth. SpaceX plans the maiden launch of its Dragon 2 spacecraft on a NASA-required demonstration flight in early 2019 and to launch its first crewed Dragon 2 later in 2019.
SpaceX announced in 2011 that it was beginning a reusable launch system technology development program. In December 2015, the first Falcon 9 was flown back to a landing pad near the launch site, where it successfully accomplished a propulsive vertical landing. This was the first such achievement by a rocket for orbital spaceflight. In April 2016, with the launch of CRS-8, SpaceX successfully vertically landed the first stage on an ocean drone ship landing platform. In May 2016, in another first, SpaceX again landed the first stage, but during a significantly more energetic geostationary transfer orbit mission. In March 2017, SpaceX became the first to successfully re-launch and land the first stage of an orbital rocket.
In September 2016, CEO Elon Musk unveiled the mission architecture of the Interplanetary Transport System program, an ambitious privately funded initiative to develop spaceflight technology for use in crewed interplanetary spaceflight. In 2017, Musk unveiled an updated configuration of the system, now named the BFR (Big Falcon Rocket), which is planned to be fully reusable and will be the largest rocket ever on its debut, currently scheduled for the early 2020s.
Musk has stated that one of his goals is to decrease the cost and improve the reliability of access to space, ultimately by a factor of ten. CEO Elon Musk said: "I believe $500 per pound ($1,100/kg) or less is very achievable." Falcon Heavy Rocket on Launch Pad 39-A in Cape Canaveral, FL
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. In 2015, SpaceX successfully landed the first orbital rocket on December 21. To date, SpaceX has successfully landed 25 boosters: 23 Falcon 9 and 2 Falcon Heavy.
In 2017, SpaceX formed a subsidiary, The Boring Company, and began work to construct a short underground test tunnel on and adjacent to the SpaceX headquarters and manufacturing facility, utilizing a small number of SpaceX employees, which was completed in May 2018, and opened to the public in December 2018. During 2018, The Boring Company was spun out into a separate corporate entity with 6% of the equity going to SpaceX, less than 10% to early employees, and the remainder of the equity to Elon Musk.
At the 2017 International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Musk announced his plans to build large spaceships to reach Mars. Using the BFR, Musk plans to land at least two uncrewed cargo ships to Mars in 2022. The first missions will be used to seek out sources of water and build a propellant plant. In 2024, Musk plans to fly four additional ships to Mars including the first people. From there, additional missions would work to establish a Mars colony. Musk's advocacy for the long-term settlement of Mars, goes far beyond what SpaceX projects to build; a successful colonization would ultimately involve many more economic actors—whether individuals, companies, or governments—to facilitate the growth of the human presence on Mars over many decades.
In March 2013, a Dragon spacecraft in orbit developed issues with its thrusters that limited its control capabilities. SpaceX engineers were able to remotely clear the blockages within a short period, and the spacecraft was able to successfully complete its mission to and from the International Space Station.
In June 2015, CRS-7 launched a Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 to resupply the International Space Station. All telemetry readings were nominal until 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the flight, when a loss of helium pressure was detected and a cloud of vapor appeared outside the second stage. A few seconds after this, the second stage exploded. The first stage continued to fly for a few seconds before disintegrating due to aerodynamic forces. The capsule was thrown off and survived the explosion, transmitting data until it was destroyed on impact. Later it was revealed that the capsule could have landed intact if it had software to deploy its parachutes in case of a launch mishap. The problem was discovered to be a failed 2-foot-long steel strut purchased from a supplier to hold a helium pressure vessel that broke free due to the force of acceleration. This caused a breach and allowed high-pressure helium to escape into the low-pressure propellant tank, causing the failure. The Dragon software issue was also fixed in addition to an analysis of the entire program in order to ensure proper abort mechanisms are in place for future rockets and their payload.
In September 2016, a Falcon 9 exploded during a propellant fill operation for a standard pre-launch static fire test. The payload, the Spacecom Amos-6 communications satellite valued at $200 million, was destroyed. Musk described the event as the "most difficult and complex failure" ever in SpaceX's history; SpaceX reviewed nearly 3,000 channels of telemetry and video data covering a period of 35–55 milliseconds for the postmortem. Musk reported the explosion was caused by the liquid oxygen that is used as propellant turning so cold that it solidified and it ignited with carbon composite helium vessels. Though not considered an unsuccessful flight, the rocket explosion sent the company into a four-month launch hiatus while it worked out what went wrong, and SpaceX returned to flight in January 2017.