SpaceX is a well known private launch service provider in the commercial space transportation industry. Awarded with a NASA Launch Services contract, SpaceX is taking the industry by storm with low cost and ambitious operations. This paper will describe their background, operations, successes, shortcomings, safety aspects and their role in commercial space transportation.
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is a launch vehicle service provider in the commercial space travel industry. Their main focus is to increase the capability and reliability of commercial launch vehicles while reducing the cost of accessing space (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, 2008). The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines the term commercial space transportation as “the launch of an object into space or the reentry of an object from space by a private, nongovernment entity” (Chapter IX, 2005). SpaceX has introduced three launch vehicles; Falcon 1, Falcon 9, and Falcon 9 Heavy. They also developed a spacecraft called the Dragon. Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, says he’s going to cut the cost of space missions by at least one third the price of any competitors using these vehicles (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, 2008).
SpaceX is the third company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk who serves as CEO. Musk started SpaceX in El Segundo, CA in 2002. Before SpaceX, Musk co-founded the world’s largest electronic payment system known as Pay Pal. After selling Pay Pal to EBay for $1.5 billion, he set his eyes on space in hopes of taking over NASA’s space missions (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, 2008).
NASA will be shutting down their space shuttle operations in 2010 because of funding issues. SpaceX is one of the two winners of the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contracts that NASA awarded in August 2006. The other contract winner is Rocketplane Kistler. The purpose of the COTS contract is to create a competitive market for supply flights to the international space station (ISS). The COTS contract will award both companies a total of $500 billion to help fund operations (NASA Invests in Private Sector Space Flight with SpaceX, Rocketplane-Kistler, 2006). A year before the NASA contract, SpaceX received a $100 million contract by the U.S. Air Force to provide low cost orbital launch vehicles and responsive launch services. This will be performed on a recurring basis using a mature vehicle design and a commercially derived booster to meet mission/payload requirements. SpaceX will use their Falcon 1 to fulfill their Air Force contract (Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, 2008).
The Falcon 1 is a two stage, liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (RP-1) powered launch vehicle. With a flight costing under $10 million, this launch vehicle is the lowest costing per flight rocket in the world. It is currently being tested at the Reagon Test Site of Omelek Island in the Marshall Islands. The Falcon 1 is designed from the ground up by SpaceX for cost efficient and reliable transport of satellites to low Earth orbit. The dimensions of this launch vehicle are 90 feet long and 5.5 feet wide. It has a mass of 46,760 kg and a thrust of 556 kN on liftoff. The vehicle will be held down after engine start to verify that all systems are fully functional before liftoff. Once released, it will reach a height of about 300,000 feet and then stage separation will occur after stage one engine burnout. This is when the bottom portion of the rocket detaches from the rocket and returns back to earth by parachute. The first stage is reusable and is powered by a single SpaceX Merlin engine. The Merlin was developed by SpaceX and has a thrust of 125,000 pounds at sea level. After stage separation, the second stage ignition will begin at about 325,000 feet. Stage two is powered by the SpaceX Kestrel...