SpaceX: Falcon 1, Falcon 9 and Dragon (2010)
Videos in this documentary
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) is an American space transport company founded in June 2002 by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk who had invested US$100 million of his own money by March 2006. On August 4, 2008, SpaceX accepted a further US$20 million investment from the Founders Fund. SpaceX has nearly doubled in size every year since it was founded in 2002. It grew from 160 employees in November 2005 to more than 500 by July 2008, to over 1100 in 2010. The company developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets, both of which are built with a goal of being reusable launch vehicles. SpaceX also developed the Dragon spacecraft to be carried to orbit by Falcon 9 launch vehicles. SpaceX designs, tests and fabricates the majority of their components in-house, including the Merlin, Kestrel, and Draco rocket engines.
Musk believes the high prices of other space-launch services are driven in part by unnecessary bureaucracy. He has stated that one of his goals is to improve the cost and reliability of access to space, ultimately by a factor of ten. In January 2005, SpaceX bought a 10% stake in Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. On August 18, 2006, NASA announced that SpaceX had won a NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract to demonstrate cargo delivery to the International Space Station with a possible option for crew transport. On December 23, 2008, SpaceX announced that it had won a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract, for at least 12 missions for US$1.6 billion to carry supplies and cargo to and from the International Space Station, after the Space Shuttle retires. In June 2010, SpaceX was awarded the largest ever commercial space launch contract (US$492 million) to launch Iridium satellites using Falcon 9 rockets. On December 8th, 2010, SpaceX become the first private company to successfully launch and return a spacecraft from orbit after its Dragon capsule returned from a two-orbit trial run around the planet.
SpaceX is manufacturing two main space launch vehicles: the Falcon 1, which made its first successful flight on September 28, 2008, and the large EELV class Falcon 9, which flew successfully to orbit on its first launch on June 4, 2010. A Falcon 5 launcher was also planned, but its development was stopped in favor of the Falcon 9. SpaceX is also developing the SpaceX Dragon, a human-rated orbital vehicle that will be launched on top of a Falcon 9 rocket. On May 2, 2005, SpaceX announced that it had been awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for Responsive Small Spacelift (RSS) launch services by the United States Air Force, which could allow the Air Force to purchase up to $100,000,000 worth of launches from the company. On April 22, 2008, NASA announced that it had awarded an IDIQ Launch Services contract to SpaceX for Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launches. The contract will be worth up to $1 billion, depending on the number of missions awarded. The contract covers launch services ordered by June 30, 2010, for launches through December 2012.
Elon Musk stated in the same April 22 announcement that SpaceX has sold 14 contracts for flights on the various Falcon vehicles. On June 16, 2009, SpaceX announced the opening of its Astronaut Safety and Mission Assurance Department. It hired former NASA astronaut Ken Bowersox to oversee the department as a vice president of the company.
Drawing upon a rich history of prior launch vehicle and engine programs, SpaceX privately developed the Falcon family of rockets from the ground up, including main and upper-stage engines, the cryogenic tank structure, avionics, guidance & control software and ground support equipment. With the Falcon 1, Falcon 1e, Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy launch vehicles, SpaceX is able to offer a full spectrum of light, medium and heavy lift launch capabilities to our customers. The company is able to deliver spacecraft into any inclination and altitude, from low Earth orbit (LEO) to geosynchronous orbit (GEO) to planetary missions. The Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy are the only US launch vehicles with true engine-out reliability. They are also designed such that all stages are reusable, making them the world's first fully reusable launch vehicles. The Dragon crew and cargo capsule, in conjunction with our Falcon 9, have been selected by NASA to provide efficient and reliable transport of cargo and potentially crew to the International Space Station (ISS) and other LEO destinations.
The Falcon 1 is a small, partially reusable rocket capable of placing several hundred kilograms into low earth orbit. It also functions as a testbed for developing concepts and components for the larger Falcon 9. Initial Falcon 1 flights were launched from the US government's Reagan Test Center on the island atoll of Kwajalein in the Pacific Ocean, and represented the first attempt to fly a ground-launched rocket to orbit from that site. Ultimately that maiden mission failed only seconds after leaving the pad due to a fuel line rupture. The next Falcon 1 mission failed due to the first stage ramming into the second stage engine bell at staging. The Falcon 1 succeeded in reaching orbit at its fourth attempt on September 28, 2008, becoming the first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket to do so. The Falcon 1 carried its first successful commercial payload into orbit on July 13, 2009. This was the fifth launch of the Falcon 1.
On September 8, 2005, SpaceX announced the development of the Falcon 9 rocket, which has nine Merlin engines in its first stage. The design is an EELV-class vehicle, intended to compete with the Delta IV and the Atlas V rockets. Both stages were designed for reuse. A similarly designed Falcon 5 rocket was also envisioned to fit between the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9, but development was dropped to concentrate on the Falcon 9. The company purchased the McGregor, Texas, testing facilities of defunct Beal Aerospace, where it refit the largest test stand at the facilities for Falcon 9 testing. On November 22, 2008, the stand tested the nine Merlin 1C engines of the Falcon 9, which deliver 350 metric-tons-force (3.4-meganewtons) of thrust, well under the stand's capacity of 1,500 metric-tons-force (15 meganewtons).
The first Falcon 9 vehicle was integrated at Cape Canaveral on December 30, 2008. NASA was planning for a flight to take place in January 2010; however the maiden flight was postponed several times and took place on June 4, 2010. At 2:50pm EST the Falcon 9 Rocket successfully reached orbit. The second flight for the Falcon 9 vehicle was the COTS Demo Flight 1 at 1543 GMT on 8 December 2010. The rocket successfully deployed an operational Dragon spacecraft at 1553 GMT.
In the third flight the Falcon 9 will help the Dragon perform a flyby past the ISS. The fourth flight will include a complete docking with the ISS.
In 2005, SpaceX announced plans to pursue a manned commercial space program through the end of the decade. On August 18, 2006, NASA announced that the company was one of two selected to provide crew and cargo resupply demonstration contracts to the International Space Station (ISS) under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. SpaceX will demonstrate crew and cargo resupply using the SpaceX Dragon, a conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule, which is capable of carrying 7 people or a mixture of personnel and cargo to and from low Earth orbit. It will be launched atop a Falcon 9 vehicle. The nose cone of the vehicle has a hinged cap, which opens to reveal a standard ISS Common Berthing Mechanism, which allows the Dragon to dock to the U.S. segment of the ISS. NASA's plan calls for SpaceX demonstration flights between 2008 and 2010. SpaceX may receive up to $278 million if it meets all NASA milestones.
First flight of a structural test article of the Dragon took place June 4, 2010 from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during the maiden flight of the Falcon 9. Though the mock-up Dragon lacked avionics, heat shield, and other key elements, an operational Dragon spacecraft was launched on December 8, 2010 aboard the second flight of the Falcon 9, and returned to Earth after two orbits. In 2009 and 2010, Musk has suggested on several occasions that plans for a manned variant of Dragon were proceeding and had a 2- to 3-year time line to completion.