Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, is an American space transport company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by former PayPal entrepreneur Elon Musk. It has developed the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles, both of which were designed from conception to eventually become reusable.
After the Dragon has docked with the space station, the crew is to unload the 882 pounds of food, experiments and other supplies on the capsule and reload it over the next 2 1/2 weeks with cargo to bring back to Earth. When the Dragon is sent back, the craft is to deploy parachutes to slow its descent after entering Earth's atmosphere and should splash down in the Pacific Ocean hundreds of miles west of Southern California.
During last night’s launch, an engine exploded — and yet the Falcon 9 rocket continued its climb into the stratosphere unabated. Believe it or not, Falcon 9 is designed for such “engine out” occurrences. When you’re burning RP-1 and liquid oxygen to produce 138,000 pounds of thrust, explosions happen. In this case, the Falcon 9′s on-board computers almost instantly register the engine failure, and then alter the output of the remaining eight engines to compensate.
A prototype communications satellite flying as a secondary payload aboard a Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket was sent into the wrong orbit because of a problem during launch Sunday evening, officials said Tuesday. One of the nine Merlin engines powering the Falcon 9 rocket shut down early, though the other engines burned longer to make up for the loss of thrust, saving the primary mission of delivering a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station for NASA.
Seven and a half hours before launch, the switch is turned on for Falcon 9 and Dragon. With systems and computers powered up, the launch pad is evacuated and the rocket is autonomously fueled a little less than four hours before launch. The liquid oxygen tank is filled first and the RP-1 (kerosene) is topped off afterwards. Because the liquid oxygen is constantly venting from the tanks, it is continuously topped off before the launch occurs. With 10 minutes and 30 seconds left to launch, the terminal countdown begins. At this point the systems are autonomous. There are three separate teams that must give the go-ahead during the countdown, with NASA mission control in Houston and SpaceX mission control in Hawthorne, California both polled to make sure everything looks good on their screens. With everybody’s approval and 2 minutes and 30 seconds left on the clock, the launch director gives the final go-ahead for liftoff.
In an election year where Florida is considered an important swing state, Ms. Shotwell told reporters SpaceX plans to increase employment at the NASA launch complex. She said SpaceX's efforts "would not be where we are today" without strong support from the agency. Asked if she worried about competitors catching up, she replied: "SpaceX tries to stay ahead of everybody."
Another aerospace firm, Orbital Sciences Corp. of Dulles, Va., is nipping at SpaceX's heels with a test flight of its commercial rocket set for later this year. Orbital has a $1.9-billion cargo-hauling contract with NASA. The company is running tests on its Antares rocket at a launch pad at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia for a separate resupply mission.
The other noteworthy feature of the Falcon is its price: SpaceX plans to sell the vehicle for $12 million a flight: about $2,850 per kg, or $1,300 per pound. “It’s going to set a new world record for the cost per pound for access to space,” he said. “That’s a huge improvement over anything else.” Musk said the Falcon 5 should be available for launch in 2005. “We’re discussing first launch with a number of potential customers right now,” he said, but did not elaborate on whose those customers might be.
The company has sold two vehicles so far, one to the U.S. military for the March launch, and the other to a foreign government, with launch likely in the fourth quarter of this year. While one should not count the Falcon’s “eggs” before they are hatched, Musk has stacked the deck in his favor. An Internet mogul turned spacecraft builder, he does not claim to have a secret formula for drastically lowering launch costs, just sound business and engineering skills and the ability to choose and lead the best team money can buy.
The private spaceflight company SpaceX launches an unmanned space capsules to the International Space Station on May 22, 2012, a demonstration flight marked a turning point for the commercial spaceflight industry. The demo flight tested Dragon's ability to haul cargo to and from the space station and made history when the Hawthorne, Calif.-based SpaceX became the first company to dock a privately built spacecraft to the orbiting lab.
With the Falcon 1, Falcon 5 and Falcon 9 launch vehicles, SpaceX is able to offer light, medium and heavy lift capabilities. They are able to deliver spacecraft into any inclination and altitude, from low Earth orbit to geosynchronous orbit to planetary missions.