SpaceX was founded in 2002 by South African born Elon Musk as an attempt to increase public interest in space exploration. The main vision of Space X is to enable multiplanetary human existence. In order to do this, SpaceX’s mission is to make space travel drastically cheaper than it currently is. Currently, space travel for one rocket is sitting at $500 million. SpaceX’s latest rocket can do it for less than 20% of that cost at $90 million.
Starting an aerospace tech company in 2002 was a huge gamble. The industry was already dominated by giants such as Boeing and funding a start-up like SpaceX was the biggest issue.
Elon had already made a name for himself by dropping out of Stanford University to pursue his entrepreneurial interests. However, even this name couldn’t keep SpaceX alive and the start-up was nearly destitute in 2006 and 2007.
Up to $100 million had been invested by Elon himself into SpaceX and in 2008 it was do or liquidate. Fortunately, in the form of a space angel, Pieter Thiel became the company’s first outside investor. This additional capital pushed SpaceX out of the dark and towards the light, bar a few legal battles.
The engines used to propel the space rocket, Falcon 9, are called Merlin. A single-engine weighs about the same as 17 adult African Elephants. In February 2018, the Falcon Heavy was launched into space equipped with a Merlin 1D. Each engine is self-cooled which helps reduce the bulk of the engine as no coolant tanks are required. The engines meet the requirements for passenger travel which means that earthlings will be able to visit the Space Station within a couple of years.
Making rockets into aeroplanes
After realizing purchasing parts for rockets from suppliers wouldn’t be viable, Elon realized he would make 85% of the necessary materials in-house. The next step in efficiency came from re-usability of the rocket, and SpaceX is the first to employ technology that keeps most of the rocket intact when re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere. The end goal is to get the cost per launch down to $50 000.
Moving to Mars?
Everything driving SpaceX has been for the original vision: making humankind a multiplanetary species and Mars is the first planet the company wants to inhabit. In 2017, Musk said, “You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great—and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than in the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”
The timeline for Mars is tight with the first 2 missions set for 2022 and plans for 2024 include 4 ships making a one-way trip to Mars, 2 with supplies and 2 with astronauts.
That Big Fudging Rocket
The BFR (Big F***ing Rocket) is the rocket to rule all space travel. This will be the biggest rocket ever made, so far. This rocket is designed to lift a whales weight in people and cargo and is 100% reusable. The rocket can land anywhere in the solar system and will become the fastest way humans can and have ever travelled.
What about improving travel on our own planet?
Alongside the Mars plan, Musk has passed the question: Why not use the BFR to travel internationally? It is possible and more convenient. Imagine jetting off to Paris or London for the weekend? A trip from London to Hong Kong could take as short as 25 minutes.