Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
FoundedMay 6, 2002; 18 years ago (2002-05-06)[1]
FounderElon Musk Edit this on Wikidata
Key people
ServicesOrbital rocket launch
OwnerElon Musk Trust
(54% equity; 78% voting control)[3]
Number of employees
(November 2019)
Footnotes / references

Space Exploration Technologies Corp., trading as SpaceX, is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk with the goal of reducing space transportation costs to enable the colonization of Mars.[8][9][10] SpaceX has developed several launch vehicles and the Dragon spacecraft.

SpaceX's achievements include the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008),[11] 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),[12] the first propulsive landing for an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2015), the first reuse of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2017), the first private company to launch an object into orbit around the Sun (Falcon Heavy's payload of a Tesla Roadster in 2018), and the first private company to send astronauts to the International Space Station (Dragon 2 in 2020).[13] SpaceX has flown 20[14] resupply missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under a partnership with NASA.[15] 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.[16][self-published source?] SpaceX conducted the maiden launch of its Dragon 2 spacecraft on a NASA-required demonstration flight (Crew Dragon Demo-1) on March 2, 2019, and launched its first crewed Dragon 2 on May 30, 2020.[13]

In December 2015, a Falcon 9 accomplished a propulsive vertical landing. This was the first such achievement by a rocket for orbital spaceflight.[17] In April 2016, with the launch of CRS-8, SpaceX successfully vertically landed the first stage on an ocean drone ship landing platform.[18] In May 2016, in another first, SpaceX again landed the first stage, but during a significantly more energetic geostationary transfer orbit mission.[19] In March 2017, SpaceX became the first to successfully re-launch and land the first stage of an orbital rocket.[20] In January 2020, with the third launch of the Starlink project, SpaceX became the largest commercial satellite constellation operator in the world.[21][22]

In September 2016, Musk unveiled the Interplanetary Transport System, a privately funded launch system to develop spaceflight technology for use in crewed interplanetary spaceflight. In 2018, Musk unveiled an updated configuration of the system, Starship, which is intended to become the primary SpaceX orbital vehicle after the early 2020s, as SpaceX has announced it intends to eventually replace its existing Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon 2 fleet with Starship, even in the Earth-orbit satellite delivery market.[23][24][25]:24:50–27:05 Starship is planned to be fully reusable and will be the largest rocket ever on its debut, scheduled for the early 2020s.[26][27]


SpaceX employees with the Dragon capsule at SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California, February 2015

In 2001, Elon Musk conceptualized Mars Oasis, a project to land a miniature experimental greenhouse and grow plants on Mars. He announced that "This would be the furthest that life's ever traveled"[28] in an attempt to regain public interest in space exploration and increase the budget of NASA.[29][30][31] Musk tried to buy cheap rockets from Russia but returned empty-handed after failing to find rockets for an affordable price.[32][33] On the flight home, Musk realized that he could start a company that could build the affordable rockets he needed.[33] According to early Tesla and SpaceX investor Steve Jurvetson,[34] Musk calculated that the raw materials for building a rocket actually were only three percent of the sales price of a rocket at the time. By applying vertical integration,[32] producing around 85% of launch hardware in-house,[35][36] and the modular approach from software engineering, SpaceX could cut launch price by a factor of ten and still enjoy a 70% gross margin.[37]

Launch of Falcon 9 carrying ORBCOMM OG2-M1

In early 2002, Musk was seeking staff for his new space company, soon to be named SpaceX. Musk approached rocket engineer Tom Mueller (later SpaceX's CTO of Propulsion). Mueller agreed to work for Musk, and thus SpaceX was born.[38] SpaceX was first headquartered in a warehouse in El Segundo, California. The company grew rapidly, from 160 employees in November 2005 to 1,100 in 2010,[39][40] 3,800 employees and contractors by October 2013,[41] nearly 5,000 by late 2015,[42][43] and about 6,000 in April 2017.[44] As of November 2017, the company had grown to nearly 7,000.[45] In 2016, Musk gave a speech at the International Astronautical Congress, where he explained that the US government regulates rocket technology as an "advanced weapon technology", making it difficult to hire non-Americans.[46]

Falcon 9 rocket's first stage on the landing pad after the second successful vertical landing of an orbital rocket stage, OG2 Mission.

As of March 2018, SpaceX had over 100 launches on its manifest representing about $12 billion in contract revenue.[47] The contracts included both commercial and government (NASA/DOD) customers.[48] In late 2013, space industry media quoted Musk's comments on SpaceX "forcing… increased competitiveness in the launch industry", its major competitors in the commercial comsat launch market being Arianespace, United Launch Alliance, and International Launch Services.[49] At the same time, Musk also said that the increased competition would "be a good thing for the future of space". Currently, SpaceX is the leading global commercial launch provider measured by manifested launches.[50]

Falcon 9 first stage on an ASDS barge after the first successful landing at sea, CRS-8 Mission.

On May 30, 2020, SpaceX successfully launched two NASA astronauts (Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken) into orbit on a Crew Dragon spacecraft during SpaceX Demo-2, making SpaceX the first private company to send astronauts to the International Space Station and marking the first crewed launch from American soil in 9 years.[51][52] The mission launched from Launch Complex 39A of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.[53] SpaceX Demo-2 successfully docked with the ISS on May 31, 2020.[54] Due to the COVID-19 pandemic happening at the same time, proper quarantine procedures (many of which were already in use by NASA decades before the 2020 pandemic) were taken to prevent the astronauts from bringing COVID-19 aboard the ISS.[55][56]


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.[57] CEO Elon Musk said: "I believe $500 per pound ($1100/kg) or less is very achievable".[58] Musk has also stated that he wishes to make space travel available for "almost anyone."[59]

Falcon Heavy Rocket on Launch Pad 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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-velocity Grasshopper flight test vehicle,[60][61][62] and a high-altitude, high-speed Falcon 9 post-mission booster return test campaign. In 2015, SpaceX successfully landed the first orbital rocket stage on December 21.

In 2017, SpaceX formed a subsidiary, The Boring Company,[63] and began work to construct a short test tunnel on and adjacent to the SpaceX headquarters and manufacturing facility, utilizing a small number of SpaceX employees,[64] which was completed in May 2018,[65][66] and opened to the public in December 2018.[67] 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.[67]

At the 2016 International Astronautical Congress, Musk announced his plans to build large spaceships to reach Mars.[68] Using the Starship, Musk planned to send at least two unmanned cargo ships to Mars in 2022. The first missions would be used to seek out sources of water and build a propellant plant. Musk also planned to fly four additional ships to Mars in 2024 including the first people. From there, additional missions would work to establish a Mars colony.[9][69] These goals are however facing delays.[70]

Musk's advocacy for the long-term settlement of Mars, goes far beyond what SpaceX projects to build;[71][72][73] 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.[74][75][76]


Major achievements of SpaceX are in the reuse of orbital-class launch vehicles and cost reduction in the space launch industry. Most notable of these being the continued landings and relaunches of the first stage of Falcon 9. As of March 2020, SpaceX has used a single first-stage booster, B1048, at most five times. SpaceX is defined as a private space company and thus its achievements can also be counted as firsts by a private company.

Landmark achievements of SpaceX in chronological order include:[77][unreliable source?]

  • The first privately funded liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 flight 4 on September 28, 2008)
  • The first privately developed liquid-fueled rocket to put a commercial satellite in orbit (RazakSAT on Falcon 1 flight 5 on July 14, 2009)
  • The first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (SpaceX Dragon on COTS Demo Flight 1 on December 9, 2010)
  • The first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Dragon C2+ on May 25, 2012)
  • The first private company to send a satellite into geosynchronous orbit (SES-8 on Falcon 9 flight 7 on December 3, 2013)
  • The first landing of an orbital rocket's first stage on land (Falcon 9 flight 20 on December 22, 2015)
  • The first landing of an orbital rocket's first stage on an ocean platform (Falcon 9 flight 23 on April 8, 2016)
  • The first relaunch and landing of a used orbital rocket stage (B1021 on Falcon 9 flight 32 on March 30, 2017)[78]
  • The first controlled flyback and recovery of a payload fairing (Falcon 9 flight 32 on March 30, 2017)[79]
  • The first reflight of a commercial cargo spacecraft. (Dragon C106 on CRS-11 mission on June 3, 2017)[80]
  • The first private company to send an object into heliocentric orbit (Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster on Falcon Heavy test flight on February 6, 2018)
  • The first private company to send a human-rated spacecraft to space (Crew Dragon Demo-1, on Falcon 9 flight 69 on March 2, 2019)
  • The first private company to autonomously dock a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Crew Dragon Demo-1, on Falcon 9 flight 69 on March 3, 2019)
  • The first use of a full flow staged combustion cycle engine (Raptor) in a free flying vehicle (Starhopper, multiple tests in 2019).
  • The first reuse of payload fairing (Starlink 1 Falcon 9 launch on November 11, 2019). Fairing was from the ArabSat-6A mission in April earlier that year.
  • The first private company to send humans into orbit (Crew Dragon Demo-2 on May 30, 2020).[81]
  • The first private company to send humans to the International Space Station (Crew Dragon Demo-2 on May 31, 2020).[82]


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 late June 2015, CRS-7 launched a Cargo Dragon 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.[83] 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.[84] The problem was discovered to be a failed 2-foot-long steel strut purchased from a supplier[85] to hold a helium pressure vessel that broke free due to the force of acceleration.[86] 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.[87]

In early September 2016, a Falcon 9 exploded during a propellant fill operation for a standard pre-launch static fire test.[88][89] The payload, the Spacecom Amos-6 communications satellite valued at $200 million, was destroyed.[90] Musk described the event as the "most difficult and complex failure" 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.[91] Musk reported that the explosion was caused by the liquid oxygen that is used as propellant turning so cold that it solidified and ignited with carbon composite helium vessels.[92] 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. SpaceX returned to flight in January 2017.[93]

On June 28, 2019, SpaceX announced that it had lost contact with three of the 60 satellites making up the Starlink megaconstellation. The dysfunctional satellites' orbits are expected to slowly decay until they disintegrate in the atmosphere.[94] However, the rate of failure for satellites in megaconstellations consisting of thousands of satellites has raised concerns that these constellations could litter the Earth's lower orbit, with serious detrimental consequences for future space flights.[95]

Ownership, funding and valuation

In August 2008, SpaceX accepted a US$20 million investment from Founders Fund.[96] In early 2012, approximately two-thirds of the company stock was owned by its founder[97] and his 70 million shares were then estimated to be worth $875 million on private markets,[98] which roughly valued SpaceX at $1.3 billion as of February 2012.[99] After the COTS 2+ flight in May 2012, the company private equity valuation nearly doubled to US$2.4 billion.[100][101] By May 2012—ten years after founding—SpaceX had operated on total funding of approximately US$1 billion over its first decade of operation. Of this, private equity provided approximately US$200 million with Musk investing approximately US$100 million and other investors having put in about US$100 million (Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, etc.).[102] The remainder had come from progress payments on long-term launch contracts and development contracts, as working capital, not equity.

In January 2015, SpaceX raised US$1 billion in funding from Google and Fidelity, in exchange for 8.33% of the company, establishing the company valuation at approximately US$12 billion. Google and Fidelity joined prior investors Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Founders Fund, Valor Equity Partners and Capricorn.[103][104] In July 2017, the Company raised US$350 million at a valuation of US$21 billion.[105]

Congressional testimony by SpaceX in 2017 suggested that the NASA Space Act Agreement process of "setting only a high-level requirement for cargo transport to the space station [while] leaving the details to industry" had allowed SpaceX to design and develop the Falcon 9 rocket on its own at substantially lower cost. According to NASA's own independently verified numbers, SpaceX's total development cost for both the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 rockets was estimated at approximately US$390 million. In 2011, NASA estimated that it would have cost the agency about US$4 billion to develop a rocket like the Falcon 9 booster based upon NASA's traditional contracting processes, about ten times more.[106]

By March 2018, SpaceX had contracts for 100 launch missions, and each of those contracts provides down payments at contract signing, plus many are paying progress payments as launch vehicle components are built in advance of mission launch, driven in part by US accounting rules for recognizing long-term revenue.[48]

Successful SpaceX launches by year[107]

SpaceX raised a total of US$1.33 billion of capital across three funding rounds in 2019.[108] In April 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported the company was raising $500 million in funding.[109] In May 2019, Space News reported SpaceX "raised $1.022 billion" the day after SpaceX launched 60 satellites towards their 12,000 satellite plan named Starlink broadband constellation.[110][111] By May 31, 2019, the valuation of SpaceX had risen to $33.3 billion.[112] In June 2019, SpaceX began a raise of US$300 million, most of it from the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan, which then had some US$191 billion in assets under management.[113][needs update]

As of February 2020, SpaceX was raising an additional amount of about US$250 million through equity stock offerings. In May 2020, the company valuation reached US$36 billion.[114]


Launch vehicles

The landing of a Falcon 9 Block 5 first stage at Cape Canaveral in July 2019 – VTVL technologies are utilized in many of SpaceX's launch vehicles.

Falcon 1 was a small rocket capable of placing several hundred kilograms into low Earth orbit.[115] It functioned as an early test-bed for developing concepts and components for the larger Falcon 9.[115] Falcon 1 attempted five flights between 2006 and 2009. With Falcon I, when Musk announced his plans for it before a subcommittee in the Senate in 2004, he discussed that Falcon I would be the 'worlds only semi-reusable orbital rocket' apart from the Space Shuttle.[116] On September 28, 2008, on its fourth attempt, the Falcon 1 successfully reached orbit, becoming the first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket to do so.[117]

Falcon 9 is an EELV-class medium-lift vehicle capable of delivering up to 22,800 kilograms (50,265 lb) to orbit, and is intended to compete with the Delta IV and the Atlas V rockets, as well as other launch providers around the world. It has nine Merlin engines in its first stage.[118] The Falcon 9 v1.0 rocket successfully reached orbit on its first attempt on 2010-06-04. Its third flight, COTS Demo Flight 2, launched on 2012-05-22, and was the first commercial spacecraft to reach and dock with the International Space Station.[119] The vehicle was upgraded to Falcon 9 v1.1 in 2013, Falcon 9 Full Thrust in 2015, and finally to Falcon 9 Block 5 in 2018. As of 23 March 2020, the Falcon 9 family have flown 84 successful missions with one failure, one partial success, and one vehicle destroyed during a routine test several days prior to a scheduled launch.

In 2011, SpaceX began development of the Falcon Heavy, a heavy-lift rocket configured using a cluster of three Falcon 9 first stage cores with a total 27 Merlin 1D engines and propellant crossfeed.[120][121] The Falcon Heavy successfully flew on its inaugural mission on February 6, 2018 with a payload consisting of Musk's personal Tesla Roadster into heliocentric orbit[122] The first stage would be capable of lifting 63,800 kilograms (140,660 lb) to LEO with the 27 Merlin 1D engines producing 22,819 kN of thrust at sea level, and 24,681 kN in space. At the time of its first launch, SpaceX described their Falcon Heavy as "the world's most powerful rocket in operation".[123]

Rocket engines

The Merlin 1D engine, SpaceX's most numerous engine, undergoing testing at SpaceX's Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas.

Since the founding of SpaceX in 2002, the company has developed three families of rocket enginesMerlin and the retired Kestrel for launch vehicle propulsion, and the Draco control thrusters. SpaceX is currently developing two further rocket engines: SuperDraco and Raptor. SpaceX is currently the world's most prolific producer of liquid fuel rocket engines.[124] Merlin is a family of rocket engines developed by SpaceX for use on their launch vehicles. Merlin engines use LOX and RP-1 as propellants in a gas-generator power cycle. The Merlin engine was originally designed for sea recovery and reuse. The injector at the heart of Merlin is of the pintle type that was first used in the Apollo Program for the lunar module landing engine. Propellants are fed via a single shaft, dual impeller turbo-pump. Kestrel is a LOX/RP-1 pressure-fed rocket engine, and was used as the Falcon 1 rocket's second stage main engine. It is built around the same pintle architecture as SpaceX's Merlin engine but does not have a turbo-pump, and is fed only by tank pressure. Its nozzle is ablatively cooled in the chamber and throat, is also radiatively cooled, and is fabricated from a high strength niobium alloy. Both names for the Merlin and Kestrel engines are derived from species of North American falcons: the kestrel and the merlin.[125]

Draco engines are hypergolic liquid-propellant rocket engines that utilize monomethyl hydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. Each Draco thruster generates 400 newtons (90 lbf) of thrust.[126] They are used as reaction control system (RCS) thrusters on the Dragon spacecraft.[127] SuperDraco engines are a much more powerful version of the Draco thrusters, which were initially meant to be used as landing and launch escape system engines on Dragon 2. The concept of using retro-rockets for landing was scrapped in 2017 when it was decided to perform a traditional parachute descent and splashdown at sea.[128] Raptor is a new family of methane-fueled full-flow staged combustion cycle engines to be used in its future Starship launch system.[129] Development versions were test fired in late 2016.[130] On April 3, 2019, SpaceX conducted a successful static fire test in Texas on its Starhopper vehicle, which ignited the engine while the vehicle remained tethered to the ground.[131] On July 24, 2019, SpaceX conducted a successful test hop of 20 meters of its Starhopper.[132] On August 28, 2019, Starhopper conducted a successful test hop of 150 meters.[133]

Dragon spacecraft

The SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, designed to deliver crew to and from the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Crew Program.

In 2005, SpaceX announced plans to pursue a human-rated commercial space program through the end of the decade.[134] The Dragon is a conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule which is capable of carrying cargo or up to seven astronauts into orbit and beyond.[135][135] In 2006, NASA announced that the company was one of two selected to provide crew and cargo resupply demonstration contracts to the ISS under the COTS program.[136] SpaceX demonstrated cargo resupply and eventually crew transportation services using the Dragon.[119] The first flight of a Dragon structural test article took place in June 2010, from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during the maiden flight of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle; the mock-up Dragon lacked avionics, heat shield, and other key elements normally required of a fully operational spacecraft but contained all the necessary characteristics to validate the flight performance of the launch vehicle.[137] An operational Dragon spacecraft was launched in December 2010 aboard COTS Demo Flight 1, the Falcon 9's second flight, and safely returned to Earth after two orbits, completing all its mission objectives.[138] In 2012, Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station,[119] and has since been conducting regular resupply services to the ISS.[139]

In April 2011, NASA issued a $75 million contract, as part of its second-round commercial crew development (CCDev) program, for SpaceX to develop an integrated launch escape system for Dragon in preparation for human-rating it as a crew transport vehicle to the ISS.[140] In August 2012, NASA awarded SpaceX a firm, fixed-price SAA with the objective of producing a detailed design of the entire crew transportation system. This contract includes numerous key technical and certification milestones, an uncrewed flight test, a crewed flight test, and six operational missions following system certification.[141] The fully autonomous Crew Dragon spacecraft is expected to be one of the safest crewed spacecraft systems. Reusable in nature, the Crew Dragon will offer savings to NASA.[141] SpaceX conducted a test of an empty Crew Dragon to ISS in early 2019, and later in the year they plan to launch a crewed Dragon which will send US astronauts to the ISS for the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttle.[142][143] In February 2017, SpaceX announced that two would-be space tourists had put down "significant deposits" for a mission which would see the two tourists fly on board a Dragon capsule around the Moon and back again.

In addition to SpaceX's privately funded plans for an eventual Mars mission, NASA Ames Research Center had developed a concept called Red Dragon: a low-cost Mars mission that would use Falcon Heavy as the launch vehicle and trans-Martian injection vehicle, and the Dragon capsule to enter the Martian atmosphere. The concept was originally envisioned for launch in 2018 as a NASA Discovery mission, then alternatively for 2022.[144] The objectives of the mission would be return the samples from Mars to Earth at a fraction of the cost of the NASA own return-sample mission now projected at 6 billion dollars.[144][145] In September 2017, Elon Musk released first prototype images of their space suits to be used in future missions. The suit is in testing phase and it is designed to cope with 2 atm (200 kPa; 29 psi) pressure in vacuum.[146][147] The Crew Dragon spacecraft was first sent to space on March 2, 2019.

On March 27, 2020, SpaceX revealed the Dragon XL resupply spacecraft to carry pressurized and unpressurized cargo, experiments and other supplies to NASA's planned Lunar Gateway under a Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) contract.[148] The equipment delivered by Dragon XL missions could include sample collection materials, spacesuits and other items astronauts may need on the Gateway and on the surface of the Moon, according to NASA. It will launch on SpaceX Falcon Heavy rockets from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Dragon XL will stay at the Gateway for six to 12 months at a time, when research payloads inside and outside the cargo vessel could be operated remotely, even when crews are not present.[149] Its payload capacity is expected to be more than 5,000 kilograms (11,000 lb) to lunar orbit.[150]

Research and development

First test firing of a scale Raptor development engine in September 2016 in McGregor, Texas.

SpaceX is actively pursuing several different research and development programs. Most notable are those intended to develop a fully reusable launch vehicle called Starship and a global telecommunications network called Starlink.

Reusable launch system

An autonomous spaceport drone ship in position prior to Falcon 9 Flight 17 carrying CRS-6.

SpaceX's reusable launcher program was publicly announced in 2011 and the design phase was completed in February 2012. The system returns the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket to a predetermined landing site using only its own propulsion systems.[151]

SpaceX's active test program began in late 2012 with testing low-altitude, low-speed aspects of the landing technology. The prototypes of Falcon 9 performed vertical takeoffs and landings.

High-velocity, high-altitude aspects of the booster atmospheric return technology began testing in late 2013 and have continued through 2018, with a 98% success rate to date. As a result of Elon Musk's goal of crafting more cost-effective launch vehicles, SpaceX conceived a method to reuse the first stage of their primary rocket, the Falcon 9,[152] by attempting propulsive vertical landings on solid surfaces. Once the company determined that soft landings were feasible by touching down over the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, they began landing attempts on a solid platform. SpaceX leased and modified several barges to sit out at sea as a target for the returning first stage, converting them to autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS). SpaceX first achieved a successful landing and recovery of a first stage in December 2015,[153] and in April 2016, the first stage booster first successfully landed on the ASDS Of Course I Still Love You.[154][155]

SpaceX continues to carry out first stage landings on every orbital launch that fuel margins allow. By October 2016, following the successful landings, SpaceX indicated they were offering their customers a ten percent price discount if they choose to fly their payload on a reused Falcon 9 first stage.[156] On March 30, 2017, SpaceX launched a "flight-proven" Falcon 9 for the SES-10 mission. This was the first time a re-launch of a payload-carrying orbital rocket went back to space.[78][157] The first stage was recovered and landed on the ASDS Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean, also making it the first landing of a reused orbital class rocket. Elon Musk called the achievement an "incredible milestone in the history of space."[158][159]

The autonomous spaceport drone ships are named after giant starships from the Culture series stories by science fiction author Iain M. Banks.[160]


Static fire of Starship SN4.

SpaceX is developing a super-heavy lift launch system, Starship. Starship is a fully reusable second stage and space vehicle intended to replace all of the company's existing launch vehicle hardware by the early 2020s; plus ground infrastructure for rapid launch and relaunch and zero-gravity propellant transfer technology in low Earth orbit (LEO).

SpaceX initially envisioned a 12-meter-diameter ITS concept in 2016 which was solely aimed at Mars transit and other interplanetary uses. In 2017, SpaceX articulated a smaller 9-meter-diameter BFR to replace all of SpaceX launch service provider capabilities—Earth-orbit, lunar-orbit, interplanetary missions, and potentially, even intercontinental passenger transport on Earth—but do so on a fully reusable set of vehicles with a markedly lower cost structure.[161] A large portion of the components on Starship are made of 301 stainless steel. Private passenger Yusaku Maezawa has contracted to fly around the Moon in Starship in 2023.[162][163][164]

Musk's long-term vision for the company is the development of technology and resources suitable for human colonization on Mars. He has expressed his interest in someday traveling to the planet, stating "I'd like to die on Mars, just not on impact."[165] A rocket every two years or so could provide a base for the people arriving in 2025 after a launch in 2024.[166][167] According to Steve Jurvetson, Musk believes that by 2035 at the latest, there will be thousands of rockets flying a million people to Mars, in order to enable a self-sustaining human colony.[168]

Other projects

In January 2015, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the development of a new satellite constellation, called Starlink, to provide global broadband internet service. In June 2015, the company asked the federal government for permission to begin testing for a project that aims to build a constellation of 4,425 satellites capable of beaming the Internet to the entire globe, including remote regions which currently do not have Internet access.[169][170] The Internet service would use a constellation of 4,425 cross-linked communications satellites in 1,100 km orbits. Owned and operated by SpaceX, the goal of the business is to increase profitability and cashflow, to allow SpaceX to build its Mars colony.[171] Development began in 2015, initial prototype test-flight satellites were launched on the SpaceX PAZ mission in 2017. Initial operation of the constellation could begin as early as 2020. As of March 2017, SpaceX filed with the US regulatory authorities plans to field a constellation of an additional 7,518 "V-band satellites in non-geosynchronous orbits to provide communications services" in an electromagnetic spectrum that had not previously been "heavily employed for commercial communications services". Called the "V-band low-Earth-orbit (VLEO) constellation", it would consist of "7,518 satellites to follow the [earlier] proposed 4,425 satellites that would function in Ka- and Ku-band".[172] In February 2019, SpaceX formed a sibling company, SpaceX Services, Inc., to license the manufacture and deployment of up to 1,000,000 fixed satellite earth stations that will communicate with its Starlink system.[173] In May 2019, SpaceX launched the first batch of 60 satellites aboard a Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral, FL.[174]

In June 2015, SpaceX announced that they would sponsor a Hyperloop competition, and would build a 1-mile-long (1.6 km) subscale test track near SpaceX's headquarters for the competitive events.[175][176] The first competitive event was held at the track in January 2017, the second in August 2017 and the third in December 2018.[177][178][179]


The headquarters of the company, located in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX is headquartered in Hawthorne, California, which also serves as its primary manufacturing plant. The company owns a test site in Texas and operates three launch sites, with another under development. SpaceX also operates regional offices in Redmond, Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.[48]

Headquarters, manufacturing and refurbishment facilities

Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket cores under construction at the SpaceX Hawthorne facility, November 2014.

SpaceX Headquarters is located in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, California. The large three-story facility, originally built by Northrop Corporation to build Boeing 747 fuselages,[180] houses SpaceX's office space, mission control, and, as of 2018, all vehicle manufacturing. In March 2018, SpaceX indicated that it would manufacture its next-generation, 9 m (30 ft)-diameter launch vehicle, the Starship at a new facility on the Los Angeles waterfront in the San Pedro area. The company had leased an 18-acre (73,000 m2) site near Berth 240 in the Los Angeles, however in January 2019 the lease was canceled and the construction of Starship moved to a new site in South Texas.[181][182][183]

The area has one of the largest concentrations of aerospace headquarters, facilities, and/or subsidiaries in the U.S., including Boeing/McDonnell Douglas main satellite building campuses, Aerospace Corp., Raytheon, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Air Force Space Command's Space and Missile Systems Center at Los Angeles Air Force Base, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and AECOM, etc., with a large pool of aerospace engineers and recent college engineering graduates.[180]

SpaceX utilizes a high degree of vertical integration in the production of its rockets and rocket engines.[32] SpaceX builds its rocket engines, rocket stages, spacecraft, principal avionics and all software in-house in their Hawthorne facility, which is unusual for the aerospace industry. Nevertheless, SpaceX still has over 3,000 suppliers with some 1,100 of those delivering to SpaceX nearly weekly.[184]

In June 2017, SpaceX announced they would construct a facility on 0.88 hectares (2.17 acres) in Port Canaveral Florida for refurbishment and storage of previously flown Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy booster cores.[185][needs update]

Development and test facilities

SpaceX McGregor engine test bunker, September 2012

SpaceX operates their first Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas. All SpaceX rocket engines are tested on rocket test stands, and low-altitude VTVL flight testing of the Falcon 9 Grasshopper v1.0 and F9R Dev1 test vehicles in 2013–2014 were carried out at McGregor. 2019 low-altitude VTVL testing of the much larger 9-meter (30 ft)-diameter "Starhopper" is planned to occur at the SpaceX South Texas Launch Site near Brownsville, Texas, which is currently under construction.[186][187][188] On January 23, 2019, strong winds at the Texas test launch site blew over the nose cone over the first test article rocket, causing delays that will take weeks to repair according to SpaceX representatives.[189] In the event, SpaceX decided to forego building another nose cone for the first test article, because at the low velocities planned for that rocket, it was unnecessary.

The company purchased the McGregor facilities from Beal Aerospace, where it refitted the largest test stand for Falcon 9 engine testing. SpaceX has made a number of improvements to the facility since purchase, and has also extended the acreage by purchasing several pieces of adjacent farmland. In 2011, the company announced plans to upgrade the facility for launch testing a VTVL rocket,[60] and then constructed a half-acre concrete launch facility in 2012 to support the Grasshopper test flight program.[61] As of October 2012, the McGregor facility had seven test stands that are operated "18 hours a day, six days a week"[190] and is building more test stands because production is ramping up and the company has a large manifest in the next several years. [needs update]

In addition to routine testing, Dragon capsules (following recovery after an orbital mission), are shipped to McGregor for de-fueling, cleanup, and refurbishment for reuse in future missions.

Launch facilities

SpaceX west coast launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base, during the launch of CASSIOPE, September 2013.

SpaceX currently operates three orbital launch sites, at Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and Kennedy Space Center, and is under construction on a fourth in Brownsville, Texas. SpaceX has indicated that they see a niche for each of the four orbital facilities and that they have sufficient launch business to fill each pad.[191] The Vandenberg launch site enables highly inclined orbits (66–145°), while Cape Canaveral enables orbits of medium inclination, up to 51.6°.[192][self-published source?] Before it was retired, all Falcon 1 launches took place at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Omelek Island.

Cape Canaveral

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) is used for Falcon 9 launches to low Earth and geostationary orbits. SLC-40 is not capable of supporting Falcon Heavy launches. As part of SpaceX's booster reusability program, the former Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral, now renamed Landing Zone 1, has been designated for use for Falcon 9 first-stage booster landings.

Falcon 9 Flight 20 landing on Landing Zone 1 in December 2015


Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) is used for payloads to polar orbits. The Vandenberg site can launch both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy,[193] but cannot launch to low inclination orbits. The neighboring SLC-4W has been converted to Landing Zone 4, where SpaceX successfully landed one Falcon 9 first-stage booster, in October 2018.[194]

Kennedy Space Center

On April 14, 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease for Launch Pad 39A.[195] The pad was subsequently modified to support Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. SpaceX has launched 13 Falcon 9 missions from Launch Pad 39A, the latest of which was launched on January 19, 2020.[196] SpaceX launched its first crewed mission to the ISS from Launch Pad 39A on May 30, 2020.[197]


In August 2014, SpaceX announced they would be building a commercial-only launch facility at Brownsville, Texas.[198][199] The Federal Aviation Administration released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Texas facility in April 2013, and "found that 'no impacts would occur' that would force the Federal Aviation Administration to deny SpaceX a permit for rocket operations,"[200][200] and issued the permit in July 2014.[201] SpaceX started construction on the new launch facility in 2014 with production ramping up in the latter half of 2015,[202] with the first suborbital launches from the facility in 2019.[186][187][203] Real estate packages at the location have been named by SpaceX with names based on the theme "Mars Crossing".[204][205]

Satellite prototyping facility

In January 2015, SpaceX announced it would be entering the satellite production business and global satellite internet business. The first satellite facility is a 30,000-square-foot (2,800 m2) office building located in Redmond, Washington. As of January 2017, a second facility in Redmond was acquired with 40,625 square feet (3,774.2 m2) and has become a research and development lab for the satellites.[206] In July 2016, SpaceX acquired an additional 8,000 square feet (740 m2) creative space in Irvine, California (Orange County) to focus on satellite communications.[207][better source needed]

Launch contracts

SpaceX won demonstration and actual supply contracts from NASA for the International Space Station (ISS) with technology the company developed. SpaceX is also certified for US military launches of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class (EELV) payloads. With approximately 30 missions on manifest for 2018 alone, SpaceX represents over $12 billion under contract.[48]

SpaceX along with Virgin Galactic were among the first to have a contract with Spaceport America in New Mexico, the first and only full-scale public commercial spaceport in the United States. Among the tests conducted at the spaceport was the Grasshopper, they continue to have a smaller contract with the spaceport for potential future use, alongside their own private SpaceX South Texas Launch Site to the southwest.[208]



The COTS 2 Dragon is berthed to the ISS by Canadarm2.

In 2006, NASA announced that SpaceX had won a NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) Phase 1 contract to demonstrate cargo delivery to the ISS, with a possible contract option for crew transport.[209][210] This contract, designed by NASA to provide "seed money" through Space Act Agreements for developing new capabilities, NASA paid SpaceX $396 million to develop the cargo configuration of the Dragon spacecraft, while SpaceX self-invested more than $500 million to develop the Falcon 9 launch vehicle.[211] These Space Act Agreements have been shown to have saved NASA millions of dollars in development costs, making rocket development ~4–10 times cheaper than if produced by NASA alone.[106]

In December 2010, the launch of the COTS Demo Flight 1 mission, SpaceX became the first private company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft.[212] Dragon was successfully deployed into orbit, circled the Earth twice, and then made a controlled re-entry burn for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. With Dragon's safe recovery, SpaceX became the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft; prior to this mission, only government agencies had been able to recover orbital spacecraft.

COTS Demo Flight 2 launched in May 2012, in which Dragon successfully berthed with the ISS, marking the first time that a private spacecraft had accomplished this feat.[213][214]

Commercial cargo

Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) are a series of contracts awarded by NASA from 2008 to 2016 for delivery of cargo and supplies to the ISS on commercially operated spacecraft. The first CRS contracts were signed in 2008 and awarded $1.6 billion to SpaceX for 12 cargo transport missions, covering deliveries to 2016.[215][self-published source?] SpaceX CRS-1, the first of the 12 planned resupply missions, launched in October 2012, achieved orbit, berthed and remained on station for 20 days, before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.[216] CRS missions have flown approximately twice a year to the ISS since then. In 2015, NASA extended the Phase 1 contracts by ordering an additional three resupply flights from SpaceX.[217][218] After further extensions late in 2015, SpaceX is currently scheduled to fly a total of 20 missions.[219] A second phase of contracts (known as CRS-2) were solicited and proposed in 2014. They were awarded in January 2016, for cargo transport flights beginning in 2019 and expected to last through 2024. SpaceX will be using heavy Dragon XL rockets to send supplies to NASA's Lunar Gateway space station.[220]

Commercial crew

Crew Dragon undergoing testing prior to flight

The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program intends to develop commercially operated spacecraft that are capable of delivering astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX did not win a Space Act Agreement in the first round (CCDev 1), but during the second round (CCDev 2), NASA awarded SpaceX with a contract worth $75 million to further develop their launch escape system, test a crew accommodations mock-up, and to further progress their Falcon/Dragon crew transportation design.[221][222][223] The CCDev program later became Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap), and in August 2012, NASA announced that SpaceX had been awarded $440 million to continue development and testing of its Dragon 2 spacecraft.[224][225]

In September 2014, NASA chose SpaceX and Boeing as the two companies that will be funded to develop systems to transport U.S. crews to and from the ISS. SpaceX won $2.6 billion to complete and certify Dragon 2 by 2017. The contracts include at least one crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut aboard. Once Crew Dragon achieves NASA certification, the contract requires SpaceX to conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station.[226] In early 2017, SpaceX was awarded four additional crewed missions to the ISS from NASA to shuttle astronauts back and forth.[227][better source needed] In early 2019, SpaceX successfully conducted a test flight of Crew Dragon, which it docked (instead of Dragon 1's method of berthing using Canada arm 2) and then splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean.


September 16, 2014 – NASA selected SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft to fly American astronauts to the International Space Station under the Commercial Crew Program.[228][self-published source?]

May 6, 2015 – Just after 9 am ET, SpaceX completed the first key flight test of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, a vehicle designed to carry astronauts to and from space. The successful Pad Abort Test was the first flight test of SpaceX's revolutionary launch abort system, and the data captured here will be critical in preparing Crew Dragon for its first human missions.[229][self-published source?]

August 3, 2018 – NASA announced the first four astronauts who will launch aboard Crew Dragon to the International Space Station. Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will be the first two NASA astronauts to fly in the Dragon spacecraft.[230][self-published source?]

March 2, 2019 – The Demo-1 test flight launched without crew on board. This mission was intended to demonstrate SpaceX's capabilities to safely and reliably fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station.[231][self-published source?]

March 3, 2019 – Crew Dragon docked with the ISS at 3:02 a.m. PST, becoming the first American spacecraft to autonomously dock with the orbiting laboratory.[232][self-published source?]

March 8, 2019 – Crew Dragon splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean at 5:45 a.m. PST, completing the spacecraft's first mission to the International Space Station.[233][self-published source?]

January 19, 2020 – Crew Dragon test capsule was launched on a suborbital trajectory to conduct an in-flight abort test in the troposphere at transonic velocities, at max Q, where the vehicle experiences maximum aerodynamic pressure. The Crew Dragon splashed down at 15:38 UTC just off the Florida coast in the Atlantic Ocean.[196]

May 27, 2020 - The planned launch of American astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station was aborted 16 minutes before the scheduled launch time due to poor weather conditions. The Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule launch was postponed to May 30, 2020 where it launched successfully at 3:22 p.m. ET (7:22 p.m. UTC).[234]

US Defense

In 2005, SpaceX announced that it had been awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract, allowing the United States Air Force to purchase up to $100 million worth of launches from the company.[235][self-published source?] In April 2008, NASA announced that it had awarded an IDIQ Launch Services contract to SpaceX for up to $1 billion, depending on the number of missions awarded. The contract covers launch services ordered by June 2010, for launches through December 2012.[236] Musk stated in the same 2008 announcement that SpaceX has sold 14 contracts for flights on the various Falcon vehicles.[236] In December 2012, SpaceX announced its first two launch contracts with the United States Department of Defense. The United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center awarded SpaceX two EELV-class missions: Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and Space Test Program 2 (STP-2). DSCOVR was launched on a Falcon 9 launch vehicle in 2015, while STP-2 was launched on a Falcon Heavy on June 25, 2019.[237]

In May 2015, the United States Air Force announced that the Falcon 9 v1.1 was certified for national security space launch, which allows SpaceX to contract launch services to the Air Force for any payloads classified under national security.[238] This broke the monopoly held since 2006 by ULA over the US Air Force launches of classified payloads.[239]

In April 2016, the U.S. Air Force awarded the first such national security launch, an $82.7 million contract to SpaceX to launch the 2nd GPS III satellite in May 2018; this estimated cost was approximately 40% less than the estimated cost for similar previous missions.[240][241][242] Prior to this, United Launch Alliance was the only provider certified to launch national security payloads.[243][243][244] ULA did not submit a bid for the May 2018 launch.[245][246]

In 2016 the US National Reconnaissance Office said it had purchased launches from SpaceX - the first (for NROL-76) took place on May 1, 2017.[247]

In March 2017 SpaceX won (vs ULA) with a bid of $96.5 million for the 3rd GPS III launch (due Feb 2019).[248]

In March 2018, SpaceX secured an additional $290 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to launch three next-generation GPS satellites, known as GPS III. The first of these launches is expected to take place in March 2020.[249]

In February 2019, SpaceX secured a $297 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to launch three national security missions, including AFSPC-44, NROL-87, and NROL-85, all slated to launch no earlier than FY 2021.[250]

Space Adventures

In February 2020, Space Adventures announced plans to fly private citizens into orbit on Crew Dragon.[251] The Crew Dragon vehicle would launch from LC-39A with up to four tourists on board, and spend up to five days in a low-Earth orbit with an apogee of over 1000 km.[252]


SpaceX won a contract to launch two of Kazakhstan's satellites aboard the Falcon 9 launch rocket on a rideshare with other satellites. The launch took place at Vandenberg Air Force Base on December 3, 2018, with Kazakhstan's two satellites, KazSaySat and KazistiSat, included in a payload totaling 64 miniature and small satellites.[253][254][255] According to the Kazakh Defence and Aerospace Ministry, the launch from SpaceX cost the country $1.3 million.[256]

Launch market competition and pricing pressure

SpaceX's low launch prices, especially for communication satellites flying to geostationary (GTO) orbit, have resulted in market pressure on its competitors to lower their own prices.[32] Prior to 2013, the openly competed comsat launch market had been dominated by Arianespace (flying Ariane 5) and International Launch Services (flying Proton).[257] With a published price of US$56.5 million per launch to low Earth orbit, "Falcon 9 rockets [were] already the cheapest in the industry. Reusable Falcon 9s could drop the price by an order of magnitude, sparking more space-based enterprise, which in turn would drop the cost of access to space still further through economies of scale."[258] SpaceX has publicly indicated that if they are successful with developing the reusable technology, launch prices in the US$5 to 7 million range for the reusable Falcon 9 are possible.[259]

In 2014, SpaceX had won nine contracts out of 20 that were openly competed worldwide in 2014 at commercial launch service providers.[260] Space media reported that SpaceX had "already begun to take market share" from Arianespace.[261] Arianespace has requested that European governments provide additional subsidies to face the competition from SpaceX.[262][263] European satellite operators are pushing the ESA to reduce Ariane 5 and the future Ariane 6 rocket launch prices as a result of competition from SpaceX. According to one Arianespace managing director in 2015, it was clear that "a very significant challenge [was] coming from SpaceX ... Therefore things have to change ... and the whole European industry is being restructured, consolidated, rationalised and streamlined."[264] Jean Botti, Director of innovation for Airbus (which makes the Ariane 5) warned that "those who don't take Elon Musk seriously will have a lot to worry about."[265] In 2014, no commercial launches were booked to fly on the Russian Proton rocket.[260]

Also in 2014, SpaceX capabilities and pricing began to affect the market for launch of US military payloads. For nearly a decade the large US launch provider United Launch Alliance (ULA) had faced no competition for military launches.[266] Without this competition, launch costs by the U.S. provider rose to over $400 million.[267] The ULA monopoly ended when SpaceX began to compete for national security launches. At a side-by-side comparison, SpaceX's launch costs for commercial missions are considerably lower at $62 million.[268][self-published source?]

In 2015, anticipating a slump in domestic, military, and spy launches, ULA stated that it would go out of business unless it won commercial satellite launch orders.[269] To that end, ULA announced a major restructuring of processes and workforce in order to decrease launch costs by half.[270][271]

In 2017, SpaceX had 45% global market share for awarded commercial launch contracts, the estimate for 2018 is about 65% as of July 2018.[272]

On January 11, 2019, SpaceX issued a statement announcing it would lay off 10% of its workforce, in order to help finance the Starship and Starlink projects.[273]

In the first quarter of 2020, SpaceX launched over 61,000 kg (134,000 lb) of payload mass to orbit while all Chinese, European, and Russian launchers placed approximately 21,000 kg (46,000 lb), 16,000 kg (35,000 lb) and 13,000 kg (29,000 lb) in orbit, respectively, with all other launch providers launching approximately 15,000 kg (33,000 lb).[274]

NASA announced its first crewed launch in over a decade using SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule would take place May 27, 2020 from Kennedy Space Center, at SpaceX's Launch Complex 39A (LC-39), taking astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station.[275] The launch was postponed due to bad weather.[276] The vehicle launched successfully on May 30, 2020.[277]

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