Who is SpaceX?
SpaceX is a private aerospace manufacturer and space launch provider headquartered in Hawthorne, California and owned by Elon Musk. Since its creation in 2002, SpaceX’s goal has been to “revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.” SpaceX currently has two active launch vehicles, Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, and is currently the only launch provider that actively lands their orbital boosters.
“SpaceX’s achievements include the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008), 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), the first propulsive landing for an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2015), the first reuse of an orbital rocket (Falcon 9 in 2017), and the first private company to launch an object into orbit around the sun (Falcon Heavy's payload of a Tesla Roadster in 2018).” - Wikipedia
With the majority of launches from the Space Coast being SpaceX launches, they’ve become a household name and are drawing larger crowds with each mission.
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is a two-stage, partially reusable orbital rocket capable of lifting payloads up to 50,300 lbs into low Earth orbit (LEO). Falcon 9’s first stage is comprised of nine Merlin 1D+ engines, capable of unleashing over 1.7 million pounds of thrust during launch. SpaceX has two main ways of returning the first stage, one being a Return to Launch Site (RTLS) booster landing and the other being an Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship (ASDS) booster landing. During RTLS landings, the booster will land at one of SpaceX’s three landing zones at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). As we saw with the CRS-16 water landing, the booster actually targets just offshore and will automatically adjust this to the planned landing zone if all systems are nominal. This is to prevent an out-of-control booster from slamming into and damaging the landing zone. During Space Coast ASDS landings, the booster will land on SpaceX’s Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY) drone ship. ASDS landings typically can’t be seen from shore due to how far out in the Atlantic they are, but if the conditions are just right you can sometimes see the booster’s reentry burn a few minutes after separation. SpaceX uses the Falcon 9 for its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) missions to the International Space Station (ISS) and is working on human-rating Falcon 9 for manned missions in 2019, which they made major strides toward after the successful flight of Crew Dragon Demo-1 in March 2019. At the time of writing this, Falcon 9 has launched 69 times with 68 of those launches being successful.
Put simply, Falcon Heavy is essentially three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together. With 27 Merlin 1D engines pushing over 5.1 million pounds of thrust combined, Falcon Heavy is the most powerful operational rocket by a factor of two. After seven years of development and multiple delays, Falcon Heavy successfully completed its maiden flight in February 2018. Millions watched as Falcon Heavy launched Musk’s personal Tesla Roadster into deep space, which later became the first object placed in orbit around the sun by a private company. Falcon Heavy has two launches currently planned for 2019, Arabsat-6A and STP-2, both of which will support the USAF Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) certification process for Falcon Heavy. With powerful launches featuring three booster landings, dual-RTLS landings of the side boosters and an ASDS landing of the center core, Falcon Heavy launches are among the most spectacular spaceflight events today.
SpaceX is also developing what they say will be the most advanced spacecraft ever created. Originally known as the Big Falcon Rocket (BFR), SpaceX’s Starship is currently being developed in Texas and will soon start development near Kennedy Space Center. The fully reusable Starship is planned to be over 380 feet tall, 30 feet in diameter, and have a payload capacity of over 220,000 lbs. When completed, Starship will be the largest and most powerful rocket in history. Starship consists of the Super Heavy first stage and Starship second stage, the primary construction material for both being stainless steel. Starship will be utilized for manned missions to the moon and Mars, but is being built with manned exploration of the entire Solar System in mind. With a crew capacity of around 100, Starship will also be used for SpaceX’s Mars colonization efforts as well as space tourism. In September 2018, Musk announced that one of Starship’s first commercial missions will be the dearMoon Project, which will take Japanese billionaire, Yusaku Maezawa and up-to 8 artists on a flight around the moon in 2023.