Friday, March 20, 2015

What is SpaceX?

For decades, Americans have been used to seeing one space agency: the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Recently, a new space agency has entered the field, SpaceX. Founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, of PayPal and Tesla Motors fame, SpaceX has been rapidly growing towards meeting its goal of space colonization. Currently, it possesses two models of rockets: the Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy. The Falcon 9 is currently used for various missions, including resupplying the International Space Station. SpaceX currently possesses a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to resupply the International Space Station, for at least 12 missions. Currently, they are using the Dragon capsule to transport cargo to the ISS, but it was actually designed for human use. The first manned test flight with Dragon is slated to occur in the next 2-3 years, and is expected to take astronauts to the International Space Station by 2017.

The proposed Falcon Heavy,
which is planned to launch later
in 2015.
The rockets of SpaceX are very innovative. The Falcon Heavy, which is still currently in development, will be the most powerful rocket in the world by a factor of 2. Also, in the past, rockets have only been able to be used once; however, SpaceX is currently trying to develop a program that would allow rockets to be reusable, by landing the first stage on a large floating platform. This could greatly diminish the cost of launching, which is currently at a very affordable $100 million, in comparison to the $200 million launch costs of the past. An attempt was made in January 2015 to make a soft landing on a floating platform, but the booster made a hard landing and it was unable to be recovered, due to the hydraulic fluid, which stabilizes the booster, running out. Nonetheless, with the number of rockets launches that are planned in 2015 (13), it is just a matter of time before the first stage of a rocket can be recovered and reused. Also, when the Falcon Heavy is launched in late 2015, the plans are for it to have the two boosters and the middle core booster to fly to Earth and make upright landings.

SpaceX has greater aspirations than just providing an alternative way of resupplying the International Space Station. It has begun to launch micro-satellites to provide high-speed and low-cost internet to people across the globe. In addition, Musk wants his internet system to expand all the way to Mars, so it can also have internet access. In regards to SpaceX’s ultimate mission of space colonization, Musk stated that the Mars Transport System would be announced later in 2015, with the goal of being able to transport 100 metric tons of payload to Mars. A journey to Mars could be just a couple of years away, and is certainly possible in the conceivable future. With SpaceX leading the way, space travel could see a lot of changes in the near future.

- Kevin Li