SpaceX: What is the private space company, and what do they do?

SpaceX was created in 2002
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Space Exploration Technologies Corp, known as SpaceX, is an American spacecraft manufacturer, launch service provider, defence contractor and satellite communications company. 

It was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk and now holds several renowned rockets to help restock the ISS and carry out satellite missions. 

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But what is SpaceX, how did it come to be and what are its future missions? Here is what you need to know. 

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center in MarchSpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center in March
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from the Kennedy Space Center in March

What is SpaceX?

SpaceX is a private space agency developed by Elon Musk with an initial aim to colonise Mars

However, recent missions have seen SpaceX help restock the International Space Station, and create the largest-ever satellite constellation in January 2020. 

Since 2023, Starlink - SpaceX's satellite programme - comprises over 4,300 small satellites in orbit. 

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The company also operates the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy spacecraft, as well as the Dragon Spacecraft and in April 2023, SpaceX produced the largest and most powerful rocket ever flown named Starship. 

Starship is a human-rated, fully-reusable, super heavy-lift launch system for interplanetary and orbital spaceflight but it failed its first flight in April 2023. 

Even though there have been several massive failures, SpaceX has made waves in the space agency world. 

The first orbital launch vehicle it developed was the Falcon 1, which later went on to become the first privately developed fully liquid-fuelled launch vehicle to go into orbit around the Earth -it was launched three times before its first successful flight. 

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Falcon 1 was then replaced with Falcon 9, a reusable heavier lift vehicle and its success allowed for the creation of Dragon. 

Dragon 1, flew 23 cargo missions to the ISS between 2010 and 2020 before retiring and was funded by Nasa with $396 million awarded through the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. 

In 2019, the creation of Starship and Starlink saw Musk lay off 10% of its workforce to finance the projects and construction of initial prototypes and tests for Starship started in early 2019 in Florida and Texas.

In May 2019, SpaceX also launched the first large batch of 60 Starlink satellites. 

What is SpaceX's Mars program? 

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SpaceX was created to establish a crewed base on Mars for an extended surface presence, with the aim it would grow into a self-sufficient colony. 

The first crewed mission will have approximately 12 people, with the goals of "build[ing] out and troubleshoot[ing] the propellant plant and Mars Base Alpha power system" and establishing a "rudimentary base". Musk has claimed that, in the event of an emergency during travel, the spaceship would be able to safely return to Earth.

The proposed journey would require 80 to 150 days of transit time, averaging approximately 115 days (for the nine synodic periods occurring between 2020 and 2037).

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