kids encyclopedia robot

SpaceX facts for kids

Kids Encyclopedia Facts
Quick facts for kids
Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
Trade name
Industry Aerospace, communications
Founded 14 March 2002; 22 years ago (2002-03-14) in El Segundo, California, U.S.
Founder Elon Musk
Hawthorne, California, United States
33°55′15″N 118°19′40″W / 33.9207°N 118.3278°W / 33.9207; -118.3278
Key people
Services Orbital rocket launch, satellite internet
Revenue US$2 billion (2018)
Owner Elon Musk Trust
(47.4% equity; 78.3% voting control)
Number of employees
>9,500 (February 2021)

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (doing business as SpaceX) is an American spacecraft manufacturer, space launch provider, and a satellite communications corporation 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. It manufactures the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles, several rocket engines, Cargo Dragon, crew spacecraft, and Starlink communications satellites.

SpaceX is developing a satellite internet constellation named Starlink to provide commercial internet service. In January 2020, the Starlink constellation became the largest satellite constellation ever launched, and as of September 2022 comprises over 3,000 small satellites in orbit. The company is also developing Starship, a privately funded, fully reusable, super heavy-lift launch system for interplanetary and orbital spaceflight. It is intended to become SpaceX's primary orbital vehicle once operational, supplanting the existing Falcon 9, Falcon Heavy, and Dragon fleet. It will have the highest payload capacity of any orbital rocket ever built on its debut, scheduled for 2022 pending launch license.

SpaceX's achievements include the first privately funded liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit around Earth; the first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft; the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station; the first vertical take-off and vertical propulsive landing for an orbital rocket booster; first reuse of such booster; and the first private company to send astronauts to orbit and to the International Space Station. SpaceX has flown and landed the Falcon 9 series of rockets over one hundred times.


2001–2004: Founding

In 2001, Elon Musk conceptualized Mars Oasis, a project to land a miniature experimental greenhouse and grow plants on Mars, in an attempt to revive public interest in space exploration. Musk traveled to Moscow, Russia with Mike Griffin and tried to purchase cheap and refurbished Dnepr rockets but returned empty-handed after failing to find rockets for an affordable price. On the flight home Musk realized that he could start a company to build the affordable rockets he needed instead. By applying vertical integration, using cheap commercial off-the-shelf components when possible, and adopting the modular approach of modern software engineering, Musk believed SpaceX could significantly cut launch price.

In early 2002, Musk started to look for staff for his new space company, soon to be named SpaceX. Musk approached rocket engineer Tom Mueller (later SpaceX's CTO of propulsion) and invited him to become his business partner. Mueller agreed to work for Musk, and thus SpaceX was born. SpaceX was first headquartered in a warehouse in El Segundo, California. Early SpaceX employees such as Tom Mueller (CTO), Gwynne Shotwell (COO) and Chris Thompson (VP of Operations) came from neighboring TRW and Boeing corporations following the cancellation of the Brilliant Pebbles program. By November 2005, the company had 160 employees. Musk personally interviewed and approved all of SpaceX's early employees. Musk has stated that one of his goals with SpaceX is to decrease the cost and improve the reliability of access to space, ultimately by a factor of ten.

2005–2009: Falcon 1 and first orbital launches

Falcon 1 Flight 4 liftoff
The first successful Falcon 1 launch in September 2008

SpaceX developed its first orbital launch vehicle, the Falcon 1, with private funding. The Falcon 1 was an expendable two-stage-to-orbit small-lift launch vehicle. The total development cost of Falcon 1 was approximately US$90 million to US$100 million.

In 2005, SpaceX announced plans to pursue a human-rated commercial space program through the end of the decade, a program that would later become the Dragon spacecraft. In 2006, the company was selected by NASA to provide crew and cargo resupply demonstration contracts to the ISS under the COTS program.

The first two Falcon 1 launches were purchased by the United States Department of Defense under a program that evaluates new US launch vehicles suitable for use by DARPA. The first three launches of the rocket, between 2006 and 2008, all resulted in failures, which almost ended the company. Financing for Tesla Motors had failed as well, and consequently Tesla, SolarCity, and Musk personally were all nearly bankrupt at the same time. Musk was reportedly "waking from nightmares, screaming and in physical pain" because of the stress.

The financial situation started to turn around when the first successful launch was achieved soon afterward with the fourth attempt on 28 September 2008. Musk split his remaining $30 million between SpaceX and Tesla, and NASA awarded the first Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract to SpaceX in December, thus financially saving the company. Based on these factors and the further business operations they enabled, the Falcon 1 was soon retired following its second successful, and fifth total, launch in July 2009; this allowed SpaceX to focus company resources on the development of a larger orbital rocket, the Falcon 9. Gwynne Shotwell was also promoted to company president at this time, for her role in successfully negotiating the CRS contract with NASA.

2010–2012: Falcon 9, Dragon, and NASA contracts

SpaceX originally intended to follow its light Falcon 1 launch vehicle with an intermediate capacity vehicle, the Falcon 5. The company instead decided in 2005 to proceed with the development of the Falcon 9, a reusable heavier lift vehicle. Development of the Falcon 9 was accelerated by NASA, which committed to purchase several commercial flights if specific capabilities were demonstrated. This started with seed money from the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program in 2006. The overall contract award was US$278 million to provide development funding for the Dragon spacecraft, Falcon 9, and demonstration launches of Falcon 9 with Dragon. As part of this contract, the Falcon 9 launched for the first time in June 2010 with the Dragon Spacecraft Qualification Unit, using a mockup of the Dragon spacecraft.

The first 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. By December 2010, the SpaceX production line was manufacturing one Falcon 9 and Dragon every three months.

In April 2011, as part of its second-round Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program, NASA issued a US$75 million contract 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. NASA awarded SpaceX a fixed-price Space Act Agreement (SAA) to produce a detailed design of the crew transportation system in August 2012.

In early 2012, approximately two-thirds of SpaceX stock was owned by Musk and his 70 million shares were then estimated to be worth US$875 million on private markets, valuing SpaceX at US$1.3 billion. In May 2012, with the Dragon C2+ launch Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. After the flight, the company private equity valuation nearly doubled to US$2.4 billion or US$20/share. By that time, SpaceX had operated on total funding of approximately $1 billion over its first decade of operation. Of this, private equity provided approximately $200 million, with Musk investing approximately $100 million and other investors having put in about $100 million.

SpaceX's active reusability test program began in late 2012 with testing low-altitude, low-speed aspects of the landing technology. The Falcon 9 prototypes performed vertical takeoffs and landings (VTOL). High-velocity, high-altitude tests of the booster atmospheric return technology began in late 2013.

2013–2015: Commercial launches and rapid growth

Launch of Falcon 9 carrying ORBCOMM OG2-M1 (16601442698)
Launch of Falcon 9 carrying ORBCOMM OG2-M1, July 2014

SpaceX launched the first commercial mission for a private customer in 2013. In 2014, SpaceX won nine contracts out of the 20 that were openly competed worldwide. That year Arianespace requested that European governments provide additional subsidies to face the competition from SpaceX. Beginning in 2014, SpaceX capabilities and pricing also began to affect the market for launch of U.S. military payloads, which for nearly a decade was dominated by the large U.S. launch provider United Launch Alliance (ULA). The monopoly had allowed launch costs by the U.S. provider to rise to over US$400 million over the years. In September 2014, NASA awarded SpaceX the Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) contract to finalize the development of the Crew Transportation System. The contract included several technical and certification milestones, an uncrewed flight test, a crewed flight test, and six operational missions after certification.

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. The same month SpaceX announced the development of a new satellite constellation, called Starlink, to provide global broadband internet service with 4,000 satellites.

The Falcon 9 had its first major failure in late June 2015, when the seventh ISS resupply mission, CRS-7 exploded two minutes into the flight. The problem was traced to a failed 2-foot-long steel strut that held a helium pressure vessel, which broke free due to the force of acceleration. This caused a breach and allowed high-pressure helium to escape into the low-pressure propellant tank, causing the failure.

2015–2017: Reusability milestones

CRS-8 (26239020092)
Falcon 9 first stage on an autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) barge after the first successful landing at sea, SpaceX CRS-8 mission.

SpaceX first achieved a successful landing and recovery of a first stage in December 2015 with Falcon 9 Flight 20. In April 2016, the company achieved the first successful landing on the autonomous spaceport drone ship (ASDS) Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean. By October 2016, following the successful landings, SpaceX indicated they were offering their customers a 10% price discount if they choose to fly their payload on a reused Falcon 9 first stage.

A second major rocket failure happened in early September 2016, when a Falcon 9 exploded during a propellant fill operation for a standard pre-launch static fire test. The payload, the Amos-6 communications satellite valued at US$200 million, was destroyed. 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. 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.

Later that year, in March 2017, SpaceX launched a returned Falcon 9 for the SES-10 satellite. This was the first time a re-launch of a payload-carrying orbital rocket went back to space. The first stage was recovered again, also making it the first landing of a reused orbital class rocket.

2017–2018: Leading global commercial launch provider

In July 2017, the company raised US$350 million for a valuation of US$21 billion. In 2017, SpaceX achieved a 45% global market share for awarded commercial launch contracts. By March 2018, SpaceX had more than 100 launches on its manifest representing about US$12 billion in contract revenue. The contracts included both commercial and government (NASA/DOD) customers. This made SpaceX the leading global commercial launch provider measured by manifested launches.

In 2017, SpaceX formed a subsidiary, The Boring Company, 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, which was completed in May 2018, and opened to the public in December 2018. 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.

2019–present: Starship, Starlink, and first crewed launches

Starship full stack
Starship in launch position

In January 2019 SpaceX announced it would lay off 10% of its workforce to help finance the Starship and Starlink projects. Construction of initial prototypes and tests for Starship started in early 2019 in Florida and Texas. All Starship construction and testing moved to the new SpaceX South Texas launch site later that year. In May 2019 SpaceX also launched the first large batch of 60 Starlink satellites, beginning the deployment of what would become the world's largest commercial satellite constellation the following year. The company raised a total of $1.33 billion of capital across three funding rounds in 2019. By May 2019, the valuation of SpaceX had risen to $33.3 billion and reached $36 billion by March 2020.

A major milestone was achieved in May 2020, when SpaceX successfully launched two NASA astronauts (Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken) into orbit on a Crew Dragon spacecraft during Crew Dragon Demo-2, making SpaceX the first private company to send astronauts to the International Space Station and marking the first crewed orbital launch from American soil in 9 years. The mission launched from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

On 19 August 2020, after a $1.9 billion funding round, one of the largest single fundraising pushes by any privately held company, SpaceX's valuation increased to $46 billion. In February 2021, SpaceX raised an additional $1.61 billion in an equity round from 99 investors at a per share value of approximately $420, raising the company valuation to approximately $74 billion. By 2021, SpaceX had raised a total of more than $6 billion in equity financing. Most of the capital raised since 2019 has been used to support the operational fielding of the Starlink satellite constellation and the development and manufacture of the Starship launch vehicle. By October 2021, the valuation of SpaceX had risen to $100.3 billion. By 2021, SpaceX had entered into agreements with Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure to provide on-ground computer and networking services for Starlink. A new round of financing in 2022 values ​​SpaceX at $127 billion.

In July 2021, SpaceX unveiled another drone ship named A Shortfall of Gravitas, landing a booster from CRS-23 on it for the first time on 29 August 2021 Within the first 130 days of 2022, SpaceX had 18 rocket launches and two astronaut splashdowns. The majority of 2022 SpaceX launches have focused on Starlink, a consumer internet business that sends batches of internet-beaming satellites and now has over 2,200 satellites in orbit. On 13 December 2021, company CEO Elon Musk announced that the company was starting a carbon dioxide removal program that would convert captured carbon into rocket fuel, after he announced a $100 million donation to the X Prize Foundation the previous February to provide the monetary rewards to winners in a contest to develop the best carbon capture technology.

In August 2022, Reuters reported that the European Space Agency (ESA) began initial discussions with SpaceX that could lead to the company's launchers being used temporarily, given that Russia blocked access to its Soyuz rockets.

In December 2022, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) granted approval to launch up to 7,500 of SpaceX's next-generation satellites in its Starlink internet network.

In 2022, SpaceX's Falcon 9 became the world-record holder for the most launches of a single vehicle type in a single year. SpaceX launched a rocket approximately every 6 days in 2022, with 61 launches in total. All but one (a Falcon Heavy in November) was on a Falcon 9 rocket.

On April 20, 2023, Starship's first orbital flight test ended in a mid-air explosion over the Gulf of Mexico prior to booster separation. After reaching max q, multiple engines in the booster failed to fire, causing the vehicle to lose control and spin erratically, and activating the automated flight termination system which intentionally destroyed the rocket.

Summary of achievements

List of achievements by SpaceX
Date Achievement Flight
28 September 2008 First privately funded fully liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit. Falcon 1 flight 4
14 July 2009 First privately developed liquid-fueled rocket to put a commercial satellite in orbit. RazakSAT on Falcon 1 flight 5
9 December 2010 First private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft. SpaceX Dragon on SpaceX COTS Demo Flight 1
25 May 2012 First private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS). Dragon C2+
22 December 2015 First landing of an orbital-class rocket's first stage on land. Falcon 9 B1019 on Orbcomm OG2 M2
8 April 2016 First landing of an orbital-class rocket's first stage on an ocean platform. Falcon 9 B1021 on SpaceX CRS-8
30 March 2017 First reuse, reflight and (second) landing of an orbital first stage. Falcon 9 B1021 on SES-10
30 March 2017 First controlled flyback and recovery of a payload fairing. SES-10
3 June 2017 First re-flight of a commercial cargo spacecraft. Dragon C106 on SpaceX CRS-11
6 February 2018 First private spacecraft launched into heliocentric orbit. Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster on Falcon Heavy test flight
2 March 2019 First private company to send a human-rated spacecraft to orbit. Crew Dragon Demo-1
3 March 2019 First private company to autonomously dock a crew-capable spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).
25 July 2019 First flight of a full-flow staged combustion cycle engine (Raptor). Starhopper
11 November 2019 First reuse and re flight of payload fairing. The fairing was from the ArabSat-6A mission in April 2019. Starlink 2 v1.0
January 2020 Largest commercial satellite constellation operator in the world. Starlink 3 v1.0
30 May 2020 First private company to send humans into orbit. Crew Dragon Demo-2
31 May 2020 First private company to send humans to the International Space Station (ISS).
24 January 2021 Most spacecraft launched into space on a single mission, with 143 satellites. Transporter-1 on Falcon 9
23 April 2021 First reuse and reflight of a crewed space capsule. Crew Dragon Endeavour
17 June 2021 First reused booster launch for a 'national security' mission. GPS III-05 on Falcon 9, second flight of booster B1062
16 September 2021 First orbital launch of an all-private crew. Inspiration4
24 November 2021 Longest streak of orbital launches without a mission failure or partial failure for a single rocket type (Falcon 9, 101 launches). Double Asteroid Redirection Test
9 April 2022 First all civilian crew to dock with the International Space Station Axiom Mission 1
20 October 2022 Highest number of launches of a single rocket type in a calendar year (Falcon 9, 48 launches). Starlink 4-36


Launch vehicles

CRS-18 Mission (48380511427)
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.

SpaceX has developed three launch vehicles. The small-lift Falcon 1 was the first launch vehicle developed and was retired in 2009. The medium-lift Falcon 9 and the heavy-lift Falcon Heavy are both operational. The Falcon 1 was a small rocket capable of placing several hundred kilograms into low Earth orbit. It launched five times between 2006 and 2009, of which 2 were successful. The Falcon 1 was the first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit.

Falcon 9 is a medium-lift launch vehicle capable of delivering up to 22,800 kilograms (50,265 lb) to orbit, competing 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. The Falcon 9 v1.0 rocket successfully reached orbit on its first attempt on 4 June 2010. Its third flight, COTS Demo Flight 2, launched on 22 May 2012, and launched the first commercial spacecraft to reach and dock with the International Space Station (ISS). 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. The first stage of Falcon 9 is designed to retropropulsively land, be recovered, and reflown.

The Falcon Heavy is a heavy-lift launch vehicle capable of delivering up to 63,800 kg (140,700 lb) to Low Earth orbit (LEO) or 26,700 kg (58,900 lb) to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO). It uses three slightly modified Falcon 9 first stage cores with a total of 27 Merlin 1D engines. The Falcon Heavy successfully flew its inaugural mission on 6 February 2018, launching Musk's personal Tesla Roadster into heliocentric orbit

Both the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are certified to conduct launches for the National Security Space Launch (NSSL). As of Template:Falcon rocket statistics, the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy have been launched Template:Falcon rocket statistics times, resulting in Template:Falcon rocket statistics full mission successes, one partial success, and one in-flight failure. In addition, a Falcon 9 experienced a pre-flight failure prior to a static fire test in 2016.

Rocket engines

SpaceX Testing Merlin 1D Engine In Texas
The Merlin 1D engine undergoes a test at SpaceX's Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas.

Since the founding of SpaceX in 2002, the company has developed several rocket engines – Merlin, Kestrel, and Raptor for use in launch vehicles, Draco for the reaction control system of the Dragon series of spacecraft, and SuperDraco for abort capability in Crew Dragon.

Merlin is a family of rocket engines that uses liquid oxygen (LOX) and RP-1 propellants in a gas-generator power cycle. Merlin was first used to power the Falcon 1's first stage and is now used on both stages of the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy vehicles.

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 turbopump and is fed only by tank pressure. The engine is ablatively cooled in the chamber and throat and is radiatively cooled on the exhaust nozzle. The Kestrel's nozzle is fabricated from a high strength niobium alloy.

Draco and SuperDraco are hypergolic liquid-propellant rocket engines that utilize monomethyl hydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. Draco thrusters generate 400 N (90 lbf) of thrust, and they are used on the reaction control system of the Dragon and Dragon 2 spacecraft. SuperDraco is more powerful, with 73 kN (16,000 lbf) of thrust. Eight SuperDraco engines provide launch escape capability for crewed Dragon 2 spacecraft during an abort scenario.

Raptor is a new family of liquid oxygen and liquid methane-fueled full-flow staged combustion cycle engines to power the first and second stages of the in-development Starship launch system. Development versions were test-fired in late 2016. On 3 April 2019, SpaceX conducted a static fire test in Texas on its Starhopper vehicle, which ignited the engine while the vehicle remained tethered to the ground. In 2019, Raptor flew for the first time, powering the Starhopper vehicle to an altitude of 20 m (66 ft). SpaceX continues to conduct further test flights of the Starship vehicle in 2020 and 2021.

Dragon spacecraft

Crew Dragon at the ISS for Demo Mission 1 (cropped)
The SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, designed to deliver crew to and from the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Crew Development program.

SpaceX has developed the Dragon spacecraft to transport cargo and crew to the International Space Station. The first version of Dragon, used only for cargo, was first launched in 2010. The currently operational second generation Dragon spacecraft, known as Dragon 2, conducted its first flight, without crew, to the ISS in early 2019, followed by a crewed flight of Dragon 2 in 2020. The cargo variant of Dragon 2 flew for the first time in December 2020, for a resupply to the Space Station as part of the CRS contract with NASA.

In March 2020 SpaceX revealed the Dragon XL, designed as a resupply spacecraft for NASA's planned Lunar Gateway space station under a Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) contract. Dragon XL is planned to launch on the Falcon Heavy, and is able to transport over 5,000 kg (11,000 lb) to the Gateway. Dragon XL will be docked at the Gateway for six to twelve months at a time.

Autonomous spaceport drone ships

SpaceX ASDS in position prior to Falcon 9 Flight 17 carrying CRS-6 (17127808431)
An autonomous spaceport drone ship in position prior to Falcon 9 Flight 17 carrying CRS-6.

SpaceX routinely returns the first stage of Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets after orbital launches. The rocket flights and land to a predetermined landing site using only its own propulsion systems. When propellent margins do not permit a return to launch site (RTLS), rockets return to floating landing platform in the ocean, called autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS).

SpaceX also plans to introduce floating launch platforms. These are modified oil rigs to use in the 2020s to provide a sea launch option for their second-generation launch vehicle: the heavy-lift Starship system, consisting of the Super Heavy booster and Starship second stage. SpaceX has purchased two deepwater oil rigs and are refitting them to support Starship launches.


SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket deploying a GPS satellite
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket deploying a GPS satellite in December 2018 as seen from Adeliade, Australia

Starship is an American two-stage super heavy lift launch vehicle under development by aerospace company SpaceX. It is the largest and most powerful rocket ever flown. Starship is intended to be fully reusable, allowing both stages to be recovered after a mission and to be rapidly reused.

The Starship launch vehicle is designed to supplant SpaceX's Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, expand SpaceX's Starlink satellite constellation, and launch crews to both low Earth orbit and Mars. The vehicle is fundamental to SpaceX's ambition of colonizing Mars. SpaceX plans to use Starship vehicles as tankers, refueling other Starships to allow missions to geosynchronous orbit, the Moon, and Mars. A planned lunar lander variant of Starship was contracted by NASA to land astronauts on the Moon as part of the Artemis program for at least two Artemis lunar landings, starting with Artemis 3 in 2026.

Starship consists of the Super Heavy booster and the Starship spacecraft. Both stages are powered by Raptor engines, which burn liquid methane and liquid oxygen. Both stages are constructed primarily of stainless steel, instead of the carbon composite used in a series of prior designs. The booster is designed to use its engines to slow itself down, before being caught by a pair of mechanical arms attached to the launch tower. The Starship spacecraft is designed to be protected during atmospheric reentry by its thermal protection system, and it is able to land using its engines, following a 'belly flop' maneuver, where the spacecraft turns from a horizontal to a vertical orientation.

SpaceX has stated that a long-term goal for the Starship system is to achieve frequent space launches at low cost. Development follows an iterative and incremental approach involving test flights of prototype vehicles which are often destructive. The first flight test of the full Starship system took place on 20 April 2023, lifting-off with three engines out and ending four minutes after launch due to a loss of control, resulting in the destruction of the launch vehicle. The second flight test of the vehicle took place on 18 November 2023, achieving stage separation with the Super Heavy booster exploding roughly 30 seconds later following multiple engine failures during its boostback burn. The upper stage was lost nearly eight minutes after launch prior to reaching orbit.

On its third test flight on March 14, 2024, the Starship successfully attained orbit for the first time.


Starlink is an internet satellite constellation under development by SpaceX. The Internet service will use 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 cash flow, to allow SpaceX to build its Mars colony. Development began in 2015, initial prototype test-flight satellites were launched on the SpaceX Paz satellite mission in 2017. In May 2019 SpaceX launched the first batch of 60 satellites aboard a Falcon 9. By May 2021, SpaceX had launched 1737 Starlink satellites. Initial test operation of the constellation began in late 2020.

Starlink Mission (47926144123)
60 Starlink satellites stacked together before deployment.

In March 2017 SpaceX filed with the Federal Communications Commission plans to field a constellation of an additional 7,518 V-band satellites in non-geosynchronous orbits to provide communications services. 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. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) awarded SpaceX with nearly US$900 million of subsidies to use Starlink to provide broadband to rural customers in 35 U.S. states. On 15 May 2021, SpaceX and Google collaborated to provide data and cloud services for Starlink Enterprise customers.

Light pollution

The planned large number of Starlink satellites has been criticized by astronomers due to concerns over light pollution, with the brightness of Starlink satellites in both optical and radio wavelengths interfering with scientific observations. In response, SpaceX has implemented several upgrades to Starlink satellites aimed at reducing their brightness during operation. The large number of satellites employed by Starlink also creates long-term dangers of space debris collisions resulting from placing thousands of satellites in orbit. However the satellites are equipped with krypton-fueled Hall thrusters which allow them to de-orbit at the end of their life. Additionally, the satellites are designed to autonomously avoid collisions based on uplinked tracking data. Commentators, such as Shannon Stirone, have used Starlink and light pollution as an example of what she perceives to be the irresponsible attitude of companies in Silicon Valley.

Other projects

In June 2015 SpaceX announced that they would sponsor a Hyperloop competition, and would build a 1.6 km (0.99 mi) long subscale test track near SpaceX's headquarters for the competitive events. The company has held the annual competition since 2017.

In collaboration with doctors and academic researchers, SpaceX invited all employees to participate in the creation of a COVID-19 antibody-testing program in 2020. As such 4300 employees volunteered to provide blood-samples resulting in a peer-reviewed scientific paper crediting eight SpaceX employees as coauthors and suggesting that a certain level of COVID-19 antibodies may provide lasting protection against the virus.


SpaceX is headquartered in Hawthorne, California, which also serves as its primary manufacturing plant. The company operates a research and major operation in Redmond, Washington, owns a test site in Texas and operates three launch sites, with another under development. SpaceX also operates regional offices in Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. SpaceX was incorporated in the state of Delaware.

Headquarters, manufacturing, and refurbishment facilities

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

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, houses SpaceX's office space, mission control, and Falcon 9 manufacturing facilities.

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, United States Space Force'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.

SpaceX utilizes a high degree of vertical integration in the production of its rockets and rocket engines. 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.

Development and test facilities

SpaceX operates its 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 in 2012–2013 were carried out at McGregor. Testing of the much larger Starship prototypes is conducted in the SpaceX South Texas launch site near Brownsville, Texas.

SpaceX Engine Test Bunker
SpaceX McGregor engine test bunker, September 2012

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. As of October 2012, the McGregor facility had seven test stands that are operated "18 hours a day, six days a week" and is building more test stands because production is ramping up and the company has a large manifest in the next several years. 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

Falcon Heavy Side Boosters landing on LZ1 and LZ2 - 2018 (25254688767)
Falcon Heavy Side Boosters landing on LZ1 and LZ2.

SpaceX currently operates three orbital launch sites, at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station, Vandenberg Space Force Base, and Kennedy Space Center, with another under construction near 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. The Vandenberg launch site enables highly inclined orbits (66–145°), while Cape Canaveral enables orbits of medium inclination (28.5–51.6°). Before it was retired, all Falcon 1 launches took place at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Omelek Island.

Cape Canaveral Space Force Station

In April 2007 the USAF approved the use of Cape Canaveral Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) by SpaceX. The site has been used from 2010 for Falcon 9 launches, mainly 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 since 2015 been designated for use for Falcon 9 first-stage booster landings.

Vandenberg Space Force Base

Launch of Falcon 9 carrying CASSIOPE (130929-F-ET475-012)
SpaceX west coast launch facility at Vandenberg Space Force Base, during the launch of CASSIOPE, September 2013.

Vandenberg Space Launch Complex 4 (SLC-4E) leased in 2011, is used for payloads to polar orbits. The Vandenberg site can launch both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy, but cannot launch to low inclination orbits. The neighboring SLC-4W has been converted to Landing Zone 4 since 2015, where SpaceX has successfully landed three Falcon 9 first-stage boosters, the first in October 2018.

Kennedy Space Center

On 14 April 2014, SpaceX signed a 20-year lease for Launch Complex 39A. The pad was subsequently modified to support Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launches. SpaceX launched its first crewed mission to the ISS from Launch Pad 39A on 30 May 2020. Pad 39A has been prepared since 2019 to eventually accommodate Starship launches. With delays in launch FAA permits for Boca Chica, the 39A Starship preparation was accelerated in 2022.

Boca Chica, Texas

The Boca Chica Rocket Factory
The Starship assembly building at SpaceX Starbase in Texas

SpaceX manufactures and flies Starship test vehicles from a facility at Boca Chica, Texas, with future plans to conduct orbital Starship flights in 2021. SpaceX first publicly announced plans for a launch facility near Brownsville, Texas in August 2014. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issued the permit in July 2014. SpaceX broke ground on the new launch facility in 2014 with construction ramping up in the latter half of 2015, with the first suborbital launches from the facility in 2019. Some residents of Boca Chica Village, Brownsville, and environmental activists criticized the site along with Starship development program in various aspects.

Satellite manufacturing 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 sq ft (2,800 m2) office building located in Redmond, Washington. As of January 2017, a second facility in Redmond was acquired with 40,625 sq ft (3,774.2 m2) and has become a research and development laboratory for the satellites. In July 2016, SpaceX acquired an additional 8,000 sq ft (740 m2) creative space in Irvine, California (Orange County) to focus on satellite communications.

Space tourism

SpaceX also offers paid crewed spaceflights for private individuals. The first of these missions, Inspiration4, launched in 2021 on behalf of Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman. The mission launched the Crew Dragon Resilience from the Florida Kennedy Space Center's Launch Complex 39A atop a Falcon 9 launch vehicle, placed the Dragon capsule into low Earth orbit, and ended successfully about three days later, when the Resilience splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. The mission successfully completed the first orbital spaceflight with only private citizens aboard and was part of a charitable effort on behalf of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. The Inspiration4 flight reached an orbital altitude of approximately 585 km (364 mi), the highest achieved since STS-103 in 1999 and the fifth-highest Earth orbital human spaceflight overall. All four crew members received commercial astronaut training from SpaceX. The training included lessons in orbital mechanics, operating in a microgravity environment, stress testing, emergency-preparedness training and mission simulations.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: SpaceX para niños

Images for kids

kids search engine
SpaceX Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.