SpaceX is a young company: was founded in 2002 by billionaire Elon Musk, with the objective of making the cost of access to space cheaper with the development of reusable rockets. And for 18 years it has been surprising, ranging from the first successful flight to manned missions to International Space Station (ISS) in just over a decade. Know a little more about the vehicles that made this journey possible.

F

Before Falcon 9 there was Falcon 1, which was named after the “Millenium Falcon” of Star Wars and the fact that it has only one propellant. The rocket was developed as a test vehicle, to demonstrate that SpaceX was capable of placing charges in orbit.

advertising
Falcon 1 taking off from SpaceX base on Omelek Island, in the Pacific Ocean. Image: SpaceX
Falcon 1 taking off from SpaceX base on Omelek Island, in the Pacific Ocean. Image: SpaceX

Between March 2006 and July 2009 there were five launches. The first three failed, and success came only in September 2008.

F

Successor to Falcon 1, Falcon 9 got its name from its nine "Merlin" engines. The first flight, in June 2010, was already a success, placing in orbit a test version of what would be the first generation of the Dragon capsule, at the time designed only for transporting cargo to the ISS.

Em 10 years of operation, SpaceX has already carried out 113 launches of Falcon 9, 111 of which have been successful, demonstrating a high degree of reliability.

Launch of a Falcon 9 rocket
Launch of a Falcon 9 rocket. Credits: SpaceX

In December 2015, with the first landing on the ground of the first stage, the rocket became reusable, significantly reducing the cost of missions. But the first landing on a robotic ferry, something much more complex, only happened in April 2016.

SpaceX designed the Falcon 9 for a lifespan of up to 10 launches. Currently, the closest to that is the B1051, with 9 launches, the first in March 2019 and the most recent in March this year.

Read more:

Grasshopper

The Grasshopper (grasshopper, in English) was not a commercial rocket, but a prototype developed by SpaceX so that it could gain experience in landing the Falcon 9. Equipped with just a Merlin propeller, it was not designed to reach orbit, but rather for low-altitude flights within our atmosphere.

The first flight of a Grasshopper was a brief "jump" at 1,8 meters in height in September 2012. In the last, in October 2013, the rocket reached 744 meters.

Grasshopper, a vehicle developed by SpaceX to "practice" vertical landings with Falcon 9
Grasshopper, a rocket developed by SpaceX to “practice” vertical landings, during a test at 325 meters altitude in 2013. Image: SpaceX

After this flight he was retired and replaced by the Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicle 1 (F9R Dev1), based on the first stage of a Falcon 9 version 1.1. The F9R Dev1 made five flights between April and August 2014, reaching a maximum altitude of 1.000 meters in the third test, on June 17, 2014, and was destroyed in an accident during the last test, in August 2014.

Falcon Heavy

The Falcon Heavy is a "heavyweight" rocket (hence the Heavy, heavy in English, in the name), which basically consists of the first three stages of the Falcon 9 mounted side by side. With this, it is able to put 63,8 tons in low orbit around the Earth (against 22,8 tons in the most recent version of Falcon 9), or 16,8 tons in a trajectory on the way to Mars.

SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket launch
Launch of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. Image: SpaceX

On its first flight, in February 2018, Falcon Heavy sent the Tesla Roadster Red by Elon Musk. “Directed” by a mannequin wearing a company space suit and playing “Life on Mars”, by David Bowie, in the sound system, the car was placed in a heliocentric orbit (around the Sun), whose most distant point intersects and goes just beyond the orbit of Mars.

Tesla Roadster by Elon Musk was put "on the way to Mars" by a Falcon Heavy. Image: SpaceX
Tesla Roadster by Elon Musk was put “on the way to Mars” by a Falcon Heavy. Image: SpaceX

Crew Dragon

While not a rocket, Crew Dragon is a pivotal point in SpaceX's history. The capsule was designed for manned missions to Earth orbit and beyond, and can carry up to seven crew members, although NASA's missions have so far been limited to four astronauts.

Crew Dragon's first mission was to demo-2, in May 2020, which took astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS. Like Falcon 9 rockets, the capsule is reusable and lands in the ocean with the help of parachutes.

Crew Dragon capsule, used in SpaceX manned missions
Crew Dragon capsule, used in SpaceX manned missions. Image: SpaceX

A cargo version, Cargo Dragon, was also developed by SpaceX. It is basically identical to the manned version, but it does not have seats, controls, a life support system or the SuperDraco engines used to eject the capsule and take astronauts to safety if a mission has to be aborted after launch.

Starship

SpaceX's current project is the Starship, which the company plans to use to take astronauts to the Moon and eventually colonize Mars. Development continues at an accelerated pace and six prototypes have already "flown": SN5 e SN6 they made short jumps of 150 meters followed by landing on the launch pad.

The SN7 was destroyed on purpose in a pressurization test. Already SN8, SN9, SN10 e SN11 they performed “high altitude” tests, rising to 10 km in altitude before attempting a vertical landing on a platform.

SpaceX Starship SN8 on the launch pad
Starship SN8 on the launch pad. Image: SpaceX

The first two exploded at the time of landing, SN10 landed successfully, but exploded minutes later, already on the ground. Finally, the SN11 exploded in midair during the descent, scattering debris within a radius of 8 kilometers.

Despite the "mishaps", NASA has confidence in the project. In April 2021 the US space agency announced that SpaceX and Starship were the chosen to take astronauts to the moon during the Artemis program missions.