What Has SpaceX Done That Other Companies Haven’t?

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From the outset, it’s been clear that ambition and innovation are the driving forces behind Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. However, in recent years, SpaceX has achieved incredible feats and gone where no other aerospace startup has gone.

To better understand the company’s unique achievements, we’ll look at what SpaceX has done that most of its competitors can only dream of right now. As this fast-growing company keeps pushing the boundaries of what we thought was possible, this impressive list will undoubtedly grow for years to come.

The Only Commercial Spaceflight Company Capable of Sending Astronauts to Space

In 2020, SpaceX became the first commercial provider to launch astronauts into space and safely return them to Earth. Almost 10 years had passed since the last time NASA astronauts went to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX’s mission was the first two-person orbital flight launched from the U.S. since the early stages of the Space Shuttle mission in 1982.

This monumental flight was called Crew Demo-2 and delivered two NASA astronauts, Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken, to the ISS. The two men were on board the newly built Endeavour spacecraft that returned them to Earth after a little over two months at the ISS. The spacecraft was nicknamed “Resilience” as an ode to the ongoing COVID-19 efforts at the time.

Since the first successful launch, SpaceX has sent four crews of astronauts to the ISS:

  • Crew-1 in 2020, carrying three NASA astronauts and a JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut.
  • Crew-2 in 2021, carrying two NASA astronauts, a JAXA astronaut, and an ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut.
  • Crew-3 in 2021, carrying three NASA astronauts and an ESA astronaut.
  • Crew-4 in 2022, also carrying three NASA astronauts and an ESA astronaut.

The SpaceX Crew-5 flight, planned for September 2022, will transport four crew members to the International Space Station. In addition, a Russian astronaut will join the all-American SpaceX crew for the first time.

Depending on circumstances, NASA can order more missions to the ISS. However, as of 2022, SpaceX remains the only private spaceflight company capable of launching astronauts into space. This position is partly due to the ongoing issues with the Boeing Starliner spacecraft that NASA also commissioned for the same purpose.

In 2011, SpaceX and Boeing were the only two companies to be awarded a Commercial Crew Program (CCP) contract. SpaceX beat its rival to space, despite receiving $1.6 billion less in payment.

The Sole Provider for Orbital Space Tourism

As of 2022, SpaceX is the only space tourism company that offers commercial orbital flights. However, other significant players in this growing market, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin decided to go the suborbital route.

The critical difference between the two spaceflights is the final destination. Suborbital flights take the passenger to space for a few minutes, reaching an altitude of about 330,000 feet. In contrast, orbital flights can go deeper into space and stay there longer. Currently, the only available destination is the International Space Station, and these commercial flights can last up to 10 days.

These spaceflights are possible thanks to the mighty Falcon 9, the world’s first reusable orbital rocket. But, of course, we can’t overlook the Crew Dragon capsule equipped with 16 powerful thrusters for orientation, altitude control, and orbit adjustment.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragon can take up to six passengers to the ISS. However, the company is working on a cutting-edge Starship rocket to launch as many as 100 people into space at once.

Before their flight, the passengers are trained for months as NASA astronauts prepare for their missions. This process isn’t easy and requires pushing your body to the limit. The passengers spend continuous hours in a spacecraft simulator, studying extensive manuals and practicing for all worst-case scenarios.

Musk’s ultimate goal has always been sending a human crew to Mars; his company is actively working to achieve this goal.

The First Private Company to Launch a Cargo Mission to the International Space Station

Apart from being the first private company to launch a crewed mission to the ISS, SpaceX has paved the way for cargo transport. In 2012, the Crew Dragon spacecraft delivered its first cargo to the ISS.

When the International Space Station was being developed in the 1980s and 1990s, private spaceflights weren’t even considered an option. For this reason, this flight was one of the most crucial milestones for SpaceX, attracting a lot of attention to the company’s operations.

Since this breakthrough moment, SpaceX has completed more than 20 cargo missions to the ISS.

Thanks to Northrop Grumman, SpaceX isn’t the sole cargo transporter anymore. In fact, SpaceX has gone neck and neck with this company for all the recent NASA resupply contracts. However, a new development could tip the scale in favor of SpaceX. Namely, Northrop is running out of rockets they use to supply ISS with consumables.

If the company doesn’t find a plan B, SpaceX could also establish a monopoly in this area of space transport.

The First Private Company to Launch Into Orbit and Return Intact

The first significant milestone for SpaceX came in 2011 when the company became the first private entity to launch into orbit and return to Earth intact. Before 2011, only government agencies like NASA managed to pull off this impressive feat.

As always, SpaceX sent its trusty Dragon capsule aboard the Falcon 9 rocket. The capsule was empty at the time. Still, this flight was a monumental technological and financial achievement. Ultimately, it opened the door for the first cargo mission in 2012 and the first crewed mission in 2020.

What Has SpaceX Done That Other Companies Haven’t?

The First Company to Recover and Reuse Rockets

Elon Musk has set SpaceX the ambitious goal of reducing space exploration and transport costs. One of the essential aspects of creating cost-effective space travel is recovering and reusing rockets.

Recoverable and reusable rocket stages have been talked about for decades. Still, no one could do it until SpaceX entered the fray. So naturally, the world marveled at SpaceX and Musk when this recovery occurred, but this mind-blowing technology has now become standard for the company. In fact, SpaceX has realized over 100 successful rocket landings since the first touchdown on an orbital mission in 2015.

That first successful landing and recovery in 2015 made SpaceX a pioneer in reusable rockets. Then, in 2017, the company organized the first re-flight of a previously landed rocket.

As of 2022, SpaceX holds the record for most flights made by a recovered rocket. In addition, its Falcon 9 rocket delivered Starlink internet satellites into orbit for the 12th time.

While other aerospace companies have made some successful recovery attempts, not one compares to SpaceX’s launch frequency. The reason why SpaceX makes so many launches is their Starlink project. The company must frequently add new ones to keep this satellite constellation operational.

By reusing their rockets, SpaceX can reduce costs while boosting launch cadence.

Currently, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets are partially reusable. Partially, because the upper stages are discarded after the launch. The returning boosters return to the ground around nine minutes after liftoff. They either hit the solid ground near the launching pad or drone ships distributed in the ocean.

Of course, SpaceX is already working on a rocket that will be fully reusable. The company’s long-term goal is to have both stages of a rocket return around 24 hours after the launch. Moreover, the new rocket will be designed to allow reuse just a few hours after the rocket’s return. This new system will replace all the existing SpaceX spacecraft used for satellite and cargo delivery and human transport.

Musk hopes this will be the first rocket system to take humans back to the Moon and possibly land on Mars for the first time.

Miles Ahead of the Competition

When SpaceX first entered the space race, no one could’ve envisaged the dominant position it would eventually occupy. Granted, this revolutionary company avoids direct partnerships with its competitors. But not joining forces with other companies hasn’t stopped them from achieving incredible results and breaking down barriers left and right.

As a result, almost all remaining big aerospace companies see SpaceX as a threat and use every opportunity to slow down the company’s progress. While there have been several instances of lawsuits, rumored dirty tactics were also involved.

Namely, in 2016, Elon Musk claimed that Jeff Bezos had tried to snag top talent away from SpaceX by offering to double their salaries. That same year, one of the biggest failures in SpaceX history occurred when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded during a launch test. In the aftermath of the incident, many speculated that potential sabotage was involved.

Regardless, SpaceX has risen above and left its competition far behind. This high-profile company has already revolutionized the space industry and will likely make more exciting innovations in the future.

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