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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Mars Direct

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mars Direct is a proposal for a human mission to Mars which purports to be both cost-effective and possible with current technology. It was originally detailed in a research paper by Martin Marietta engineers Robert Zubrin and David Baker in 1990, and later expanded upon in Zubrin's 1996 book The Case for Mars. It now serves as a staple of Zubrin's speaking engagements and general advocacy as head of the Mars Society, an organization devoted to the colonization of Mars.[1]
The Habitat Unit and the Earth Return Vehicle on Mars.


Space Exploration Initiative

On July 20, 1989, George H. W. Bush – then President of the United States – announced plans for what came to be known as the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI). In a speech on the steps of the National Air and Space Museum he described long-term plans which would culminate in a manned mission to the surface of Mars.[2]

By December 1990, a study to estimate the project's cost determined that long-term expenditure would total approximately 450 billion dollars spread over 20 to 30 years.[3] The "90 Day Study" as it came to be known, evoked a hostile Congressional reaction towards SEI given that it would have required the largest single government expenditure since World War II.[4] Within a year, all funding requests for SEI had been denied.

Dan Goldin became NASA Administrator on April 1, 1992, officially abandoning plans for near-term human exploration beyond Earth orbit with the shift towards a "faster, better, cheaper" strategy for robotic exploration.[5]


While working at Martin Marietta designing interplanetary mission architectures, Robert Zubrin perceived a fundamental flaw in the SEI program. Zubrin came to understand that if NASA's plan was to fully utilize as many technologies as possible in support of sending the mission to Mars, it would become politically untenable. In his own words:
The exact opposite of the correct way to do engineering.[4]
Zubrin's alternative to this "Battlestar Galactica" mission strategy (dubbed so by its detractors for the large, nuclear powered spaceships that supposedly resembled the science-fiction spaceship of the same name) involved a longer surface stay, a faster flight-path in the form of a conjunction class mission, in-situ resource utilization and craft launched directly from the surface of Earth to Mars as opposed to be being assembled in orbit or by a space-based drydock.[6] After receiving approval from management at Marietta, a 12-man team within the company began to work out the details of the mission. While they focused primarily on more traditional mission architectures, Zubrin began to collaborate with colleague David Baker's[7] extremely simple, stripped-down and robust strategy. Their goal to "use local resources, travel light, and live off the land" became the hallmark of Mars Direct.[4]

Mission scenario

First launch

The first flight of the Ares rocket (not to be confused with the similarly named rocket of the now defunct Constellation program) would take an unmanned Earth Return Vehicle to Mars after a 6-month cruise phase, with a supply of hydrogen, a chemical plant and a small nuclear reactor. Once there, a series of chemical reactions (the Sabatier reaction coupled with electrolysis) would be used to combine a small amount of hydrogen (8 tons) carried by the Earth Return Vehicle with the carbon dioxide of the Martian atmosphere to create up to 112 tonnes of methane and oxygen. This relatively simple chemical-engineering procedure was used regularly in the 19th and 20th centuries,[8] and would ensure that only 7% of the return propellant would need to be carried to the surface of Mars.
96 tonnes of methane and oxygen would be needed to send the Earth Return Vehicle on a trajectory back home at the conclusion of the surface stay; the rest would be available for Mars rovers. The process of generating fuel is expected to require approximately ten months to complete.

Second launch

Some 26 months after the Earth Return Vehicle is originally launched from Earth, a second vehicle, the Mars Habitat Unit, would be launched on a 6-month long low-energy transfer trajectory to Mars, and would carry a crew of four astronauts (the minimum number required so that the team can be split in two without leaving anyone alone). The Habitat Unit would not be launched until the automated factory aboard the ERV had signaled the successful production of chemicals required for operation on the planet and the return trip to Earth. During the trip, artificial gravity would be generated by tethering the Habitat Unit to the spent upper stage of the booster, and setting them rotating about a common axis. This rotation would produce a comfortable 1 g working environment for the astronauts, freeing them of the debilitating effects of long-term exposure to weightlessness.[4]

Landing and surface operations

Upon reaching Mars, the upper stage would be jettisoned, with the Habitat Unit aerobraking into Mars orbit before soft-landing in proximity to the Earth Return Vehicle. Precise landing would be supported by a radar beacon started by the first lander. Once on Mars, the crew would spend 18 months on the surface, carrying out a range of scientific research, aided by a small rover vehicle carried aboard their Mars Habitat Unit, and powered by the methane produced by the Earth Return Vehicle.

Return and follow-up missions

To return, the crew would use the Earth Return Vehicle, leaving the Mars Habitat Unit for the possible use of subsequent explorers. On the return trip to Earth, the propulsion stage of the Earth Return Vehicle would be used as a counterweight to generate artificial gravity for the trip back.
Follow-up missions would be dispatched at 2 year intervals to Mars to ensure that a redundant ERV would be on the surface at all times, waiting to be used by the next crewed mission or the current crew in an emergency. In such an emergency scenario, the crew would trek hundreds of kilometers to the other ERV in their long-range vehicle.


The Mars Direct proposal includes a component for a Launch Vehicle "Ares", an Earth Return Vehicle (ERV) and a Mars Habitat Unit (MHU).

Launch Vehicle

The plan involves several launches making use of heavy-lift boosters of similar size to the Saturn V used for the Apollo missions, which would potentially be derived from Space Shuttle components. This proposed rocket is dubbed "Ares", which would use space shuttle Advanced Solid Rocket Boosters, a modified shuttle external tank, and a new Lox/LH2 third stage for the trans-Mars injection of the payload. Ares would put 121 tonnes into a 300 km circular orbit, and boost 47 tonnes toward Mars.[9]

Earth Return Vehicle

The Earth Return Vehicle is a two-stage vehicle. The upper stage comprises the living accommodation for the crew during their six-month return trip to Earth from Mars. The lower stage contains the vehicle's rocket engines and a small chemical production plant.

Mars Habitat Unit

The Mars Habitat Unit is a 2- or 3-deck vehicle providing a comprehensive living and working environment for a Mars crew. In addition to individual sleeping quarters which provide a degree of privacy for each of the crew and a place for personal effects, the Mars Habitat Unit includes a communal living area, a small galley, exercise area, and hygiene facilities with closed-cycle water purification. The lower deck of the Mars Habitat Unit provides the primary working space for the crew: small laboratory areas for carrying out geology and life science research; storage space for samples, airlocks for reaching the surface of Mars, and a suiting-up area where crew members prepare for surface operations. Protection from harmful radiation while in space and on the surface of Mars (e.g. from solar flares) would be provided by a dedicated "storm shelter" in the core of the vehicle.

The Mars Habitat Unit would also include a small pressurized rover that is stored in the lower deck area and assembled on the surface of Mars. Powered by a methane engine, it is designed to extend the range over which astronauts can explore the surface of Mars out to 320 km.

Since it was first proposed as a part of Mars Direct, the Mars Habitat Unit has been adopted by NASA as a part of their Mars Design Reference Mission, which uses two Mars Habitat Units – one of which flies to Mars unmanned, providing a dedicated laboratory facility on Mars, together with the capacity to carry a larger rover vehicle. The second Mars Habitat Unit flies to Mars with the crew, its interior given over completely to living and storage space.

To prove the viability of the Mars Habitat Unit, the Mars Society has implemented the Mars Analogue Research Station Program (MARS), which has established a number of prototype Mars Habitat Units around the world.


Baker pitched Mars Direct at the Marshall Spaceflight Center in April 1990,[10] where reception was very positive. The engineers flew around the country to present their plan, which generated significant interest. When their tour culminated in a demonstration at the National Space Society they received a standing ovation.[4] The plan gained rapid media attention shortly afterwards.

Resistance to the plan came from teams within NASA working on the Space Station and advanced propulsion concepts[citation needed]. The NASA administration rejected Mars Direct. Zubrin remained committed to the strategy, and after parting with David Baker attempted to convince the new NASA administration of Mars Direct's merits in 1992.[4]

After being granted a small research fund at Martin Marietta, Zubrin and his colleagues successfully demonstrated an in-situ propellant generator which achieved an efficiency of 94%.[4] No chemical engineers partook in the development of the demonstration hardware.[4] After showing the positive results to the Johnson Space Center, the NASA administration still held several reservations about the plan.[4]

In November 2003, Zubrin was invited to speak to the U.S. Senate committee on the future of space exploration.[4] Two months later the Bush administration announced the creation of the Constellation program, a manned spaceflight initiative with the goal of sending humans to the Moon by 2020. While a Mars mission was not specifically detailed, a plan to reach Mars based on utilizing the Orion spacecraft was tentatively developed for implementation in the 2030s. The program's funding was denied in 2011 by the Obama administration[citation needed] and the Constellation program ended.

There are a variety of psychological and sociological issues affecting long-duration expeditionary space missions. Early human spaceflight missions to Mars are expected to have significant psycho-social problems to overcome, as well as provide considerable data for refining mission design, mission planning, and crew selection for future missions.[11]


Since Mars Direct was initially conceived, it has undergone regular review and development by Zubrin himself, the Mars Society, NASA, Stanford University and others.

Mars Semi-Direct

Artist's rendering of Mars Semi-Direct/DRA 1.0: The Manned Habitat Unit is "docked" alongside a pre placed habitat that was sent ahead of the Earth Return Vehicle.

Zubrin and Weaver developed a modified version of Mars Direct, called Mars Semi-Direct, in response to some specific criticisms.[12] This mission consists of three spacecraft and includes a "Mars Ascent Vehicle" (MAV). The ERV remains in Mars orbit for the return journey, while the unmanned MAV lands and manufactures propellants for the ascent back up to Mars orbit. The Mars Semi-Direct architecture has been used as the basis of a number of studies, including the NASA Design Reference Missions.

When subjected to the same cost-analysis as the 90-day report, Mars Semi-Direct was predicted to cost 55 billion dollars over 10 years, capable of fitting into the existing NASA budget.

Mars Semi-Direct became the basis of the Design Reference Mission 1.0 of NASA, replacing the 90-day report.

Design Reference Mission

The NASA model, referred to as the Design Reference Mission, on version 5.0 as of September 1, 2012, calls for a significant upgrade in hardware (at least three launches per mission, rather than two), and sends the ERV to Mars fully fueled, parking it in orbit above the planet for subsequent rendezvous with the MAV.

Mars Direct and SpaceX

With the potentially imminent advent of low-cost heavy lift capability, Zubrin has posited a dramatically lower cost manned Mars mission using hardware developed by space transport company SpaceX. In this simpler plan, a crew of two would be sent to Mars by a single Falcon Heavy launch, the Dragon spacecraft acting as their interplanetary cruise habitat. Additional living space for the journey would be enabled through the use of inflatable add-on modules if required. The problems associated with long-term weightlessness would be addressed in the same manner as the baseline Mars Direct plan, a tether between the Dragon habitat and the TMI (Trans-Mars Injection) stage acting to allow rotation of the craft.

The Dragon's heatshield characteristics could allow for a safe descent if landing rockets of sufficient power were made available. Research at NASA's Ames Research Center has demonstrated that a robotic Dragon would be capable of a fully propulsive landing on the Martian surface.[citation needed] On the surface, the crew would have at their disposal two Dragon spacecraft with inflatable modules as habitats, two ERVs, two Mars ascent vehicles and 8 tonnes of cargo.

Other Studies

The Mars Society and Stanford studies retain the original two-vehicle mission profile of Mars Direct, but increase the crew size to six.

Mars Society Australia developed their own four-person Mars Oz reference mission, based on Mars Semi-Direct. This study uses horizontally landing, bent biconic shaped modules, and relies on solar power and chemical propulsion throughout,[13] where Mars Direct and the DRMs used nuclear reactors for surface power and, in the case of the DRMs for propulsion as well. The Mars Oz reference mission also differs in assuming, based on space station experience, that spin gravity will not be required.

Mars Analogue Research Stations

The Mars Society has argued the viability of the Mars Habitat Unit concept through their Mars Analogue Research Station program. These are two or three decked vertical cylinders ~8 m in diameter and 8 m high. Mars Society Australia plans to build its own station based on the Mars Oz design.[14] The Mars Oz design features a horizontal cylinder 4.7 m in diameter and 18 m long, with a tapered nose. A second similar module will function as a garage and power and logistics module.
Mars Direct was featured on a Discovery Channel programs Mars: The Next Frontier in which issues were discussed surrounding NASA funding of the project, and on Mars Underground, where the plan is discussed more in-depth.


"Mars to Stay" proposals involve not returning the first immigrant/explorers immediately, or ever. It has been suggested the cost of sending a four or six person team could be one fifth to one tenth the cost of returning that same four or six person team. Depending on the precise approach taken, a quite complete lab could be sent and landed for less than the cost of sending back even 50 kilos of Martian rocks. Twenty or more persons could be sent for the cost of returning four.[15]

In fiction


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Industry Aerospace
Founded May 6, 2002; 14 years ago[1]
Founder Elon Musk
Headquarters Hawthorne, California, U.S.
33.9207°N 118.3278°WCoordinates: 33.9207°N 118.3278°W
Key people
Services Orbital rocket launch
Owner Elon Musk Trust
(54% equity; 78% voting control)[2]
Number of employees
Nearly 5,000[3][4]
(February 2016)
Footnotes / references

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, better known as SpaceX, is an American aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company headquartered in Hawthorne, California. It was founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk, with the goal of reducing space transportation costs and enabling the colonization of Mars.[9] SpaceX has developed the Falcon launch vehicle family and the Dragon spacecraft family, which deliver payloads into Earth orbit.

SpaceX's achievements include the first privately-funded, liquid-propellant rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 in 2008);[10] the first privately-funded company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Dragon in 2010); and the first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Dragon in 2012).[11] As of March 2017, SpaceX has since flown ten missions to the International Space Station (ISS) under a cargo resupply contract.[12] NASA also awarded SpaceX a further development contract in 2011 to develop and demonstrate a human-rated Dragon, which would be used to transport astronauts to the ISS and return them safely to Earth.[13]

SpaceX announced in 2011 they were beginning a privately-funded reusable launch system technology development program. In December 2015, a first stage was flown back to a landing pad near the launch site, where it successfully accomplished a propulsive vertical landing. This was the first such achievement by a rocket for orbital spaceflight.[14] In April 2016, with the launch of CRS-8, SpaceX successfully vertically landed a first stage on an ocean drone-ship landing platform.[15] In May 2016, in another first, SpaceX again landed a first stage, but during a significantly more energetic geostationary transfer orbit mission.[16] In March 2017, SpaceX became the first to successfully re-launch and land the first stage of an orbital rocket. [17]

In September 2016, CEO Elon Musk unveiled the mission architecture of the Interplanetary Transport System program, an ambitious privately-funded initiative to develop spaceflight technology for use in manned interplanetary spaceflight, and which, if demand emerges, could lead to sustainable human settlements on Mars over the long term.[18][19] In February 2017, Elon Musk announced that the company had been contracted by two private individuals to send them in a Dragon spacecraft on a free return trajectory around the Moon.[20][21][22] Provisionally launching in 2018, this may well become the first instance of lunar tourism.


SpaceX employees with the Dragon capsule at SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, California, February 2015.

In 2001, Elon Musk conceptualized Mars Oasis, a project to land a miniature experimental greenhouse and grow plants on Mars, "so this would be the furthest that life’s ever traveled"[23] in an attempt to regain public interest in space exploration and increase the budget of NASA.[24][25][26] Musk tried to buy cheap rockets from Russia, but returned empty-handed after failing to find rockets for an affordable price.[27][28]
Falcon 9 carrying CRS-7 Dragon on SLC-40 pad.

On the flight home, Musk realized that he could start a company that could build the affordable rockets he needed.[28] According to early Tesla and SpaceX investor Steve Jurvetson,[29] Musk calculated that the raw materials for building a rocket actually were only 3 percent of the sales price of a rocket at the time. By applying vertical integration,[27] producing around 85% of launch hardware in-house,[30][31] and the modular approach from software engineering, SpaceX could cut launch price by a factor of ten and still enjoy a 70 percent gross margin.[32] SpaceX started with the smallest useful orbital rocket, instead of building a more complex and riskier launch vehicle, which could have failed and bankrupted the company.[33]
Launch of Falcon 9 carrying ORBCOMM OG2-M1.

In early 2002, Musk was seeking staff for his new space company, soon to be named SpaceX. Musk approached renowned rocket engineer Tom Mueller (now SpaceX's CTO of Propulsion) and Mueller agreed to work for Musk, and thus SpaceX was born.[34] SpaceX was first headquartered in a warehouse in El Segundo, California. The company has grown rapidly since it was founded in 2002, growing from 160 employees in 2005 to "nearly 5,000" in late 2015[3] and February 2016.[4]
Falcon 9 rocket's first stage on the landing pad after the first successful vertical landing of an orbital rocket stage, OG2 Mission.

At year-end 2012, SpaceX had over 40 launches on its manifest representing about $4 billion in contract revenue, with many of those contracts already making progress payments to SpaceX. The contracts included both commercial and government (NASA/DOD) customers.[35] As of December 2013, SpaceX had a total of 50 future launches under contract, two-thirds of them were for commercial customers.[36][37] In late 2013, space industry media began to comment on the phenomenon that SpaceX prices are undercutting the major competitors in the commercial comsat launch market—the Ariane 5 and Proton-M[38]—at which time SpaceX had at least 10 further geostationary orbit flights on its books.[37]
Falcon 9 first stage on an ASDS barge after the first successful landing at sea, CRS-8 Mission.


Musk has stated that one of his goals is to improve the cost and reliability of access to space, ultimately by a factor of ten.[39] The company plans in 2004 called for "development of a heavy lift product and even a super-heavy, if there is customer demand" with each size increase resulting in a significant decrease in cost per pound to orbit. CEO Elon Musk said: "I believe $500 per pound ($1,100/kg) or less is very achievable."[40]
Conceptual rendering of Falcon Heavy at Pad 39A, Cape Canaveral.

A major goal of SpaceX has been to develop a rapidly reusable launch system. As of March 2013, the publicly announced aspects of this technology development effort include an active test campaign of the low-altitude, low-speed Grasshopper vertical takeoff, vertical landing (VTVL) technology demonstrator rocket,[41][42][43] and a high-altitude, high-speed Falcon 9 post-mission booster return test campaign where—beginning in mid-2013, with the sixth overall flight of Falcon 9—every first stage will be instrumented and equipped as a controlled descent test vehicle to accomplish propulsive-return over-water tests.[44] SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell said at the Singapore Satellite Industry Forum in summer 2013 "If we get this [reusable technology] right, and we’re trying very hard to get this right, we’re looking at launches to be in the US$5 to 7 million range, which would really change things dramatically."[45]

Musk stated in a 2011 interview that he hopes to send humans to Mars' surface within 10–20 years.[46] In 2010, Musk's calculations convinced him that the colonization of Mars was possible.[47] In June 2013, Musk used the descriptor "Mars Colonial Transporter" (only later changed to "Interplanetary Transport System"; see below) to refer to the privately funded development project to design and build a spaceflight system of rocket engines, launch vehicles and space capsules to transport humans to Mars and return to Earth.[48] In March 2014, COO Gwynne Shotwell said that once the Falcon Heavy and Dragon 2 crew version are flying, the focus for the company engineering team will be on developing the technology to support the transport infrastructure necessary for Mars missions.[49]


Landmark achievements of SpaceX include:[50]
  • The first privately funded liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit (Falcon 1 Flight 4 — September 28, 2008)
  • The first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft (Falcon 9 Flight 2 — December 9, 2010)
  • The first private company to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station (Falcon 9 Flight 3 — May 25, 2012)
  • The first private company to send a satellite into geosynchronous orbit (Falcon 9 Flight 7 — December 3, 2013)
  • The first landing of an orbital rocket's first stage on land (Falcon 9 Flight 20 — December 22, 2015)
  • The first landing of an orbital rocket's first stage on an ocean platform (Falcon 9 Flight 23 — April 8, 2016)
  • The first relaunch and landing of a used orbital rocket (Falcon 9 Flight 32 — March 30, 2017)[51]
In December 2015, SpaceX launched an upgraded Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station into Low Earth orbit, on a mission designated Flight 20. After completing its primary burn, the first stage of the multistage rocket detached from the second stage as usual. The first stage then fired three of its engines to send it back to Cape Canaveral, where it achieved the world's first successful landing of a rocket that was used for an orbital launch.[52]


In March 2013, a Dragon spacecraft in orbit developed issues with its thrusters. Due to blocked fuel valves, the craft was unable to properly control itself. SpaceX engineers were able to remotely clear the blockages. Because of this issue, the craft arrived at and docked with the International Space Station one day later than expected.

In June 2015, CRS-7 launched a Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 to resupply the International Space Station. All telemetry readings were nominal until 2 minutes and 19 seconds into the flight, when a loss of helium pressure was detected and a cloud of vapor appeared outside the second stage. A few seconds after this, the second stage exploded. The first stage continued to fly for a few seconds before disintegrating due to aerodynamic forces. The capsule was thrown off and survived the explosion, transmitting data until it was destroyed on impact.[53] Later it was revealed that the capsule could have landed intact if it had software to deploy its parachutes in case of a launch mishap.[54] The problem was discovered to be a failed 2-foot-long steel strut purchased from a supplier to hold a helium pressure vessel that broke free due to the force of acceleration.[55] This caused a breach and allowed high-pressure helium to escape into the low-pressure propellant tank, causing the failure.The Dragon software issue was also fixed in addition to an analysis of the entire program in order to ensure proper abort mechanisms are in place for future rockets and their payload.[56]

In September 2016, a Falcon 9 exploded during a propellant fill operation for a standard pre-launch static fire test.[57][58] The payload, the Spacecom Amos-6 communications satellite valued at $200 million, was destroyed.[59] Musk described the event as the "most difficult and complex failure" ever in SpaceX's history; SpaceX reviewed nearly 3,000 channels of telemetry and video data covering a period of 35–55 milliseconds for the postmortem.[60] Musk reported the explosion was caused by the liquid oxygen that is used as propellant turning so cold that it solidified and it ignited with carbon composite helium vessels.[61] The rocket explosion sent the company into a four-month launch hiatus while it worked out what went wrong, and SpaceX finally returned to flight in January 2017.[62]

Ownership and valuation

SpaceX launches by year.

In August 2008, SpaceX accepted a $20 million investment from Founders Fund.[63] In early 2012, approximately two-thirds of the company were owned by its founder[64] and his 70 million shares were then estimated to be worth $875 million on private markets,[65] which roughly valued SpaceX at $1.3 billion as of February 2012.[66] After the COTS 2+ flight in May 2012, the company private equity valuation nearly doubled to $2.4 billion.[67][68] In January 2015, SpaceX raised $1 billion in funding from Google and Fidelity, in exchange for 8.333% of the company, establishing the company valuation at approximately $12 billion. Google and Fidelity joined the then current investorship group of Draper Fisher Jurvetson, Founders Fund, Valor Equity Partners and Capricorn.[69][70]

As of May 2012, SpaceX had operated on total funding of approximately $1 billion in its first ten years of operation. Of this, private equity provided about $200M, with Musk investing approximately $100M and other investors having put in about $100M (Founders Fund, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, …).[71][dead link] The remainder has come from progress payments on long-term launch contracts and development contracts. As of April 2012, NASA had put in about $400–500M of this amount, with most of that as progress payments on launch contracts.[66] By May 2012, SpaceX had contracts for 40 launch missions, and each of those contracts provide down payments at contract signing, plus many are paying progress payments as launch vehicle components are built in advance of mission launch, driven in part by US accounting rules for recognizing long-term revenue.[66]

In 2012, an initial public offering (IPO) was perceived as possible by the end of 2013,[65] but then Musk stated in June 2013 that he planned to hold off any potential IPO until after the "Mars Colonial Transporter is flying regularly,"[48] and this was reiterated in 2015 indicating that it would be many years before SpaceX would become a publicly traded company,[72][73] where Musk stated that "I just don’t want [SpaceX] to be controlled by some private equity firm that would milk it for near-term revenue"[74]

Spacecraft and flight hardware

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon spacecraft, lifts off during the COTS Demo Flight 1 in December 2010.

SpaceX currently manufactures two broad classes of rocket engine in-house: the kerosene fueled Merlin engine and the hypergolic fueled Draco/SuperDraco vernier thrusters. The Merlin powers their two main space launch vehicles: the large Falcon 9,[75] which flew successfully into orbit on its maiden launch in June 2010[76] and the super-heavy class Falcon Heavy, which is scheduled to make its first flight in 2017. SpaceX also manufactures the Dragon, a pressurized orbital spacecraft that is launched on top of a Falcon 9 booster to carry cargo to low-Earth orbit, and the follow-on Dragon 2 spacecraft, currently in the process of being human-rated through a variety of design reviews and flight tests that began in 2014.[77][78]

Rocket engines

Since the founding of SpaceX in 2002, the company has developed three families of rocket enginesMerlin and Kestrel for launch vehicle propulsion, and the Draco control thrusters. SpaceX is currently developing two further rocket engines: SuperDraco and Raptor.
Merlin is a family of rocket engines developed by SpaceX for use on its Falcon rocket family of launch vehicles. Merlin engines use LOX and RP-1 as propellants in a gas-generator power cycle. The Merlin engine was originally designed for sea recovery and reuse. The injector at the heart of Merlin is of the pintle type that was first used in the Apollo Program for the lunar module landing engine. Propellants are fed via a single shaft, dual impeller turbo-pump.

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 turbo-pump, and is fed only by tank pressure. Its nozzle is ablatively cooled in the chamber and throat, is also radiatively cooled, and is fabricated from a high strength niobium alloy.

Draco are hypergolic liquid-propellant rocket engines that utilize a mixture of monomethyl hydrazine fuel and nitrogen tetroxide oxidizer. Each Draco thruster generates 400 newtons (90 lbf) of thrust.[79] They are used as reaction control system (RCS) thrusters on the Dragon spacecraft.[80] SuperDraco are a much more powerful version of the Draco thrusters, which will be initially used as landing and launch escape system engines on the version 2 Dragon spacecraft, Dragon 2.

Raptor is a new family of methane-fueled full flow staged combustion cycle engines to be used in its future Interplanetary Transport System. Development versions have been test fired.

Falcon launch vehicles

The Falcon 1 prototype at SpaceX's assembly facilities.

Since 2010, SpaceX has flown all its missions on the Falcon 9. They are also actively developing the Falcon Heavy, and previously developed and flew the Falcon 1 pathfinder vehicle.
From left to right, Falcon 1, Falcon 9 v1.0, three versions of Falcon 9 v1.1, three versions of Falcon 9 v1.2 (Full Thrust), and Falcon Heavy.

Falcon 1 was a small rocket capable of placing several hundred kilograms into low earth orbit.[76] It functioned as an early test-bed for developing concepts and components for the larger Falcon 9.[76] Falcon 1 attempted five flights between 2006 and 2009. On September 28, 2008, on its fourth attempt, the Falcon 1 successfully reached orbit, becoming the first privately funded, liquid-fueled rocket to do so.[81]

Falcon 9 is an EELV-class medium-lift vehicle capable of delivering up to 22,800 kilograms (50,265lb) to orbit, and is intended to compete 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.[82] The Falcon 9 v1.0 rocket successfully reached orbit on its first attempt on June 4, 2010. Its third flight, COTS Demo Flight 2, launched on May 22, 2012, and was the first commercial spacecraft to reach and dock with the International Space Station.[83] The vehicle was upgraded to Falcon 9 v1.1 in 2013 and again in 2015 to the current Falcon 9 Full Thrust version. As of February 2017, Falcon 9 vehicles have flown 28 successful missions with two failures.

Falcon Heavy began development as a heavy-lift configuration using a cluster of three Falcon 9 first stage cores with a total 27 Merlin 1D engines and propellant crossfeed in 2011.[84][85][86] SpaceX is aiming for the first demonstration flight of the Falcon Heavy in the summer of 2017.[87]

Dragon capsules

The Dragon spacecraft approaching the ISS.

In 2005, SpaceX announced plans to pursue a human-rated commercial space program through the end of the decade.[88] The Dragon is a conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule which is capable of carrying cargo or up to seven astronauts into orbit and beyond.[89] [89]

In 2006, NASA announced that the company was one of two selected to provide crew and cargo resupply demonstration contracts to the ISS under the COTS program.[90] SpaceX demonstrated cargo resupply and eventually crew transportation services using the Dragon.[83] The first flight of a Dragon structural test article took place in June 2010, from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station during the maiden flight of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle; the mock-up Dragon lacked avionics, heat shield, and other key elements normally required of a fully operational spacecraft but contained all the necessary characteristics to validate the flight performance of the launch vehicle.[91] An 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.[77] In 2012, Dragon became the first commercial spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station,[83] and has since been conducting regular resupply services to the ISS.[92]
The interior of the COTS 2 Dragon.

In 2009 and 2010, Musk suggested on several occasions that plans for a human-rated variant of Dragon were proceeding and had a 2- to 3-year time line to completion.[93][94] In April 2011, NASA issued a $75 million contract, as part of its second-round commercial crew development (CCDev) program, 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.[95] This Space Act Agreement runs from April 2011 until May 2012, when the next round of contracts are to be awarded.[95] NASA approved the technical plans for the system in October 2011, and SpaceX began building prototype hardware.[96]

SpaceX plans to launch its Dragon 2 spacecraft on an unmanned test flight to the ISS in November 2017, and later in 2018, a crewed Dragon will send US astronauts to the ISS for the first time since the retirement of the Space Shuttle. In February 2017 SpaceX announced that two would-be space tourists had put down "significant deposits" for a mission which would see the two private astronauts fly on board a Dragon capsule to the moon and back again. At the press conference announcing the mission Elon Musk said that the cost of the mission would be "comparable" to that of sending an astronaut to the International Space Station; about $70 million US dollars per astronaut in 2017.[20] The mission is slated for late 2018.[97]

Research and development

First test firing of a scale Raptor development engine in September 2016 in McGregor, Texas.

SpaceX are actively pursuing several different research and development programs. Most notable are the programs intended to develop reusable launch vehicles, an interplanetary transport system, and a global telecommunications network.

SpaceX has on occasion developed new engineering development technologies to enable it to pursue its various goals. For example, at the 2015 GPU Technology Conference, SpaceX revealed their own computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software to improve the simulation capability of evaluating rocket engine combustion design.[98][99]

Reusable launch system

Just Read the Instructions in position prior to Falcon 9 Flight 17 carrying CRS-6.

SpaceX's reusable launcher program was publicly announced in 2011 and the design phase was completed in February 2012. The system returns the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket to its launchpad using only its own propulsion systems.[100]

SpaceX's active test program began in late 2012 with testing low-altitude, low-speed aspects of the landing technology. Grasshopper and the Falcon 9 Reusable Development Vehicles (F9R Dev) were experimental technology-demonstrator reusable rockets that performed vertical takeoffs and landings. DragonFly is a test vehicle to develop propulsive and propulsive-assist landing technologies in a series of low-altitude flight tests planned to be conducted in 2015–2016.[101]

High-velocity, high-altitude aspects of the booster atmospheric return technology began testing in late 2013 and have continued through 2016. SpaceX has been improving the autonomous landing and recovery of the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, with steadily increasing success. As a result of Elon Musk's goal of crafting more cost-effective launch vehicles, SpaceX conceived a method to reuse the first stage of their primary rocket, the Falcon 9,[102] by attempting propulsive vertical landings on solid surfaces. Once the company determined that soft landings were feasible by touching down over the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, they began landing attempts on a solid platform. SpaceX leased and modified several barges to sit out at sea as a target for the returning first stage, converting them to autonomous spaceport drone ships (ASDS). SpaceX first achieved a successful landing and recovery of a first stage in December 2015,[103] and in April 2016, the first stage booster first successfully landed on the ASDS Of Course I Still Love You.[104][105]

SpaceX continues to carry out first stage landings on every orbital launch that fuel margins allow. By October 2016, following the successful landings, SpaceX indicated they were offering their customers a ten percent price discount if they choose to fly their payload on a reused Falcon 9 first stage.[106] On March 30, 2017, SpaceX launched a "flight-proven" Falcon 9 for the SES-10 mission. This was the first time a re-launch of a payload-carrying orbital rocket went back to space.[107][51] The first stage was recovered and landed on the ASDS Of Course I Still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean, also making it the first landing of a reused orbital class rocket. Elon Musk called the achievement an "incredible milestone in the history of space."[108][109]

Interplanetary Transport System

Artist's impression of the Interplanetary Spaceship on the Jovian moon Europa.

SpaceX is developing a super-heavy lift launch vehicle—the ITS launch vehicle—a fully reusable booster stage and integrated second-stage/spacecraft—Interplanetary Spaceship and ITS tanker—to support flights to interplanetary space.[110] Development of the Interplanetary Transport System and its super-heavy launch vehicle will be the major focus of SpaceX once Falcon Heavy and DragonCrew are flying regularly.[111]

SpaceX has signaled on multiple occasions that it is interested in developing much larger engines than it has done to date. A conceptual plan for the Raptor project was first unveiled in a June 2009 AIAA presentation.[112] In November 2012, Musk announced a new direction for propulsion side of the company: developing LOX/methane rocket engines for launch vehicle main and upper stages.[113] The Raptor LOX/methane engine will use the more efficient staged combustion cycle,[114] a departure from the open cycle gas generator cycle system and LOX/RP-1 propellants that the current Merlin 1 engine series uses."[114] The rocket would be more powerful than previously released publicly, with over 1,000,000 lbf (4,400 kN) of thrust.[115] Raptor engine component-level testing will begin in 2014.[116] The Raptor engine will likely be the first in a family of methane-based engines SpaceX intends to build.[116]

Musk's long term vision for the company is the development of technology and resources suitable for human colonization on Mars. He has expressed his interest in someday traveling to the planet, stating "I'd like to die on Mars, just not on impact."[117] A rocket every two years or so could provide a base for the people arriving in 2025 after a launch in 2024.[118][119] According to Steve Jurvetson, Musk believes that by 2035 at the latest, there will be thousands of rockets flying a million people to Mars, in order to enable a self-sustaining human colony.

In addition to SpaceX's privately funded plans for an eventual Mars mission, NASA Ames Research Center had developed a concept called Red Dragon: a low-cost Mars mission that would use Falcon Heavy as the launch vehicle and trans-Martian injection vehicle, and the Dragon capsule to enter the Martian atmosphere. The concept was originally envisioned for launch in 2018 as a NASA Discovery mission, then alternatively for 2022, but as of September 2015 it has not been yet formally submitted for funding within NASA.[120] The objectives of the mission would be return the samples from Mars to Earth at a fraction of the cost of the NASA own return-sample mission now projected at 6 billion dollars.[120] In April 2016, SpaceX announced its plan to launch a modified Dragon lander to Mars by 2018. This project is part of a public-private partnership contract between NASA and SpaceX.[121]

Other projects

In January 2015, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced the development of a new satellite constellation to provide global broadband internet service. In June 2015 the company asked the federal government for permission to begin testing for a project that aims to build a constellation of 4,000 satellites capable of beaming the Internet to the entire globe, including remote regions which currently do not have internet access.[122][123] The internet service will use a constellation of 4,000 cross-linked communications satellites in 1,100 km orbits. Owned and operated by SpaceX, the goal of the business is to increase profitability and cashflow, to allow SpaceX to build its Mars colony.[72] Development began in 2015, initial prototype test-flight satellites are expected to be flown in 2017, and initial operation of the constellation could begin as early as 2020. As of March 2017, SpaceX filed with the US regulatory authorities plans to field a constellation of an additional 7,518 "V-band satellites in non-geosynchronous orbits to provide communications services" in an electromagnetic spectrum that had not been previously been "heavily employed for commercial communications services." Called the "V-band low-Earth orbit (VLEO) constellation," it would consist of "7,518 satellites to follow the [earlier] proposed 4,425 satellites that would function in Ka- and Ku-band.[124]
In June 2015, SpaceX announced that they would sponsor a Hyperloop competition, and would build a 1-mile-long (1.6 km) subscale test track near SpaceX's headquarters for the competitive events, which could be held as early as June 2016.[125][126] The plan was later delayed to January 2017, as there were many requests from teams for more time designing and building their pods.[127]


The company's headquarters, located in Hawthorne, California.

SpaceX is headquartered in California, which also serves as their primary manufacturing plant. They own a test site in Texas, and operate three current launch sites, with another under development. SpaceX also run regional offices in Texas, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.[35] and a satellite development facility in Seattle.[128]

Headquarters and manufacturing plant

Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket cores under construction at the SpaceX Hawthorne facility, November 2014.

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,[129] houses SpaceX's office space, mission control, and vehicle factory. 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, Raytheon, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, and AECOM, etc., with a large pool of aerospace engineers and recent college engineering graduates.[129]

SpaceX utilizes a high degree of vertical integration in the production of its rockets and rocket engines.[27] 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. Nevertheless, SpaceX still has over 3,000 suppliers with some 1,100 of those delivering to SpaceX nearly weekly.[130]

Development and test facility

SpaceX McGregor engine test bunker, September 2012.

SpaceX operates their 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 v1.0 and F9R Dev1 test vehicles were carried out at McGregor.

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. In 2011, the company announced plans to upgrade the facility for launch testing a VTVL rocket,[41] and then constructed a half-acre concrete launch facility in 2012 to support the Grasshopper test flight program.[42] As of October 2012, the McGregor facility has seven test stands that are operated "18 hours a day, six days a week"[131] 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

SpaceX west coast launch facility at Vandenberg Air Force Base, during the launch of CASSIOPE, September 2013.

SpaceX currently operates three orbital launch sites, at Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg Air Force Base, and Kennedy Space Center, and have announced plans for a fourth in 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.[132] Before it was retired, all Falcon 1 launches took place at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Omelek Island.

Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40) is used for Falcon 9 launches to low-earth and geostationary orbits. SLC-40 is not capable of supporting Falcon Heavy launches, or polar launches. As part of SpaceX's booster reusability program, the former Launch Complex 13 at Cape Canaveral, now renamed Landing Zone 1, has been designated for use for Falcon 9 first-stage booster landings.
Falcon 9 Flight 20 landing on Landing Zone 1 in December 2015.

Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East (SLC-4E) is used for payloads to polar orbits. The Vandenberg site can launch both Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy,[133] but cannot launch to low inclination orbits. Post-launch landings will take place at the neighboring SLC-4W.

Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A (LC39A) has been under development by SpaceX since December 2013, when NASA announced that they had selected SpaceX as the new commercial tenant.[134] SpaceX signed the lease agreement in April 2014.[135] They have been given a twenty-year exclusive lease of Pad 39A.[136] SpaceX plans to launch their Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy from the pad and build a new hangar near it.[136][135][137] Elon Musk, has stated that he wants to shift most of SpaceX's NASA launches to LC39A, including Commercial Cargo and Crew missions to the ISS.[134][138]

In August 2014, SpaceX announced they would be building a new commercial-only launch facility at Brownsville, Texas.[139][140] The Federal Aviation Administration released a draft Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Texas facility in April 2013, and "found that 'no impacts would occur' that would force the Federal Aviation Administration to deny SpaceX a permit for rocket operations,"[141][141] and issued the permit in July 2014.[142] SpaceX started construction on the new launch facility in 2014 with production ramping up in the latter half of 2015,[143] with the first launches from the facility no earlier than 2016.[144][needs update] Real estate packages at the location have been named by SpaceX with names based on the theme "Mars Crossing".[145][146]

Satellite prototyping facility

In January 2015, SpaceX announced it would be entering the satellite production business and global satellite internet business. The satellite factory would be located in Seattle, Washington. The office will initially have approximately 60 engineers, with the potential to grow to 1,000 over several years. In July 2016, SpaceX acquired an additional 740 square meters (8,000 sq ft) creative space in Irvine, California (Orange County) to focus on satellite communications.[147]

Launch contracts

SpaceX has been contracted by NASA to initially develop the technology and subsequently carry out the task of resupplying the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX is also certified for US military launches of Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class (EELV) payloads. In addition to this, SpaceX has (as of January 2013) a purely commercial launch manifest of "23 missions scheduled over the next 4 years, exclusive of US government flights," of a total of 40 flights scheduled through 2017."[148] In September 2015, SpaceX stated that they had over 60 missions on manifest representing over $7B under contract.[149]

NASA contracts


The COTS 2 Dragon is berthed to the ISS by Canadarm2.

In 2006, NASA announced that SpaceX had won a NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract to demonstrate cargo delivery to the ISS, with a possible option for crew transport.[150] This contract, designed by NASA to provide "seed money" for developing new boosters, paid SpaceX $278 million to develop the Falcon 9.[151] In December 2010, the launch of the COTS Demo Flight 1 mission, SpaceX became the first privately funded company to successfully launch, orbit and recover a spacecraft.[152] Dragon was successfully deployed into orbit, circled the Earth twice, and then made a controlled re-entry burn for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.[153] With Dragon's safe recovery, SpaceX become the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft; prior to this mission, only government agencies had been able to recover orbital spacecraft.[153] COTS Demo Flight 2 launched in May 2012, in which Dragon successfully berthed with the ISS, marking the first time that a private spacecraft had accomplished this feat.[154][155]

Commercial cargo

Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) are a series of contracts awarded by NASA from 2008–2016 for delivery of cargo and supplies to the ISS on commercially operated spacecraft. The first CRS contracts were signed in 2008 and awarded $1.6 billion to SpaceX for 12 cargo transport missions, covering deliveries to 2016.[156] SpaceX CRS-1, the first of the 12 planned resupply missions, launched in October 2012, achieved orbit, berthed and remained on station for 20 days, before re-entering the atmosphere and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.[157] CRS missions have flown approximately twice a year to the ISS since then. In 2015, NASA extended the Phase 1 contracts by ordering an additional three resupply flights from SpaceX.[158][159] After further extensions late in 2015, SpaceX is currently scheduled to fly a total of 20 missions.[160] A second phase of contracts (known as CRS2) were solicited and proposed in 2014. They were awarded in January 2016, for cargo transport flights beginning in 2019 and expected to last through 2024.

Commercial crew

Crew Dragon undergoing testing prior to flight.

The Commercial Crew Development (CCDev) program intends to develop commercially operated spacecraft that are capable of delivering astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX did not win a Space Act Agreement in the first round (CCDev 1), but during the second round (CCDev 2), NASA awarded SpaceX with a contract worth $75 million to further develop their launch escape system, test a crew accommodations mock-up, and to further progress their Falcon/Dragon crew transportation design.[96][161][162] The CCDev program later became Commercial Crew Integrated Capability (CCiCap), and in August 2012, NASA announced that SpaceX had been awarded $440 million to continue development and testing of its Dragon 2 spacecraft.[163][164]

In September 2014, NASA chose SpaceX and Boeing as the two companies that will be funded to develop systems to transport U.S. crews to and from the ISS. SpaceX won $2.6 billion to complete and certify Dragon 2 by 2017. The contracts include at least one crewed flight test with at least one NASA astronaut aboard. Once Crew Dragon achieves NASA certification, the contract requires SpaceX to conduct at least two, and as many as six, crewed missions to the space station.[165]

Defense contracts

In 2005, SpaceX announced that it had been awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for Responsive Small Spacelift (RSS) launch services by the United States Air Force, which could allow the Air Force to purchase up to $100 million worth of launches from the company.[166] In April 2008, NASA announced that it had awarded an IDIQ Launch Services contract to SpaceX for up to $1 billion, depending on the number of missions awarded. The contract covers launch services ordered by June 2010, for launches through December 2012.[167] Musk stated in the same 2008 announcement that SpaceX has sold 14 contracts for flights on the various Falcon vehicles.[167] In December 2012, SpaceX announced its first two launch contracts with the United States Department of Defense. The United States Air Force Space and Missile Systems Center awarded SpaceX two EELV-class missions: Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) and Space Test Program 2 (STP-2). DSCOVR was launched on a Falcon 9 launch vehicle in 2015, while STP-2 will be launched on a Falcon Heavy in 2017.[168]

In May 2015, the United States Air Force announced that the Falcon 9 v1.1 was certified for launching "national security space missions," which allows SpaceX to contract launch services to the Air Force for any payloads classified under national security.[169] In April 2016, the U.S. Air Force awarded the first such national security launch, an $82.7 million contract to SpaceX to launch a GPS satellite in May 2018; this estimated cost was approximately 40% less than the estimated cost for similar previous missions.[170][171] In April 2016, the Pentagon announced that SpaceX has been awarded an $82.7 million contract from the U.S. Air Force to launch a next-generation GPS satellite aboard its Falcon 9 rocket in May 2018.[172] Prior to this, United Launch Alliance was the only provider certified to launch national security payloads.[173][173][174]

Commercial contracts

The Falcon 9 carrying the SES-8 communications satellite into orbit.

SpaceX announced in March 2010, that it had been contracted to launch SES-8, a telecommunications satellite for SES S.A.; it was successfully launched in December 2013.[175] SES-8 was SpaceX's first launch of a geostationary comsat, signalling its entrance into the lucrative commercial launch market.[37][37][175] In June 2010, SpaceX was awarded the largest-ever commercial launch contract, worth $492 million, to launch Iridium satellites using Falcon 9 rockets.[176] As of December 2013, SpaceX has a total of 50 future launches under contract; two-thirds of them are for commercial customers.[36]

Launch market competition and pricing pressure

SpaceX's low launch prices, especially for communication satellites flying to geostationary (GTO) orbit, have resulted in market pressure on its competitors to lower their own prices.[27] Prior to 2013, the openly competed comsat launch market had been dominated by Arianespace (flying Ariane 5) and International Launch Services (flying Proton).[177] With a published price of US$56.5 million per launch to low Earth orbit, "Falcon 9 rockets [were] already the cheapest in the industry. Reusable Falcon 9s could drop the price by an order of magnitude, sparking more space-based enterprise, which in turn would drop the cost of access to space still further through economies of scale."[178] SpaceX has publicly indicated that if they are successful with developing the reusable technology, launch prices in the US$5 to 7 million range for the reusable Falcon 9 are possible.[45]

In 2014, SpaceX had won nine contracts out of 20 that were openly competed worldwide in 2014 at commercial launch service providers.[179] Space media reported that SpaceX had "already begun to take market share" from Arianespace.[180] Arianespace has requested that European governments provide additional subsidies to face the competition from SpaceX.[181][182] European satellite operators are pushing the ESA to reduce Ariane 5 and the future Ariane 6 rocket launch prices as a result of competition from SpaceX. According to one Arianespace managing director in 2015, it was clear that "a very significant challenge [was] coming from SpaceX ... Therefore things have to change ... and the whole European industry is being restructured, consolidated, rationalised and streamlined."[183] Jean Botti, Director of innovation for Airbus (which makes the Ariane 5) warned that "those who don't take Elon Musk seriously will have a lot to worry about."[184] In 2014, no commercial launches were booked to fly on the Proton.[179]

Also in 2014, SpaceX capabilities and pricing had also begun to affect the market for launch of US military payloads. For nearly a decade the large US launch provider United Launch Alliance (ULA) had faced no competition for military launches.[185] Anticipating a slump in domestic military and spy launches, ULA stated that it would go out of business unless it won commercial satellite launch orders.[186] To that end, ULA announced a major restructuring of processes and workforce in order to decrease launch costs by half.[187][188]