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Elon Musk’s SpaceX completes 20 years: A look at its important milestones

Read more to find out how SpaceX grew from a propulsion engineer’s hobby to an industry giant that rivals national space agencies.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX marks twenty years today. It has become one of the biggest private space companies in the world and  achieved some key milestones as well. For one, SpaceX is the first private company to launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft. It is also the first private company to send astronauts to orbit and to the International Space Station (ISS). It is also trying to build its satellite internet service with Starlink, which uses ‘mega-constellations’ of small satellites for the same.

We take a look at SpaceX’s key achievements over the past 20 years.

Falcon 1 and NASA

In 2006, NASA awarded a “Commercial Orbital Transportation Services” (COTS) contract to SpaceX, where the company had to demonstrate cargo delivery capabilities to the ISS with a contract option for crew transport. After multiple failed launches in 2006 and 2008, SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 1 launch vehicle on September 28 2008, making it the first privately-developed liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit.

It also became the first of its kind to put a commercial satellite in orbit when it deployed Malaysian satellite RazakSAT in July 2009.

In December 2010, the SpaceX’s Dragon reusable spacecraft completed two successful flights that completed all mission objectives of COTS Demo Flight 1. This made SpaceX the first private company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a spacecraft.

Dragon C2, Falcon 9 reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle

In May 2012, the Dragon C2+ became the first privately manufactured spacecraft to deliver cargo to ISS.  SpaceX also began prototyping the Falcon 9, a reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle the same year.  The company announced the development of its Starlink service in January 2015, promising to deliver high-speed low-latency broadband internet to users across terrains.

In 2015, SpaceX also saw one of its biggest failures when a Falcon 9 vehicle exploded just two minutes after launch. But it achieved its first successful landing at sea in December 2015 with Falcon 9 Flight 20.

Starlink and launching a Tesla into orbit

SpaceX was affected by a second major failure in September 2016 when a Falcon 9 rocket exploded, destroying a satellite payload worth over $200 million.

In February 2018, SpaceX conducted Falcon Heavy test flights, launching Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster into space with a mannequin wearing a spacesuit seated in the front. It was the first private spacecraft launched into a heliocentric orbit.

In May 2019, SpaceX launched a constellation of 60 Starlink satellites on a Falcon 9 rocket.

Crew Dragon, Starship prototype and Inspiration4 mission

SpaceX made history in May 2020 when it became the first private company to send astronauts to ISS after successfully launching two NASA astronauts into orbit on a Crew Dragon spacecraft.

In 2021, it broke the record for the highest number of satellites launched in one mission when it launched 143 satellites on Falcon 1 in January.

On May 5, 2021, the company launched and successfully landed a prototype of its Starship rocket, designed as a reusable transportation system that can carry crew and cargo to Earth’s orbit, the Moon and Mars.

In September 2021, SpaceX launched the Inspiration4 mission, successfully completing the first orbital spaceflight mission with only private citizens on board. The spacecraft was also the first spacecraft to orbit without any crew member with previous experience since the Chinese spacecraft Shenzhou 7 in 2008. All crew members of the mission received training from SpaceX.


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