21 Jul 2021

The Sky Is Not the Limit: SpaceX Innovations Disrupting Galactic Travel

A curious Elon Musk looks to the right sitting in front of a SpaceX promotion board.

Powered by an abundance of scientists, engineers, cash and serial entrepreneur; Elon Musk, SpaceX has achieved many firsts within the private sphere of space travel. They were the first privately owned space company to safely take astronauts to the International Space Station, as well as return them to Earth. They also managed to dock on and deliver supplies to the ISS and to develop a liquid-fuel rocket that reached Earth’s orbit, to name a few.

While these commercial firsts are impressive, the company has made a number of tech innovations that are world firsts. Here are some of the ways SpaceX have revolutionized the aerospace industry in their pursuit of Mars.

Reusable Rockets

Although Jeff Bezos safely landed the first unmanned rocket booster (New Shephard) through his rival space company Blue Origin, SpaceX was the first to successfully land their rocket booster, Falcon 9, after a mission that took them deeper into space and, crucially, reuses it.

Bezos didn’t let SpaceX forget who first achieved this milestone, or close to it at least. In a smug tweet, he said: “Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon’s suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!”. This tweet sank quicker than you can say “to infinity and beyond” with aerospace junkies and professionals criticizing his sportsmanship and pointing out that Musk’s very public victory was more complex and historic than Bezos’ private launch.

In 2015 the rocket booster off Falcon 9 safely landed in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Two years later, the same booster was successfully relaunched with a satellite on board and re-landed again – another historic feat for SpaceX and aerospace. Since then, Falcon 9 rockets have been landed over 80 times and reflown over 60 times, according to SpaceX.

Reusable Capsules

In a similar vein, cost-conscious SpaceX re-landed and reused their capsule, The Dragon, becoming the first space company to do so. This was first executed aboard a reused Falcon 9 rocket in 2017, but SpaceX also performed this in April of 2021 with four astronauts on board.

This was a significant step for SpaceX as NASA had to modify their contract with SpaceX in order to permit the reuse of spacecraft and rocket hardware. Until then, they had not approved the use of previously-flown spacecraft and rockets to transport their astronauts into orbit. The astronauts arrived on the ISS on the 23rd of April 2021.

The first car in space – oh, and the most powerful operational rocket

So maybe Musk flying a Tesla into space was a bit gimmicky, but the technology that took it up there made a significant breakthrough. SpaceX’s spacecraft, The Falcon Heavy, became the world’s most powerful operational rocket. It reused three Falcon 9 rocket engines with the capacity to carry 27,500 kilograms of weight each and held Musk’s personal cherry-red Tesla Roadster and mannequin “Starman” in the payload. The Falcon 9 engines can propel 63 tons into outer orbit combined.

Musk’s goal for Tesla was to make it into Mars’ orbit. In 2017, he tweeted: “Payload will be my midnight cherry Tesla Roadster playing Space Oddity. The destination is Mars orbit. Will be in deep space for a billion years or so if it doesn’t blow up on ascent.”

You can watch the initial, mesmerizing live stream of Starman in his Tesla drifting through space here.

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Header Image via Business Insider.

Elon Musk
Space Tech