Elon Musk, 30, founds Space Exploration Technologies, nicknamed SpaceX, and begins developing the Falcon 1 rocket, with the goal of launching small payloads for $6 million per flight. DARPA buys the first two missions.
SpaceX wins a NASA Space Act Agreement to develop a cargo resupply line to the International Space Station (ISS). The Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract, ultimately worth $396 million, is followed two years later by a $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS-1) contract for ISS cargo flight services.
After three successive failures, Falcon 1 reaches orbit on Sept. 29, 2008, delivering a test payload called Ratsat into an orbit at an altitude of 386-400 mi. Musk said that if the launch had failed, SpaceX, which was nearly out of money, would have shut down.
Falcon 1 makes a fifth and final flight from Omelek Island, part of the Marshall Islands’ Kwajalein Atoll, putting Malaysia’s RazakSAT into orbit to complete SpaceX’s first successful commercial mission. Plans for an upgraded Falcon 1 are shelved, and SpaceX shifts its focus to developing the Falcon 9 and a launch complex at Cape Canaveral AFS.
Falcon 9 debuts with the launch of a Dragon qualification spacecraft on June 10, 2010.
On its second Falcon 9 mission, SpaceX launches a Dragon spacecraft test capsule.
NASA agrees to combine the objectives of COTS Demo Flights 2 and 3 into a single mission, and Dragon becomes the first commercial spacecraft to reach the ISS. SpaceX begins working on its CRS-1 contract in October.
December 2013 and May 2014
December 2013 Falcon 9 makes its first flight to geostationary transfer orbit with the launch of the SES-8 communications satellite. May 2014 SpaceX unveils the design for its Crew Dragon spacecraft and says the price to fly will be approximately $20 million per seat. At the time, rides on a Russian Soyuz capsule cost NASA $76 million.
Credit: Dimitri Gerondidakis/NASA
NASA selects SpaceX and Boeing to develop commercial space taxis under its Commercial Crew Program.
Credit: Kim Shiflett/NASA
SpaceX conducts a Crew Dragon pad abort test, proving the capsule’s emergency escape system.
June and November 2015
June 2015 After a string of 18 successful Falcon 9 flights, a 19th launch on June 28, during the CRS-7 mission for NASA, ends 2.5 min. after liftoff due to overpressurization of the second-stage liquid oxygen tank. The Dragon cargo ship survives the explosion but is not configured to deploy parachutes and is lost at splashdown. The Falcon fleet is grounded for six months.
November 2015 SpaceX demonstrates Crew Dragon SuperDraco propulsive descent capabilities during a tethered flight test at the company’s rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas.
SpaceX recovers from the CRS-7 accident and not only launches 11 satellites for Orbcomm but also successfully lands the Falcon 9 first stage for the first time. The rocket touches down on a landing pad at Cape Canaveral AFS. It is put on permanent display outside SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California.
SpaceX loses a Falcon 9 rocket and Spacecom’s Amos-6 satellite in a launchpad explosion at Cape Canaveral AFS prior to a routine static test fire. The accident is traced to a failed composite overwrapped pressure vessel (COPV), which is used to store helium to pressurize propellant tanks. NASA and the Air Force, which started buying SpaceX launch services in April 2016, call for the COPVs to be redesigned.
NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A is back in business as a launchpad for SpaceX Falcon rockets. The pad, used to launch Saturn V rockets and the space shuttles, was later modified and updated by SpaceX for the Commercial Crew program.
SpaceX refurbishes and reflies a Falcon 9 booster for the first time, sending the SES-10 communications satellite into orbit. The booster, which previously was used for the CRS-8 mission in April 2016, makes a successful second landing, this time on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.
NASA agrees for the first time to use a previously flown Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX debuts its long-awaited triple-core Falcon Heavy rocket. As a test payload, SpaceX launches a Tesla roadster owned by Musk into a solar orbit that stretches as far away as the company’s ultimate goal—Mars.
paceX debuts its fifth and final version of the Falcon 9 booster, featuring higher engine thrust, improved landing legs and dozens of changes to streamline recovery and reusability. The booster is certified for national security space missions and will be used to fly NASA astronauts and, eventually, paying passengers.
March and April 2019
March 2019 An uncrewed Crew Dragon capsule docks with the ISS on March 3, becoming the first U.S. spacecraft to autonomously dock at the orbital laboratory. It returns to Earth five days later.
April 2019 The Crew Dragon Demo-1 capsule is destroyed during preparations for a static firing at Cape Canaveral AFS, delaying an upcoming inflight-abort test.
SpaceX conducts its final major uncrewed flight test, demonstrating Crew Dragon’s high-altitude abort capabilities.
SpaceX and Axiom Space sign an agreement to allow a private astronaut to fly to the ISS on a Crew Dragon flight. The mission may launch as soon as the second half of 2021.
SpaceX completes its 20-flight CRS-1 contract and retires the first version of its Cargo Dragon capsule. Under a follow-on CRS-2 agreement, SpaceX will use a modified version of its Crew Dragon capsules, also known as Dragon 2, for cargo missions beginning in late 2020.
Credit: Kim Shiflett/NASA
The first Crew Dragon capsule that will fly with astronauts aboard arrives at Kennedy Space Center LC39A. NASA and SpaceX are retargeting launch of the crewed Demo-2 flight test for 3:22 p.m. EDT May 30 after dicey weather at Kennedy Space Center prompted a scrub 16 min. before a liftoff attempt on May 27.
Technology entrepreneur Elon Musk started SpaceX with the goal of building an inexpensive, reliable rocket to launch satellites—and then people—to orbit with the ultimate goal of colonizing Mars. After 18 years, SpaceX is on the verge of turning the Falcon 9 rocket Dragon capsule into a crewed transportation system. Here is a look at the company’s milestones along the way.