The Falcon 9 and Dragon, by SpaceX, Elon Musk
Elon Musk is the founder of PayPal and a native of South Africa. From the profits of his very successful business, he has pursued his personal interest in space development by creating the company SpaceX in 2002 to develop the capability to launch people and heavy cargo into space from Earth.
Elon Musk has been an exceptionally successful director and manager. The Falcon series, starting with Falcon 1 and currently at Falcon 9, had many good successes albeit mixed in with some failures of subsystems under development as would be expected.
SpaceX developed good relations with NASA, culminating with a good cash flow contract from the government agency to ferry people to/from the International Space Station, whereby NASA subsidized development towards the end of the highly successful private stage due to retirement of the Space Shuttle. However, it is believed that SpaceX would have developed a capability anyway, just more slowly, had it continued with purely private funding.
The Falcon 9, funded by NASA, has the capability as of 2012 to launch approximately 10 tons to low Earth orbit.
One of those payloads is the Dragon crew launch and return module, which is for ferrying up to 7 humans and/or supplies to and from the International Space Station. Development of the Dragon has been assisted by NASA's Commercial Orbital Transfer System (COTS) program, whereby the Dragon and Falcon won a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.
The first launch of the Falcon 9 into orbit was in June 2010, and the first launch of the Dragon capsule was in December 2010, whereby the Dragon performed 2 orbits at 300km elevation, undergoing testing of its many subsystems (pressurization, thruster control and navigation, and other systems) and then returned for a splashdown near Mexico, successfully demonstrating its heat shield, parachutes, and all subsystems.
The first flight of the Dragon to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled for May 19, 2012, for supplies only, not people yet.
SpaceX has also been the company of choice for others in the space resources community. The Falcon 9 is scheduled to launch the Astrobotic lunar lander which will try to win the Google X Prize sometime around the end of 2013 or early 2014. Bigelow Aerospace has also booked a Falcon 9 in 2015 for its BA330 inflatable 300 cubic meter habitat, which will be human rated and fully outfitted.
The Falcon 9 is currently a totally expendable launch system, with maximum production capability in 2012 stated as one Falcon 9 per six weeks.
A next phase of development is to make its two stages reusable. The second stage is much more challenging than the first stage, but Elon Musk seems committed to attempting this. Of keen interest is his so-called Grasshopper vertical landing development program started in 2011, with some testing scheduled for 2012.
In December 2011, SpaceX also start contracting with Stratolaunch Systems for air launched rockets, discussed on another page in this section.
Elon Musk also co-founded and is CEO of Tesla Motors, the successful electric car and powertrain company which has shocked the traditional big car companies by outperforming them. Elon Musk is also a well known proponent of solar energy systems, and is chairman of SolarCity, an aggressive developer of residential and commercial solar energy applications, with various financing means, including plans for the largest solar rooftop powered community (120,000) in America.
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