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What is SpaceX?

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SpaceX

Everything you need to know about SpaceX

The Falcon 9 unmanned rocket made the news recently when it successfully landed in an upright position following a mission to space. So what's the story behind the company that launched it, SpaceX?

It's an important and fascinating story, as SpaceX could well spearhead the next important phase in mankind's journey to the stars.

Founding

SpaceX is an American private aerospace company founded in 2002. You may recognise its founder, Elon Musk, as the eccentric entrepreneur behind PayPal and Tesla.

Back at the turn of the millennium, space-enthusiast Musk wanted to place a greenhouse filled with seeds and nutrient gel on Mars, essentially establishing life there (albeit briefly and on a small scale). However, in negotiating with Russian rocket companies, he found that the prices quoted for propelling this life pod to Mars were impractical.

Related: Elon Musk's 5 craziest tech ideas for the future

Elon Musk

Musk soon realised that the relatively low cost of materials meant that it would be cheaper to form a company to build the rockets himself. The challenge was in making the production method as efficient as possible.

Thus SpaceX was formed, with Musk enlisting the help of a handful of established space engineers to build affordable rockets for his mission to Mars.

Today, SpaceX has more than 4,000 employees spread across its Florida headquarters, launch facilities, rocket-development facility, and several offices.

Mission

SpaceX's mission is to push past mankind's current difficulties with space travel by lowering the costs and commercialising the process. The chief way of doing this is by making spacecraft reusable, rather than merely discarding them during the take-off process.

Musk also has the grander aim of launching a manned mission to Mars and, ultimately, colonising the red planet.

Funding

SpaceX has accepted funding from various sources. For example, back in January it emerged that Google and Fidelity had injected $1 billion into SpaceX, granting them ownership of just under 10 percent of the company.

The company also accepts private contracts for its spaceflight services. For example, in September of this year SpaceX announced that it had signed a contract to launch a communications satellite for HISPASAT and a Saudi Arabian Arabsat 6A communications satellite using its Falcon rockets.

Back in June 2013, Musk claimed that he would hold off from an IPO until SpaceX's Mars colony flights were well under way. "I just don't want [SpaceX] to be controlled by some private equity firm that would milk it for near-term revenue," he told Aeon.

Falcon 9

Projects & achievements

In 2006, with NASA announcing the closure of its Space Shuttle program, SpaceX won a contract to design and demonstrate a resupply system for the International Space Station.

In 2008, SpaceX sent the first privately funded liquid-fuelled rocket, the Falcon 1, into Earth orbit. Two years later, it became the first company to successfully launch, orbit, and recover a partially reusable spacecraft, called the Dragon.

In 2012, SpaceX used the Dragon capsule to dock with the International Space Station on its first resupply mission. No commercial company had done this before.

Moving forward to February of this year, SpaceX launched the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR for short), a deep space weather satellite that marked the company's first operation outside of Earth's orbit.

SpaceX's most recent achievement was the recent landing of the Falcon 9 rocket (pictured above) following two failures earlier in 2015.

This wasn't the first launch and landing of a reusable unmanned rockets - that honour goes to Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin - but it did fly further into space, and it was an actual practical space mission rather than a simple test flight. The Falcon 9 delivered 11 satellites into Earth orbit before its successful re-entry.

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