Space missions and exploration have always been interesting to a large number of people, whether it was out of simple curiosity about space or genuine interest in learning about everything related to what is beyond their planet.
This interest has suffered several ups and downs throughout history. One of the moments of greatest public involvement was undoubtedly between the 50s and 80s, due to the space race that was taking place between the USSR and the USA .
During that period, there were continually new achievements and new technology was developed or previously existing technology was improved. Consequently, a large part of the global population was captivated by everything related to space .
But as the conflict between those two nations eased, the frequency of missions and the publicity given to them was greatly reduced , and general interest fell. For a long time, missions were no longer flashy events for the general public.
Of course, there have been exceptions to this. Some of NASA’s Space Shuttle missions managed to get a lot of attention. Although it was not always for the best reasons: no space agency wants to appear in the news because several ships explode and their crew dies.
However, the outlook in recent years has changed again. Much of this is because many missions have striking goals , such as studying Mars thoroughly to eventually bring humans to its surface.
Contents index :
- Falcon 1, the first private rocket to reach Earth orbit
- Falcon 1 with RazakSAT satellite
- Launch, launch into orbit and recovery of Cargo Dragon
- Docking a private ship to the ISS (International Space Station)
- First landing of a Falcon 9 on land
- First landings on offshore platforms
- First private company to bring astronauts to the ISS
On the other hand, the fact that the space industry has also changed a lot has managed to attract a lot of attention. More and more space agencies are active in different countries, allowing for a greater variety of missions globally.
In addition, private companies are getting very involved in space missions, especially those carried out by NASA. And if there is a company that stands out in this area it is SpaceX .
This space company founded by Elon Musk seemed to come out of nowhere, but in a few short years it has become famous thanks to its collaborations with NASA and its reusable rockets .
SpaceX’s achievements during these years are numerous. In fact, even in the midst of a pandemic they have managed to do quite important things. If you want to know some of its successes, in this article we are going to briefly review some of the milestones of this company since its inception.
First private rocket to reach Earth orbit
The Falcon SpaceX rockets have been, in general terms, the greatest achievement of the company. There are different models, and all have managed to do something that had not been achieved until then.
And the milestones started very early, with the launch vehicle known as Falcon 1 . This rocket became the first private liquid-fueled rocket to reach Earth orbit.
Falcon 1 achieved this goal on its fourth flight, and considering that it had been fully developed by SpaceX , it has enough merit that everything expected from the mission went well.
Of course, the engineers and all the other professionals involved in the project did a great job with the rocket and the mission in general. And it is an important task, because Falcon 1 served to lay the foundations for SpaceX’s current rocket technology .
First private rocket to put a commercial satellite into space
Falcon 1 is also responsible for this milestone, and in fact, it did so on the post-flight we mentioned in the previous section. This liquid fuel rocket was the first of its kind to launch a commercial satellite into orbit .
Generally, bringing satellites into space is usually handled by the space agencies that develop them . Of course, when it comes to commercial satellites rather than scientific satellites, the process can be a bit tricky, as the mission objective doesn’t have to be up to any agency’s standards.
Still, NASA, ESA and other agencies are very used to managing the launch of commercial satellites . But in 2009, SpaceX would take over the Malaysian RazakSAT satellite .
Falcon 1 was able to get RazakSAT into the corresponding orbit without too much trouble, and since then, this satellite has used its high-resolution camera to take highly detailed images of our planet .
First private company to orbit and recover a ship
To fully understand the missions of any company or space agency, particularly when the focus of the missions is the spacecraft , it is necessary to understand some details regarding how these vehicles work.
In a simplified way, we could say that the ships have different sections that perform unique functions . And in addition, you must also take into account the main rocket, which has several stages.
The rocket and the ship are different vehicles. The rocket is generally in charge of taking the spacecraft into space , and depending on its characteristics, it can also be in charge of taking it to a specific orbit.
Well, in 2010 SpaceX would become the first private company to successfully launch, put into orbit and recover a ship of its own . The ship in question, called Dragon 1 or Cargo Dragon , was able to land in the sea without problems.
The rocket that carried this capsule into space was one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9s. Although these rockets are designed so that at least its first stage can be recovered, the parachutes failed, so the rocket had to be considered lost .
But as such, the main objective was that everything related to the Cargo Dragon went well, and there was no problem for that part of the mission. In addition, they took advantage of the flight to put several CubeSat nanosatellites into orbit.
First private company to send a ship to the International Space Station
The next big SpaceX milestone also belongs to the Cargo Dragon , although in this case it happened two years after the mission in which he was able to make his first completely successful journey.
In the mission known as Demo Flight C2 +, SpaceX collaborated with NASA to do something that had not been done before: docking a spacecraft created by a private company to the International Space Station (ISS) .
During this mission it was necessary to demonstrate what the SpaceX capsule was capable of. The Cargo Dragon spent several days in space performing various tests that gave NASA the information they needed regarding the ship’s reliability.
And after that period of traveling around our planet, the US space agency finally decided to give SpaceX permission for the spacecraft to approach the International Space Station.
It was an extremely delicate mission, since an incorrect approach could cause an impact with the station , and consequently destroy it along with all its inhabitants.
But after a long series of careful maneuvers lasting several days , the spacecraft was able to gradually approach the International Space Station and dock with it with the help of the ISS crew.
The mission was not a simple test trip. Cargo Dragon carried a considerable amount of cargo on board, including supplies for astronauts and scientific equipment . And she returned to earth with various experiments that had been carried out on the International Space Station.
First landing of a Falcon 9 on land
All the missions we have mentioned so far were very important to SpaceX. Each new victory and defeat allowed them to learn and improve, and helped them create much more reliable technology .
But although all those projects had already earned them some attention, it is undeniable that the company owes its fame above all to its reusable rockets , and to the spectacular landings they can carry out.
Falcon 9 rockets have been responsible for this. One of the main objectives of SpaceX was always to be able to create reusable rockets, which would make the cost of space missions cheaper .
But landing a rocket sounds much easier than it really is, and the road was riddled with obstacles, falls, and mistakes in the last second that ruined many attempts .
As they say, mistakes are learned, and SpaceX professionals did not give up. And finally, during a mission carried out in 2015, they were able to do it .
After putting several satellites into orbit, the Falcon 9 descended back to Earth, and once it reached the proper height, it began to maneuver to prepare for landing .
Thanks to the weather conditions and the expertise of the control center and all the people who had worked on the rocket, the Falcon 9 landed safely and became the first orbital rocket in history to achieve a successful vertical landing. .
First landings on offshore platforms
The previous landing was a historic achievement, not only for SpaceX, but overall for the entire space industry, as it demonstrated that something that had only been accomplished in simulations was actually feasible .
Still, landing a rocket on the ground and keeping it intact was only the first step in a much larger project . And there was plenty of room to improve both the systems and the landing process.
A very important point when trying to recover any type of space vehicle is that the vehicle in question land or fall in safe areas, away from inhabited places .
And for this, the most optimal option is for the vehicle to land at sea , since it is relatively easy to keep people away from the landing area and there is also plenty of space in case of an emergency, such as an explosion.
When landings consist of dropping a capsule on the water, hardly any infrastructure is needed . The capsule descends slowly thanks to parachutes and propulsion systems, and once in the water it is collected by boats prepared for it.
But if it is more delicate landings, which require the vehicle in question to fall in a specific way, dropping it in the water is not an option, however much the parachutes soften the blow .
For this reason, given the need for rockets to land vertically to avoid explosions, it was necessary to create landing platforms at sea . So SpaceX developed marine robotic platforms to tackle the Falcon 9 landing .
In April 2016, following a sourcing mission from the International Space Station , SpaceX managed for the first time in history that a rocket landed on a marine platform. And although it is still not an easy process, since then they have achieved it many more times.
First private company to bring astronauts to the ISS
Over the years, SpaceX has established itself as one of the most important companies focused on the space industry internationally. And thanks to his achievements, he has managed to establish very stable agreements with NASA .
Precisely NASA had a pending subject for a long time. Since the Space Shuttle program was canceled , they have relied on Russian Soyuz rockets to bring American astronauts into space.
Crew Dragon docked to the @Space_Station pic.twitter.com/JG5e2XjZ4n – SpaceX (@SpaceX)July 2, 2020
That implies that for more than a decade, there have been no American manned rockets, nor have American astronauts been able to take off from the United States . And it’s not something that feels too good in a nation like the United States, if only because of its historical quarrels with Russia.
As expected, NASA had long been waiting for the ideal opportunity for its astronauts to fly from American soil in spacecraft from the same country. And SpaceX has given them the ability to do so .
The Crew Dragon ship is a SpaceX vehicle prepared to take several crew to space . It has spent many years in development, and has suffered considerable delays, but 2020 has definitely been its year.
On May 30, the Crew Dragon took off for the first time with astronauts on board , thus fulfilling NASA’s desire to re-manage launches with American spacecraft and from American soil.
As they broke that streak of dependency on Russian rockets, which lasted more than a decade, they also became the first private company to bring astronauts to the International Space Station .
Astronauts are currently carrying out a series of tasks on the ISS, and the Crew Dragon is docked at the station . As soon as the astronauts’ mission is over, they will return to Earth in the SpaceX spacecraft.