Elon Musk, a man of boundless ambition

Born in 1971, Elon Musk was born and raised in South Africa, throughout apartheid. He had an early interest in computers; he developed his first video game at just 12 years old and resold the code in a magazine for $ 500! He left South Africa to join Canada at the age of 18; naturalized Canadian in 1988, he finally settled in the United States, where he studied physics and economics at the University of Pennsylvania. He obtained American citizenship in 2002.

Space X founder Elon Musk. Credits: Kim Shiflett/NASA

Now, the entrepreneur is busy: CEO of SpaceX, he is also CEO of Tesla Motors, was founder of The Boring Company – specializing in building tunnels to reduce traffic – and Neuralink – a neurotechnology company that aims to develop of brain implants to compensate for neurological damage. In December 2020, he became the richest personality in the world, worth 100 billion dollars.

Lovers of new technologies and especially artificial intelligence, his imagination has no limits. Ambitious and visionary, the billionaire is known to regularly present new projects, intended to improve the future of mankind. Among these amazing projects, space exploration, by his company SpaceX.

SpaceX flagship products

The headquarters of SpaceX, or more exactlySpace Exploration Technologies Corporation, is located in Hawthorne, California. In addition to equipment dedicated to space exploration on the Moon and Mars, the company is also behind the Starlink project, which aims to provide high-speed Internet access across the planet via a network of mini satellites.

>> Also read: Starlink: the collateral damage of Elon Musk’s satellite fleet

SpaceX started by building a lightweight launch vehicle, called the Falcon 1; this is the very first rocket designed by the company, which is no longer in service today. The Falcon 9 and the Falcon Heavy are the manufacturer’s main products today. They have the advantage of being partially reusable, which greatly reduces orbiting costs.

The Falcon 9, whose first flight began in 2010, is now notably used to ensure part of the International Space Station (ISS) supply; this 70 meter high rocket is capable of carrying a payload of more than 22.8 tons in low orbit. It is powered by nine Merlin engines, also designed by SpaceX. The Falcon Heavy model is capable of putting a payload of 63.8 tons into low orbit.

Return of astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard the Dragon Crew, in August 2020. Credits: NASA

SpaceX also has Dragon spacecraft in its catalog, and especially the latest version of the craft, the Dragon V2, also called Crew Dragon. The latter made a lot of noise last year, in May, when he successfully conducted a test flight intended to carry two American astronauts to the ISS. The spacecraft’s landing on the ISS, as well as its crash in the Gulf of Mexico about two months later, left unimpeded.

Large SpaceX dates

September 2008: fourth flight and first success of the Falcon 1 launcher, which put the Malaysian observation satellite RazakSAT into orbit on its fifth flight, in July 2009.

December 2008: NASA signs a contract to deliver cargo to SpaceX under the COTS program (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services).

May 2012: first docking on the ISS for the Dragon spacecraft.

September 2014: NASA selects makers Boeing and SpaceX to design shuttles meant to take American astronauts to the ISS, as part of the programCommercial Crew Transportation Capability(CCtCap).

March 2017: Falcon 9 has made history of space flight by successfully completing a return flight of one of its stages, showing that it is possible to reuse part of the spacecraft.

February 2018: successful launch of the first Falcon Heavy rocket.

November 2018: SpaceX receives approval from U.S. regulators to deploy 7,518 new broadband satellites, in addition to the 4,425 previously approved, for implementation of its Starlink Satellite Internet Network. Eventually, SpaceX plans to keep 12,000 operational satellites in low orbit.

March 2019: successful first orbit of the Crew Dragon spacecraft; Therefore, SpaceX became the first private company in history to send a habitable spacecraft into space.

May 2019: first massive deployment of Starlink satellite; 60 units were placed in orbit.

May 2020: SpaceX sends two astronauts into space, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, to the ISS aboard the Dragon Crew. Again, this is the first world for a private company.

December 2020: first high-altitude (12.5 km) test flight of the SN8 prototype Starship rocket.

January 2021: Starlink network starts in Europe, UK. The service is currently in beta testing.

In the moon and beyond

Elon Musk has repeatedly said he plans to colonize the planet Mars in the coming decade. For this, SpaceX is currently developing a new super-heavy orbital launcher, called Starship. The latter should be able to carry nearly 100 tons of cargo and be fully reusable.

Photo of Starship’s SN8 prototype, taken December 9, 2020. Credits: Flickr/SpaceX

>> Also read: Humans on Mars from 2026 thanks to SpaceX? Elon Musk believes in this

The company plans to make the first orbital Starship flight this year, as well as the moon landing in 2022. This trip is intended to deposit the equipment and infrastructure needed for astronauts going to the Moon in 2024. In 2018 , Elon Musk also announced that it will offer tourist flights around the Moon: contemporary art collector and billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is expected to be the first civilian passenger to take advantage of the trip, which is scheduled for 2023.

In the meantime, SpaceX will participate in the implementation of a remote-controlled car race on our natural satellite this year, in October. The two vehicles, designed in collaboration with designer Frank Stephenson, will be launched aboard a Falcon 9 rocket; once on the Moon, they piloted two groups of high school students (one located in Buenos Aires, the other in Shanghai). An extraordinary event in perspective …

Eventually, the Starship could become the company’s main launch vehicle. Thanks to this device, Elon Musk hopes to make an unmanned landing on Mars in 2024. Remember that a trip to the red planet cannot be planned anytime: celestial mechanics only offers a shooting window every 26 moon, when the distance between Earth and Mars is the shortest. Therefore, SpaceX is making every effort to ensure that Starship is operational at that time. If everything goes according to plan, there is talk of sending the first humans to Mars in 2026. The boss of SpaceX is himself a candidate for travel …

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