Elon Musk, a man of boundless ambition

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

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

Today, the entrepreneur is busy: CEO of SpaceX, he is also CEO of Tesla Motors, then founder of The Boring Company – specializing in the construction of tunnels to reduce congestion – and of Neuralink – a neurotechnology company that aims to develop brain implants to compensate for the neurological damage. As of December 2020, he has become the richest personality in the world with a fortune valued at 100 billion dollars.

Passionate about new technologies and especially artificial intelligence, his imagination has no limits. Ambitious and visionary, the billionaire is known for regularly coming up with new projects, aimed at improving the future of humanity. Among these fascinating projects, space exploration, through his company SpaceX.

SpaceX’s main products

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

>> Also Read: Starlink: The Collateral Damage of Elon Musk’s Satellite Fleet

SpaceX began by developing a light launch vehicle, dubbed the Falcon 1; it was the first rocket designed by the company, which is no longer in service today. The Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy are the manufacturer’s flagship products today. They have the advantage of being partially reusable, which greatly reduces orbit costs.

The Falcon 9, whose first flight dates back to 2010, is today notably used to guarantee part of the supply of the International Space Station (ISS); this 70 meter high rocket is capable of carrying a payload of over 22.8 tons in low orbit. It is powered by nine Merlin engines, also designed by SpaceX. The Falcon Heavy model is capable of placing a 63.8-ton payload in low orbit.

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

SpaceX also has the Dragon spacecraft in its catalog and, in particular, the latest version of the spacecraft, the Dragon V2, also called the Crew Dragon. The latter made a lot of noise last year, in May, when it successfully carried out a test flight intended to take two American astronauts aboard the ISS. The spacecraft’s docking with the ISS, as well as its drop into the Gulf of Mexico about two months later, went off without a hitch.

SpaceX’s Big Dates

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

December 2008: NASA signs a cargo delivery agreement with SpaceX under the COTS program (Commercial orbital transport services).

May 2012: First docking with the ISS for the Dragon spacecraft.

September 2014: NASA selects manufacturers Boeing and SpaceX to design shuttles intended to transport American astronauts to the ISS as part of the programCommercial Crew Transport Capacity(CCtCap).

March 2017: Falcon 9 made spaceflight history by successfully completing a return flight of one of its stages, demonstrating that it was possible to reuse part of the spacecraft.

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

November 2018: SpaceX receives approval from US regulators to deploy 7,518 new broadband satellites, in addition to the 4,425 previously approved, for the deployment of its Starlink satellite internet network. Eventually, SpaceX plans to keep 12,000 operational satellites in low orbit.

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

May 2019: First massive deployment of Starlink satellites; 60 units are put into orbit.

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

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

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

On the moon and beyond

Elon Musk has repeatedly stated that he plans to colonize the planet Mars in the next decade. To that end, SpaceX is currently developing a new super-heavy orbital launcher, called Starship. The latter should be able to carry around 100 tonnes of payload and will be fully reusable.

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

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

The company plans to make a first orbital Starship flight this year, as well as a moon landing in 2022. This trip would aim to deposit the necessary equipment and infrastructure for astronauts who will go to the moon in 2024. In 2018, Elon Musk also announced that will offer tourist flights around the moon: contemporary art collector and billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is expected to be the first civilian passenger to enjoy the trip, scheduled for 2023.

Meanwhile, 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 launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket; once on the moon, they will be piloted by two teams of high school students (one located in Buenos Aires, the other in Shanghai). An exceptional event in perspective…

Eventually, Starship could become the company’s main launch vehicle. Thanks to this device, Elon Musk hopes to be able to make an uninhabited landing on Mars in 2024. Note that a trip to the red planet cannot be planned at any time: celestial mechanics only offers a trigger window every 26 months, when the distance between Earth and Mars is the shortest. SpaceX is therefore making every effort to ensure that Starship is operational by then. If all goes as planned, there is talk of sending the first humans to Mars in 2026. The SpaceX boss himself is a candidate for the trip…

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