The History of SpaceX

SpaceX factory.

SpaceX is arguably one of the most popular companies in the United States and the world.

Elon Musk founded this company in 2002 after selling PayPal for $1.5 billion and receiving $175.8 million for his 11.72% shares.

SpaceX’s mission has always been to make commercial spaceflight affordable and, in turn, enable humans to live on other planets starting with Mars.

The company has made progressive steps toward revolutionizing space technology, but the journey was far from easy. Here’s the story of the company that one day seeks to make humans a multi-planetary species.

The History of SpaceX

SpaceX stands for Space Exploration Technologies Corporation. Elon Musk founded this corporation in 2002 after selling PayPal to eBay.

Musk made around $175 million, which was at that time a lot to start a new venture but a small budget for establishing a rocket company.

Musk began thinking of his next venture. His first idea was Mars Oasis. He wanted to get the public excited about Mars exploration and making this planet habitable for humans.

Musk wanted to do this by establishing a small greenhouse on Mars, where plants could grow, thus showing the public that life can thrive on Mars.

Unfortunately, the cheapest US-based spacecraft that Musk could get to travel to Mars cost $65 million.

This amount was triple Musk’s $20 million budget, so he explored other options. He traveled to Russia to purchase used Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) from the Russians, but he couldn’t get a price within his budget.

On the way back from Russia, Musk did some napkin calculations and discovered that the raw materials required to build a rocket were 3% of its sales price.

He instantly decided to manufacture a rocket from scratch in the United States, during which he founded SpaceX.


SpaceX has only one founder, Elon Musk. Musk didn’t know much about space exploration nor how to build a rocket when he founded this company.

His excitement and determination are what led him to read several books on rocketry and eventually establish his company.

Musk then focused on recruiting the right people to build the company’s rockets and make his mission a reality. His ideal employee was young, educated, single, and willing to give up his social life for SpaceX.

Musk called up candidates fitting this description and eventually hired three highly educated employees.

Company Setbacks

SpaceX set out to create its first spacecraft, which it would later name Falcon 1, after the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars.

The spacecraft was initially built by three employees. However, this changed after SpaceX got its first customer, the U.S Naval Research Laboratory.

The Naval Research Lab was willing to sponsor SpaceX, and in return, the company would use the spacecraft to deploy its military satellite to space.

Musk envisioned the Falcon 1 to be ready for launch by the end of November 2003, which was less than 20 months since SpaceX’s incorporation.

However, it took the company another two years to build Falcon 1. By this time, the U.S Naval Research Laboratory had launched its military satellite with a different rocket company. SpaceX had failed to satisfy its first customer.

Falcon 1’s first test flight was also a failure. The spacecraft crashed into the ocean after being in the air for less than a minute. SpaceX believed the crash occurred due to a fuel leak that led to a fire.

SpaceX launched another Falcon 1 Rocket in 2007 and another in 2008, but none made it to Earth’s orbit. They were both termed failures.

Despite the second 2007 launch not getting to space, there was progress. The Falcon 1 rocket stayed in the air for more than three minutes and reached the separation stage. The company was getting closer to achieving its vision.

The third launch also failed in August 2008 during the separation stage. The failure, however, did not deter Musk from building another rocket and launching again. He gave a press conference detailing that the company was getting closer to success and ended by saying he would never give up.

By this time, SpaceX was spending heavily on building rockets and other expenses with no success in sight. The company almost went bankrupt until NASA declared them the winner of a competition to build a spacecraft that would service the International Space Station (ISS).

They chose SpaceX as the company that would ship their products to the ISS. SpaceX planned to use the funds from NASA to build the Falcon 9, a nine-engine craft bigger than Falcon 1, and the Dragon Capsule.

Company Successes

SpaceX’s first successful launch occurred in November 2008, six weeks after the third failure. The company had noticed that the third launch failed due to a time delay between the engine cut-off at the stage separation.

Therefore, there wasn’t much to change, which is why the rocket was ready in six weeks. However, this fourth launch would be SpaceX’s last attempt. The company only had enough capital for one final launch.

Musk and his employees were ecstatic when the fourth launch succeeded. They were apprehensive about the separation stage, but it occurred triumphantly

. SpaceX flew the Falcon 1 craft one more time in March 2009 and eventually set it aside to focus on Falcon 9 and the Dragon Capsule spacecraft.


In 2010, SpaceX became the first private rocket company to launch and return a craft to Earth. This was Falcon 9’s second launch, which occurred in December 2010.

The Falcon 9 achieved a successful liftoff and first separation stage. It then separated again to release the Dragon capsule, which orbited the Earth twice and reentered the atmosphere, landing somewhere on the coast of Mexico.

SpaceX again made history in 2012 by becoming the first rocket company to launch a loaded spacecraft and dock it at the International Space Station.

This craft was the same Dragon Capsule and delivered cargo to the ISS.

Business Strategies

SpaceX wanted to make commercial spaceflight affordable. To do this, the company had to cut the cost of building and launching a craft to space.

Much of the cost went into constructing a rocket, so SpaceX focused on making its rockets reusable. Doing so would reduce the cost of space travel by a hundredfold.

SpaceX also designed its own engines, which were vastly cheaper than those manufactured by the company’s main competitors, Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

The vision to build reusable rockets was promising, but it wasn’t an easy one to achieve. Most rocket companies at the time could only manufacture one-way crafts that burned up during reentry.

Reentry to the Earth’s atmosphere proved difficult because of gravity and friction caused by air resistance. Friction provoked intense heat that saw the rockets blow up in the atmosphere. SpaceX focused on building spacecraft that could withstand atmospheric reentry, thus making them rapidly reusable.

SpaceX kept building better and bigger rockets. In 2012, the company launched Dragon 2, a better version of the Dragon Capsule.

SpaceX designed this craft to take seven astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX also manufactured the Red Dragon – the first craft meant to fly and land on Mars. Other rockets built by SpaceX include Falcon Heavy, Grasshopper, Dragonfly, and Starship.

Lessons Learned

Here are the lessons we can pick up from the story of SpaceX:

  • Learn from your failures

Learning from your failures is the way you succeed. The first three launches from SpaceX were failures.

However, each brought the company closer to achieving a successful one. This was because SpaceX took time to find out what went wrong with the launches and worked towards correcting those issues.

  • Be resilient

When it comes to a rocket company, the cost of failure is very high. One rocket would cost millions of dollars and significant time and expertise to build.

Falcon 1 took SpaceX four years to get ready for launch. The rocket still failed three times. However, Musk mustered up the courage to keep going despite the costly failures.


SpaceX Timeline


SpaceX gets incorporated as Space Exploration Technologies Corporation.


SpaceX unsuccessfully launches its first rocket – Falcon 1.


SpaceX unsuccessfully launches its second Falcon 1 rocket.


SpaceX achieves its first successful launch of the Falcon 1 rocket. The company also wins funding from NASA.


SpaceX becomes the first private company to launch and return a spacecraft to Earth’s orbit.


SpaceX becomes the first rocket company to dock a crewed spacecraft at the ISS.


SpaceX becomes the first company to achieve an orbital class landing at Landing Zone 1.


SpaceX becomes the first company to achieve an orbital class landing on its drone ship, an oceanic platform.


SpaceX becomes the first company to achieve a rocket re-flight. Falcon 9 delivered a payload in space and returned to Earth for the second time.


SpaceX successfully launches the Falcon Heavy to space. This rocket is the world’s most powerful, capable of carrying massive payloads and flying as far as Mars or the moon.


SpaceX docks another crew-capable spacecraft at the ISS. It also launches a craft capable of carrying humans into space.


SpaceX launches NASA astronauts to the ISS and returns the human spaceflight to Earth.

Executive Team

A company is as strong as its market share and management team.

So if you want an idea of how well the team is managing SpaceX, the search results below will be the latest and most popular information on the people running the company.

Search Results – Executive team of SpaceX.

Working at SpaceX

A strong indicator of a company’s culture and management style is to see what it is like working for the company.

Corporations that treat employees with respect and pay them well have a longer retention rate and keep the talent within the organization.

See the search results from the link below for an overview of working at SpaceX.

Search Results – Working at SpaceX.

Complaints and Lawsuits

Another indicator of a management team’s strength is checking for lawsuits and complaints.

Similar complaints or lawsuits indicate a company’s process or product problem.

Sometimes it offers opportunities for the company to improve, while other times, it’s a problem with management. See the search results from the link below to see if there are lawsuits and complaints about SpaceX.

Search Results – Complaints and Lawsuits related to SpaceX.

Company Assessment

If you’re interested in the strength and path SpaceX is on, you can review reports and information posted by analysts who review, forecast, and offer their opinions.

For the latest, see the link below.

Search Results – SpaceX performance, trends, and assessment.


Books are another source of information you can use to get the full story of SpaceX.

If you are deeply interested in the company, check out the links on Amazon for the latest publications.

View the most recent books related to SpaceX on Amazon.


Using Google News is a way to stay up-to-date with the latest information related to SpaceX. You can set up an alert to get notifications whenever new information is published about SpaceX.

See Google’s news search results related to SpaceX.


Videos offer another source of information you can use to learn more about SpaceX.

I prefer watching videos because I’m a visual learner and enjoy sitting back and watching.

If you want to explore the videos available related to SpaceX, See the link below.

See the most recent videos related to SpaceX.