Apr 23, 2018 | Updated: 09:54 AM EDT

Can SpaceX Deliver on Its Ambitious 2015 Goals?

Jan 10, 2015 07:30 PM EST

SpaceX has an ambitious list of goals for the new year.  Just take a look at a few of their activities for this year:

  • Test land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on a solid surface in an attempt to drive down launch costs by deploying a reusable rocket, while decreasing the turn-around time between launches.
  • Under NASA's commercial-crew program SpaceX's Dragon capsule faces two crucial tests of its launch-abort system before it can carry crews to and from the International Space Station.
  • The company's Falcon Heavy is expected to undergo its first test flight. This rocket uses three Falcon 9 first stages, with a second stage and payload topping the stage. This rocket will have the ability to lift heavy payloads to low-Earth orbit.
  • SpaceX is expected to complete efforts to earn US Air Force certification to compete for launches of some of the nation's largest, most sophisticated military satellites.
  • The company is working on a Mars Colonial Transporter system as well as new designs for space suits that "look like a 21stcentury space suit and work really well," wrote Elon Musk,SpaceX's founder, chief executive officer, and chief technology officer, during an on-line question and answer session on the online forum Reddit earlier this week. He said he hoped to present the architecture for the Mars transportation system and unveil the new suit design by the end of the year.

This to-do list highlights the progress of the 12 year old startup company since its first successful rocket launch of the Falcon 1 in 2009.  And while the company may remain privately owned, this pace of growth and development has turned heads of the company's observers.

"In a relatively short period of time, SpaceX has made historic progress as a launch provider and helped prove how effective competition can be in the civil space industry," said Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, commander of the US Air Force's Space and Missile Systems Center in El Segundo, Calif., in a statement noting the progress the company has made in achieving Air Force certification.

SpaceX has been aggressive in fielding new families of more-capable rockets and taking steps to show reusable rockets don't need to look like airplanes, according to Lance Erickson, a professor and program coordinator for commercial space operations at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla.

"They haven't been perfectly successful," Erickson says, "but they haven't had any major mistakes along the way."

The company has benefited financially, as well, as technology from its cargo and commercial-crew agreements with NASA, notes Micah Walter-Range who tracks trends in the aerospace industry for the Space Foundation, a spaceflight-advocacy organization based in Colorado Springs. And it's knocking on the door to compete for big-budget defense payloads, as well.

"But the genesis of that whole family of rockets was an independent venture," Walter-Range says. "You have a company that was built from the very beginning to design things quickly and to figure things out as quickly as possible."

It's a trait typical of high-tech start-ups, he continues, adding that "when you have that start-up, get as far as you possibly can before it loses the agility that comes with being a start-up."

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