How SpaceX Became The Dominant Force In The Launch Industry.

In 2000, SpaceX sent 31 partially reused Falcon 9 rockets to orbit–more than all the other U.S. launch operators combined.

The last two weeks had brought two news stories about space. The first was when Amazon announced a massive contract for launch services with the Project Kuiper satellite-broadband service. Later, SpaceX launched the first private flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Both stories indicate that space travel has become another opportunity for billionaires to play with their firms. However, that’s overstating things. The orbital launch business is centred around Elon Musk’s SpaceX, while all the other companies are orbiting around SpaceX.

In 2000, SpaceX sent 31 partially reused Falcon 9 rockets to orbit, which is more than all U.S. launch operators combined and more than Russia’s total. China has also been the most successful in orbital launches; however, it divided it among several rockets. It’s a great pace. In 2011 the world’s entire population only completed 80 orbital launches, made possible by SpaceX’s renaissance to launch its first stage and then re-fly them swiftly and efficiently.

“SpaceX is the heavy lifter now,” says Marco A. Caceres, an analyst for The Teal Group.

“There no longer is much of a competition,” wrote Eric Berger, author of the 2021 publication Liftoff: Elon Musk and the desperate early Days that launched SpaceX.

In addition, the company announced last week the launch of “the largest commercial purchase of launch cars in history”,–which served to highlight the way SpaceX has become the leader in the field since its 2002 inception.

Through Kuiper, Amazon aims to beat SpaceX’s Starlink and meet the July 30 2026, date established by the Federal Communications Commission to launch most of Kuiper’s 3,236 satellites. However, the inaccessibility of Russian rockets (off the market following the Russian invasion of Ukraine), as well as Chinese vehicles (banned through U.S. export controls), left just one option for Amazon should it decide not to transfer this launch operation to its competitor SpaceX and write considerable checks to each other launch company across the West.

And while “Amazon has certainly eaten up a lot of the [launch] capacity,” according to Marcia S. Smith, a longtime space analyst and editor at, it’ll still have to rely on vehicles that haven’t flown yet if it hopes to keep pace with SpaceX. Regarding in-development rockets, The Vulcan of ULA Centaur boasts 38 Kuiper launches scheduled, and Arianespace’s Ariane 6 has 18 planned. Blue Origin’s New Glenn (farthest from a first flight) has 12 confirmed launches, with the option of 15 more flights on that partially recycled rocket by Jeff Bezos’s company.

SpaceX has also established an impressive advantage over the competition in U.S. crewed spaceflight, breaking Russia’s hold on the space industry in 2020. The company also has a growing interest in space travel. While Blue Origin has sent the likes of Bezos and William Shatner on suborbital flights, SpaceX can take paying guests to the ISS, as shown in Friday’s Axiom-1 launch.

“The gap that SpaceX has on its competitors is at least several years,” Caceres states. For instance, SpaceX is the only competitor to reuse their first stages, in the same way that SpaceX has since 2015, even though New Glenn is designed to perform this.


Twelve years ago in the past, when SpaceX was among the small number of companies in the commercial space industry competing to win NASA contracts to transport cargo or astronauts to the ISS, the future seemed impossible to imagine.

SpaceX had already been granted two financial lifelines by NASA in the form of the award of $278 million to assist in developing the Falcon 9 and Dragon in 2006 and then a $1.6 billion cargo delivery contract in 2008. Musk had since said that the second contract, awarded shortly before SpaceX’s less powerful Falcon 1 rocket reached orbit after the fourth time, was a lifesaver for the company.

Many industry professionals didn’t think SpaceX to perform for NASA.

“The President’s plan only ensures that for decades to come, the United States will be both subservient to and reliant on other countries for our access to space,” Sen. Richard Shelby (R.-Ala.) stated during an April hearing where he described the cargo deal one that is a “faith-based space program.”

The defence analyst Loren Thompson, the chief operating officer at Lexington Institute. The Lexington Institute think tank was fired by Musk at the end of May 2011. He did this in blog posts posted on Lexington Institute’s website that read “SpaceX: Glib Salesman Takes NASA For A Ride.”

Even after SpaceX started ISS cargo deliveries in 2012, almost an entire year later than initially planned–scepticism continued to persist. In a hearing in March 2014, Shelby again questioned whether startups could compete with traditional aerospace contractors such as Boeing: “Competition may not result in a price reduction for the federal government.”

It was evident who was the one to space lead we were not.

“Despite the crumbling infrastructure, Russia launches more rockets than anyone in the world with time-tested hardware,” Berger, the Liftoff author of Liftoff, wrote in 2014. Houston Chronicle series about NASA called “Adrift.”

When asked recently about his thoughts on SpaceX at the time, Berger called himself “pretty bullish” but not too much.

“I don’t think I imagined they would have the dominant position in launch they have today,” He wrote. “I was also sceptical that they would get reuse done right so quickly.” That’s understandable. In 2011 in 2011, the U.S. abandoned reusability after the space shuttle’s retirement, which required an extensive overhaul between shuttle flights.

For his part, Caceres believes he was confident about SpaceX at the beginning due to SpaceX’s culture of not making it a crime to push the limits, as was evident when Four Falcon 9 boosters crashed in attempts to recover before one stalled the landing.

“Those companies with longstanding ties with the U.S. government don’t want to risk losing those relationships by pushing too hard with new technologies and new strategies,” he adds.

SpaceX’s chance to prove doubters will be when it launches Starship, the fully-reusable two-stage rocket designed for lifting 110 tons into lower Earth orbit. In late 2021 Musk declared that it would happen in January. However, in February, he stated that he could only plan “this year.”

NASA has already enlisted SpaceX to develop a replica of Starship’s second phase to carry astronauts from lunar orbits to the moon’s surface. It will be an impressive contrast to one of the rockets NASA is working on in preparation for the Artemis returning to the moon – the Space Launch System to take astronauts from Earth to lunar orbit, which, despite being built on shuttle-era technology (minus the possibility of reusability) is years behind schedule and is billions of dollars over budget.

An incredibly successful Starship lunar lander can also stand out from the other companies that competed for the first lunar landing contract. Included among them: is Blue Origin.

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