SpaceX’s space empire: A closer look at its rockets and spacecraft

Elon Musk's spacecraft and rockets have gone through some developments over the years
Abdul-Rahman Oladimeji Bello
Falcon Heavy at Kennedy Space Center.
Falcon Heavy at Kennedy Space Center.


One thing technology has shown us is that sometimes what was thought impossible can become possible with enough money and persistence. Now, the boundaries of space travel are continually pushed further. Founded in 2002 by entrepreneur Elon Musk as the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation–SpaceX has been a game-changer in aerospace manufacturing and space transportation services. 

The company's stated primary mission is to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonization of Mars. With a focus on innovation and sustainability, SpaceX has developed advanced rocket and spacecraft technology that has transformed how we think about space exploration.

From Falcon 1 to Falcon Heavy and the iconic Dragon spacecraft, SpaceX's creations have revolutionized space travel and fueled the imaginations of millions worldwide. Here, we will explore the key rockets and spacecraft developed by SpaceX that have shaped the course of space history.

Five rockets and spacecraft developed by SpaceX

  • Falcon 1
  • Falcon 9
  • Falcon Heavy
  • Dragon Spacecraft
  • Starship and Super Heavy 

Falcon 1

Based on its name, we can tell that Falcon 1 was the first of its name. Falcon 1 was SpaceX's first privately developed liquid-fueled rocket, which played a crucial role in the company's early years.

It paved the way for SpaceX's future success in space by being created as a compact, affordable small satellite launch vehicle. Falcon 1 also made history by becoming the first privately developed liquid-fueled rocket to orbit the Earth.

Falcon 1 was 68 feet tall and 5.5 feet in diameter, making it a small rocket compared to others in the industry. It was propelled into low Earth orbit (LEO) by a single Merlin IC engine and had a payload capacity of up to 1,010 pounds.

SpaceX’s space empire: A closer look at its rockets and spacecraft

In terms of missions, Falcon 1 was tested in several notable missions. These included five launch attempts, the first of which occurred in 2006. Unfortunately, the first three attempts failed due to a variety of issues, including engine and fuel issues, which prevented the rocket from successfully reaching orbit. 

However, Falcon 1 successfully delivered a payload (a mass simulator) to orbit on the fourth attempt in September 2008, marking a significant milestone for SpaceX and the commercial space industry. 

One particularly notable Falcon 1 mission was its fifth and final launch on July 14th, 2009. It carried RazakSAT, a Malaysian Earth observation satellite, to orbit. This mission marked the first commercial payload for SpaceX, showcasing its growing capabilities in the satellite launch business.

As the first privately developed liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit, it opened the door for more advanced rockets like Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy. Although Falcon 1 was mainly focused on testing the technology and small satellite launches, its impact on the space industry should not be underestimated. It demonstrated that private companies could significantly contribute to space exploration and that the future of space travel was no longer solely in the hands of government agencies.

Falcon 9

After the success of Falcon 1, the next step was to go bigger. The next goal was to carry cargo to space. The Falcon 9 is a two-stage reusable rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX. It's the successor to Falcon 1, primarily used for launching satellites into various orbits and transporting cargo and crew to the International Space Station (ISS). 

The rocket's first stage is called the booster stage. It carries the second stage to a certain altitude and then releases it. The Falcon 9 has several key features and specifications, including:

  • Diameter: 3.7 m / 12 ft
  • Mass: 549,054 kg / 1,207,920 lb
  • Height: 70 m / 229.6 ft
  • Payload: 22,800 kg / 50,265 lb

Since its first launch in June, 2010, the Falcon 9 has become a workhorse rocket for SpaceX. For example, The latest version of Falcon 9, called Falcon 9 Full Thrust, began to launch operations in December 2015. As of April 19th, 2023, Falcon 9 Full Thrust had performed 198 launches without any failures. It has had numerous successful launches and missions.

One of the key innovations of the Falcon 9 is the ability to reuse the rocket's first stage. After it separates from the second stage, the first stage performs a series of maneuvers to return to Earth, either landing on a designated landing pad or a drone ship in the ocean. This has significantly reduced the cost of space launches and made them more sustainable.

SpaceX’s space empire: A closer look at its rockets and spacecraft
Falcon 9.

In a nutshell, the Falcon 9 rocket is a marvel of modern engineering. As a reusable rocket capable of launching payloads to various orbits and supporting the Dragon spacecraft, it has been instrumental in making space exploration more cost-effective and sustainable.

Falcon Heavy

Let's talk about another engineering marvel from SpaceX – the Falcon Heavy. Known as the most powerful operational rocket in the world, this heavy-lift launch vehicle has made headlines with its impressive capabilities and groundbreaking missions.

The Falcon Heavy is a partially reusable heavy-lift rocket designed and manufactured by SpaceX. It's essentially an upgraded version of the Falcon 9, featuring three Falcon 9 first-stage boosters connected permanently. Standing at an impressive 230 feet tall with a diameter of 12 feet, this rocket is designed to carry massive payloads into orbit and beyond.

Diving into the key features and specifications of the Falcon Heavy, it has a total of 27 Merlin engines – nine on each of its three cores – that generate over 5 million pounds of thrust at liftoff. Falcon Heavy's launch history and notable missions are just as impressive as its capabilities. 

Its maiden flight on February 6th, 2018, was a spectacular event that captured the world's attention. As a publicity stunt, it carried a Tesla Roadster into space.  Another notable mission was the Arabsat-6A satellite launch in April 2019, demonstrating the rocket's commercial satellite launch capabilities.

Comparing Falcon Heavy to other heavy-lift rockets, it's clear that SpaceX has pushed the boundaries of what's possible. Furthermore, Falcon Heavy is considered an essential component of SPaceX's the plans for eventual Mars colonization, as it demonstrates the technology that will be necessary to transport large amounts of cargo and crew to the Red Planet.

Dragon Spacecraft

Next up, Let's talk about the Dragon spacecraft. It is another innovative and versatile vehicle that has significantly impacted space exploration. Regarding key features and specifications, the Dragon spacecraft has impressive capabilities. With a diameter of 13 feet and a height of 26.7 feet, it's designed to carry more than 13,000 pounds of payload to the ISS and return around 6,600 pounds back to Earth. It can also carry 7 passengers comfortably. 

As of March 2023, the Dragon spacecraft has carried 34 crew members to the International Space Station (ISS) in the original six missions it was awarded by NASA. Looking ahead, the Dragon spacecraft has several exciting crewed missions and capabilities planned. Aside from possibly continuing to transport astronauts to and from the ISS, SpaceX aims to use the Crew Dragon for lunar missions and, eventually, Mars colonization. The spacecraft is also expected to play a significant role in future commercial space tourism, with plans to send private citizens on orbital and lunar trips.

With its history of successful ISS resupply missions, crewed missions, and plans for future lunar and Mars exploration, it's clear that the Dragon spacecraft is a vital player in the private space industry. So, whenever you think about the future of space travel, remember that the Dragon spacecraft may well be at the forefront of these exciting endeavors.

Starship and Super Heavy

Lastly, we will look at the Starship and Super Heavy spacecraft. It is undoubtedly the biggest and most innovative technology that has come out from SpaceX. Like all the other rockets we have discussed, the ultimate goal of the Starship and Super Heavy Spacecraft is to transport cargo and people to space. The Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket are also part of SpaceX's ambitious plans for interplanetary travel, including eventual Mars colonization and Moon exploration. 

Starship is SpaceX’s long-awaited flagship spacecraft that’s designed to take astronauts and payloads to deep space — including the Moon and Mars. It is paired with a massive booster, known as the Super Heavy, to get it off the Earth’s surface. When fully stacked, Starship and Super Heavy stand 395 feet (120 m) tall, making the combination the world's tallest rocket.

Together, Starship and Super Heavy stand a towering 395 feet (120 m) when fully stacked, securing their place as the tallest rocket combination in the world. However, once the Super Heavy booster has served its purpose, it will be discarded into the ocean. 

According to Elon Musk and SpaceX, The long-term vision for Starship is to make space travel as common and accessible as air travel, opening up a new world of opportunities and exploration for humanity. SpaceX is pioneering the future of space travel with their revolutionary Starship spacecraft.

There may still be some way to go, however. On its first test flight on April 20, 2023, Starship exploded midair before stage separation. “As if the flight test was not exciting enough, Starship experienced a rapid unscheduled disassembly before stage separation,” SpaceX tweeted. Despite this, the flight met several of SpaceX’s objectives for the vehicle, and expects future tests to be more successful.


SpaceX Rockets have revolutionized the space industry with groundbreaking rocket and spacecraft development achievements. By introducing reusable rockets, heavy-lift capabilities, and innovative spacecraft design, the company has opened up new possibilities for exploration and commercial activities. As we look forward to the next era of space exploration, SpaceX's achievements and plans continue to inspire awe and excitement for what lies ahead in the commercial space industry.

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