Dreams above the sky: SpaceX

"I want to die on Mars. Just not on impact." - Elon Musk.
SXSW conference. Austin, Texas, March 2018.

From living off a dollar a day by buying hot dogs and oranges in bulk, a man somewhere in South Africa was already ambitious in creating history. His perseverance and passion for revolutionizing the world as we see it, led him to feed his entrepreneurial ideas. This is the story of a man with a frugal lifestyle called Elon Musk, whose dreams were above the sky and somewhere on Mars.

Out of frustration at how slowly and expensively government organizations are exploring space, Mr. Musk recognized a chance to combine his expertise in technology and entrepreneurship to start a business that could produce reusable rockets and spacecraft, as a result would lower the cost and increase the accessibility of space travel.

Evolution of the Space Industry:

Since the mid-20th century, the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union fueled substantial advancements in space knowledge and technology. In 1957, the Soviets launched the very first artificial satellite, the Sputnik 1, followed by Yuri Gagarin who left his mark in history  by becoming the first human to orbit the Earth in 1961. The United States, not willing to lose this competition, responded by launching the Apollo program that successfully landed astronauts on the moon in 1969. During this period, space exploration was primarily driven by government agencies like NASA, focusing mainly on national security, scientific research, and exploration.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the rise of private companies focusing on satellite launching and communication services, created a shift in the narrative towards the commercialization of space activities. As a result, companies with similar dreams like SpaceX were born,  companies who wish to revolutionize space travel by making it more accessible and affordable.

From a dream to reality, founded in 2002 by the entrepreneur Elon Musk, SpaceX is a privately-owned space exploration company. The primary objective is to reduce space transportation costs and enable the colonization of Mars. One of the critical components of landing this objective is the development of rockets that are reusable, reliable, and affordable.

SpaceX's reusable rocket technology has allowed them to reduce launch costs and make spaceflight more cost-effective than ever before. In addition, SpaceX has been able to carry out high-profile missions, including launching the first privately funded spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS) and launching NASA astronauts to the ISS aboard its Crew Dragon spacecraft. These achievements have demonstrated the reliability and capabilities of SpaceX's rocket launches.

SpaceX has developed reusable rockets, which significantly reduce the cost of space launches. Previously, rockets were treated as disposable, which meant that a new rocket had to be built for every launch. This was a very expensive process, and it made space exploration and transportation financially unviable. By developing reusable rockets, SpaceX has drastically lowered the cost of space launches and made space exploration more accessible.

Furthermore, SpaceX has vertically integrated the design, manufacturing, and launch of its rockets and spacecraft. This integration enables SpaceX to control the entire production process, from the sourcing of raw materials to the launch of the rocket. This has reduced the time it takes to build and launch rockets, enabling SpaceX to conduct more missions in a shorter time frame.

The race for space.

While SpaceX has made significant strides in the space industry, it faces competition from other private space companies like Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, as well as established aerospace companies like Boeing and Lockheed Martin.

By comparison, other rocket launch companies like Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance (ULA) have not yet developed 100% reusable rockets and rely on expendable rockets, which significantly increase the cost of each launch. Table 1 provides a comparison of SpaceX, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance (ULA).

Table 1.



Blue Origin

United Launch Alliance (ULA)




Joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin



Yes (New Shepard)

No (with some plans for future reusability)

Launch Success Rate


100% (New Shepard)


Payload Capacity

Up to 22,800 kg to LEO

Up to 3,628 kg to LEO

Up to 29,000 kg to LEO

Launch Cost

$62 million to $90 million


$145 million to $350 million

Launch Sites

Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg, Kennedy Space Center

West Texas

Cape Canaveral, Vandenberg, Kennedy Space Center

Notable Launches

Crew Dragon Demo-2, Falcon Heavy, Starlink Mission

New Shepard

Mars Curiosity Rover, Delta IV Heavy

Aerospace industry challenges.

The aerospace industry is a rapidly growing and evolving sector with various challenges, particularly in the realm of supply chain management. These challenges in the industry are unique due to the risky, complex, and dynamic nature of space missions, the reliance on cutting-edge technology, and the need for high-quality and reliable components. 

One of the major  supply chain challenges is high cost and access to specialized raw materials for the construction of spacecraft, such as lightweight metals, advanced composites, and high-performance electronics. These materials are expensive and difficult to obtain, which poses challenges in terms of cost and availability. 

The aerospace industry relies heavily on a network of suppliers in the supply chain for various components and subsystems. Supplier dependency is a challenge due to the complexity and precision required in manufacturing space-grade components. 

The aerospace industry is characterized by rapidly evolving technology, and obsolescence components, thus used spacecraft quickly become obsolete and unusable which presents challenges in procurement and inventory management, as well as the need for frequent updates to manufacturing processes. 

Transporting large and delicate spacecraft components requires specialized logistics, which includes careful handling, packaging, and carriage. The size and weight of these spacecraft components also pose challenges in terms of haulage logistics and its associated cost. 

The space industry is highly involved in collaboration among multiple stakeholders, including government agencies, subcontractors, and international partners. This presents logistical challenges in terms of coordination, communication, and alignment of goals and objectives.

SpaceX faces great challenges managing its supply chain by leading in the aerospace industry. SpaceX has faced challenges related to supply chain obstacles and shortages of raw materials and components due to the COVID-19 pandemic and other global political factors. These difficulties impacted the company's ability to produce all rocket launches on schedule. In addition, as a private space company, SpaceX is subject to government regulations and restrictions, which has created challenges in terms of obtaining licenses, approvals, and permits for its launch operations.

Despite these challenges, SpaceX has demonstrated resilience and innovation in managing its supply chain obstacles. The company's focus on in-house production, vertical integration, and agile development has allowed it to respond quickly to changing circumstances and maintain a strong competitive position in the industry. Table 2 provides a comparison of the world leading companies in the aerospace industry and the aspects of the supply chain.

Table 2.

Aspect of Supply Chain



Lockheed Martin

Northrop Grumman

In-house production

Majority of components manufactured in-house

Some components manufactured in-house, but also relies heavily on external suppliers

Some components manufactured in-house, but also relies heavily on external suppliers

Some components manufactured in-house, but also relies heavily on external suppliers

Vertical integration

Owns and operates launch vehicles, spacecraft, and ground systems

Operates launch vehicles and spacecraft, but also relies on external suppliers for components

Operates launch vehicles and spacecraft, but also relies on external suppliers for components

Operates launch vehicles and spacecraft, but also relies on external suppliers for components

Emphasis on reusability

Rockets and spacecraft designed to be reusable

Some emphasis on reusability, but not as much as SpaceX

Some emphasis on reusability, but not as much as SpaceX

Some emphasis on reusability, but not as much as SpaceX

Agile development

Emphasis on rapid prototyping, iterative design, and continuous improvement

Also uses agile development, but not as extensively as SpaceX

Also uses agile development, but not as extensively as SpaceX

Also uses agile development, but not as extensively as SpaceX

Collaboration with external partners

Works with external partners and suppliers, but places greater emphasis on in-house production

Works closely with external partners and suppliers

Works closely with external partners and suppliers

Works closely with external partners and suppliers

Disrupting rocket launches.

SpaceX has disrupted the cost and access to these materials by adopting a vertical integration approach, where they manufacture many of the key components in-house, including rocket engines and composite structures. This allows them to take more control over the supply chain and reduce costs by eliminating reliance on external suppliers for critical materials.

SpaceX, in addressing this challenge focused on in-house manufacturing capabilities to reduce dependency on external suppliers, thereby mitigating the risk of supply disruptions. However, they have developed long-term partnerships with reliable existing suppliers, implementing strict quality control measures, and investing in supplier development programs. 

SpaceX also has adopted a culture of continuous improvement and innovation to address the issue of technology and component obsolescence. Regularly, they update their manufacturing processes and invest in research and development to stay at the forefront of technological advancements to allow them to optimize their supply chain and ensure that their spacecraft are built using the latest technology.

SpaceX disrupted the aerospace transportation and logistics by investing in its own transportation infrastructure, including reusable rockets and spacecraft, which significantly reduced transportation costs. For example, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket was designed to be reused allowing them to reduce the cost of launching payloads into space by a significant margin.

SpaceX has adopted a collaborative approach, where they work closely with their partners and subcontractors to ensure seamless logistical coordination throughout the supply chain. They also emphasize a culture of teamwork and effective communication to ensure that all stakeholders are aligned and working towards common goals.

The company's emphasis on in-house production and quality control has helped it achieve a high success rate in its rocket launches and establish a strong reputation in the space industry. Table 3 provides the key components of SpaceX's supply chain for rocket launches:

Table 3.

Stage 1

Design and development

SpaceX's rocket designs are developed in-house by its engineering team, which includes experts in aerospace engineering, materials science, and other fields. The company also works with partners and suppliers to develop specialized components, such as rocket engines and avionics systems.

Stage 2


SpaceX manufactures most of the rocket components in-house, including the engines, avionics, and structural components. However, the company still sources some specialized components and raw materials from external suppliers.

Stage 3


Before a rocket is launched, it undergoes extensive testing to ensure that it meets strict quality and safety standards. SpaceX conducts various types of testing, including static fire tests, which involve firing the rocket engines while the rocket is stationary, and full-scale tests, which simulate the conditions of a launch.

Stage 4

Launch site preparation

SpaceX operates several launch sites around the world, including the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida and the Vandenberg Space Force Base in California. Launch site preparation involves coordinating with government agencies and regulatory bodies, such as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), to obtain the necessary permits and clearances for the launch.

Stage 5

Launch operations

On the day of the launch, SpaceX's launch team oversees the final preparations, including fueling the rocket and conducting final systems checks. The launch team also monitors the weather and other conditions to ensure that the launch can proceed safely. Once the rocket is launched, SpaceX's ground team tracks its trajectory and provides real-time updates to the mission control center.

SpaceX and the Circular Economy.

SpaceX has successfully implemented a circular economy model that promotes sustainability in the aerospace industry. The company has overcome several challenges in implementing this model, including technical difficulties, cost, regulatory barriers, and limited supply chain options. Despite these challenges, SpaceX has made significant progress in developing reusable rockets and recycling processes, which have helped reduce waste and promote efficient resource use.

One of the most significant contributions of SpaceX to the circular economy is its development of reusable rockets. Developing reusable rockets and recycling rocket parts is a complex process that requires extensive research and development. SpaceX has spent billions of dollars on research and development for its reusable rockets, such as the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets. Additionally, refurbishing and reusing rocket parts can be costly, as it requires extensive testing and inspection to ensure that the components are safe to use again.

Despite these challenges, SpaceX has successfully developed reusable rockets and recycling processes, which have helped the company reduce waste and promote the efficient use of resources. The company has implemented a closed-loop supply chain, where it reuses and recycles materials and components 

whenever possible, further reducing waste. SpaceX has also partnered with other companies and organizations to promote sustainable practices and reduce waste in the industry. Overall, SpaceX has demonstrated a commitment to sustainability and circular economy principles in its business model. By integrating circular economy practices into its operations, the company is not only improving its environmental impact but also creating a more sustainable industry for the future.

The future for SpaceX.

The future looks bright for SpaceX, with its focus on innovation, agility, and cost-effectiveness, SpaceX is likely to continue disrupting the industry and achieving significant success in the years to come. 

SpaceX is working to make space tourism a reality. The company plans to launch commercial flights to space in the near future, which will enable ordinary people to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. This will open up a new market for space exploration and transportation, and it will help to make space travel more accessible to a wider range of people.

SpaceX's long-term goal is to establish a self-sustaining colony on Mars, which would enable humans to live and work on another planet, and the company is working on developing the technologies and infrastructure needed to make human colonization of the Red Planet a reality. 

Overall, the future looks very promising for SpaceX. The company's ambitious projects have the potential to transform the aerospace industry and pave the way for human exploration and colonization of other planets. 



Like other businesses, SpaceX has endured controversy and criticism throughout the years. Some of the significant SpaceX-related disputes include safety concerns, environmental impact, labor practices, and competition with other companies. 

Rocket explosions during testing and launches were among the SpaceX accidents in the past that caused safety concerns. A Falcon 9 rocket burst in 2016 on the launchpad, damaging a satellite and leaving the client with huge financial damages. Nevertheless, SpaceX has recently made adjustments to enhance dependability and safety. Regarding the environmental impact, SpaceX has been charged with not going far enough to lessen the effects of its rocket launches on the environment. The Starship prototype was launched in December 2020, and as a consequence, pieces of debris fell into the Gulf of Mexico. This was condemned by certain environmental organizations as being hazardous to marine life.

The same as Tesla, SpaceX has had complaints from their workers. Former SpaceX workers sued the corporation in 2020, claiming that by failing to provide required food and rest breaks, paying overtime, and not reimbursing expenses, the firm had broken California labor regulations. SpaceX has refuted the accusations, and the litigation is still pending.

Last but not least, due to its commercial space sector success, SpaceX now competes directly with other well-known space firms like United Launch Alliance and Blue Origin. Several detractors claim that SpaceX engages in unscrupulous business practices, such as accepting government subsidies or undercutting pricing, to gain an edge over its rivals.