Anyone with knowledge of the private aerospace industry can confidently say 2021 was the year of SpaceX. The company made giant strides this year and looks like it will continue its dominant run in 2022.
To end 2021, the company notched an important milestone - its 100th Falcon 9 rocket flight.
Something Special for the Astronauts
To commemorate Christmas week, SpaceX launched its 39th Falcon 9 rocket sequence of the year. The Texas-based company sent a Dragon cargo capsule to the International Space Station, delivering supplies and Christmas presents to astronauts working in space.
The rocket - which marked SpaceX's 31st launch of 2021 - took off on December 21st from NASA's Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX's 24th cargo resupply mission included a Dragon cargo ship packed with over 6,000 pounds of experiment materials, food supplies, and hardware for the International Space Station crew.
Around 8 minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage returned to Earth, landing on a SpaceX drone ship out in the Atlantic. In a live webcast, Andy Train, a SpaceX production supervisor, confirmed the landing was the 100th for an orbital class rocket.
The milestone is emblematic of how far SpaceX has come. Not so long ago, landing a Falcon 9 booster was big news - and the concept of reusable rockets is still, in many ways, novel. But today, it's no surprise when SpaceX lands a rocket.
What a Year It's Been
Now that SpaceX has mastered rocket landings, it is worth revisiting the company's awesome year. Thanks to SpaceX, NASA no longer has to rely on Russian shuttles to take astronauts to space. The agency can simply call on CEO Elon Musk, and astronauts will board the next SpaceX craft.
The relationship between SpaceX and NASA can't be overstated. The company snagged NASA's human lander system (HLS) contract after fierce competition from other private aerospace arena giants. After submitting a significantly cheaper proposal than competitors, SpaceX won the HLS contract and walked away with $2.9 billion.
Despite arguments and lawsuits levied by competitors like Blue Origin and Dynetics, SpaceX stands firm. It is locked in on NASA's Artemis program and will be a vital contractor going forward.
SpaceX also nabbed its first all-civilian flight this year with a successful Inspiration4 mission. The mission took four civilians to space - most notable, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire founder of Shift4 Payments. Inspiration4 orbited Earth for several days and returned home safe and sound.
Several of SpaceX's competitors also performed civilian flights. Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic beat SpaceX to the feat - but it wasn't like SpaceX had anything to prove. Being first isn't a major priority when you're ahead of the competition.
SpaceX and other private aerospace industry entities have flown more than one civilian flight already, suggesting bigger commercial expeditions in the not-so-distant future.
Then, there's Starlink - SpaceX's division responsible for providing broadband internet service worldwide. In 2021 alone, SpaceX managed to deploy over 800 Starlink satellites to space. The company is breaking ground in new locations and has expanded beta testing for the internet service.
Plans for 2022 Already in High Gear
SpaceX had one incredible year and is on to bigger things in 2022. Priority will be the successful launch of its Starship, which Musk claims could happen early in the year.
Starship is a massive endeavor for SpaceX. The entire vehicle is estimated to measure up to 394 feet fully stacked, able to perform repeated missions to space carrying up to 100 tons of cargo.
Progress is already underway with Starship. SpaceX flew the Starship's 15th prototype in May, reaching 30,000 feet before returning to Earth. Still, reports suggest the Starship's rocket is far from completion; Musk exceedingly displeased with the company's engineers.
But with a head start going into the year and other aspects of the company running like clockwork, smart money will bet on SpaceX defying the odds and breaking more ground in 2022.