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With new rocket, SpaceX is poised to make a giant leap

Space Exploration Technologies, the company that is reshaping the space industry, plans to announce the development of a massive 22-story rocket to launch military and commercial payloads into orbit.

April 05, 2011|By W.J. Hennigan, Los Angeles Times

Visitors at SpaceX headquarters are more likely to see an engineer wearing a hoodie or a baseball cap than sporting horn-rimmed glasses and a crew cut.

That's by design. Musk, 39, came from the Silicon Valley. He started SpaceX after making a fortune when he sold online payment business PayPal Inc. in 2002. Armed with his personal fortune and venture capitalist contacts, he started SpaceX.

"The best and brightest want to work for them right out of school," said Jay Gullish, a space and telecommunications analyst at Futron Corp., a Bethesda, Md., firm. "They're doing things that in the private sector has never been done before."

Indeed. The last U.S.-built rocket more powerful than the Falcon Heavy was the Saturn V. At the time, rocket pioneer Wernher von Braun oversaw the development of NASA's Apollo missions. That rocket was 350 feet tall and had twice the lifting power of the Falcon Heavy.

Musk envisions a day when the Falcon Heavy not only launches satellites but also carries robots and astronauts to Mars.

"Other than the Saturn V, this is the most capable launcher in history," Musk said. "When this thing goes off, it will be pretty epic."

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