Most concepts at SpaceX are designed from the ground up and the parts are manufactured on site at SpaceX. The Merlin engine, which launches the Falcon rocket, is no exception. Tom Mueller, posing with the Merlin rocket engines at SpaceX's Hawthorne headquarters. Photo by Roger Gilbertson. Photo courtesy Tom Mueller via kcet.org The rockstar of SpaceX may be Elon Musk, but the lead man behind the fire power is Tom Mueller. He is the Vice President of Propulsion Development and founding employee at SpaceX. Musk sought Mueller out in 2001 when Musk decided to build his own rockets instead of buying some from the Russians. Musk caught wind of a rocket engine Mueller built in his garage and "apparently had a religious experience" once he saw it. If you didn't know, Elon Musk used $100 million of his Paypal money to start SpaceX. That money was used to build the Merlin engine Mueller had designed. The Merlin engine is the first new American booster engine in ten years and only the second in the last 25 years.
For SpaceX, 2012 was the year of the Dragon. In 2013 the Falcon Heavy, SpaceX's heavy lift vehicle, is set to steal some of the spotlight away from the Dragon. The Falcon Heavy is currently in development and builds off of the Falcon 9 first stage and the Merlin 1D engine, an upgrade of the engine currently flying on the Falcon 9. What makes the Falcon 9 design so reliable is the ability to handle several engine failures without having to abort or experience a R.U.D. (SpaceX lingo for an explosion, a.k.a. Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly). Along with the engine reliability the Falcon Heavy will be the first rocket in history to feature propellant cross-feed from the side boosters. Since the rocket does not need full throttle to maintain acceleration as it travels into the atmosphere, the center core reduces throttle as the rocket ascends with the side cores still at full throttle. This allows for the core stage to be close to full of propellant when the side boosters separate, essentially leaving a fully fueled Falcon 9 ready for liftoff many miles above the earth.
In May of this year, SpaceX completed the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) demo for NASA showing they could take on the job of cargo taxi to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA. In October, SpaceX celebrated the successful launch and return of its first of twelve contracted Commercial Resupply Service missions to the ISS. SpaceX is not only the first private company to achieve this goal but it's doing so at a 90% cost reduction to the taxpayer. SpaceX is making money and NASA is saving money. Job well done; mission accomplished. Not quite.