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IIRC NASA basically gave SpaceX the patents and designs for the turbopumps that the Merlin engine is built around. They also committed to some contracts very early and funded Dragon development at a time when no commercial operation would have trusted SpaceX with a contract of that size.


"The SpaceX turbopump was an entirely new, clean sheet design contracted to Barber-Nichols, Inc. in 2002 who performed all design, engineering analysis, and construction; the company had previously worked on turbopumps for the RS-88 (Bantam) and NASA Fastrac engine programs."

IIRC there was also at least one DoD contract in the Falcon 1 era that surely helped as well. I recall reading a few references to it and remarking how odd it was. Some real invisible hand stuff. Since then I've noticed one other project was sustained by military contracts. EMC2 (polywell fusion) got several years of support from the US Navy via small (few $million) contracts. Last I read, they had validated the physics and were looking for civilian investors to fund a large machine.

The US government has pots of money they use to buy flights on unproven rockets, that's how SpaceX got a contract for STP-2 as the 2nd flight of Falcon Heavy. Falcon 1's first two flights got some revenue from DARPA and the Air Force ORS, and flight 3 from NASA. (All failed.)


Sure, even Musk will admit SpaceX wouldn't have survived without financial help (in the form of contracts) and facilities use from NASA.

But in terms of actual technology... not the turbopumps, certainly, unless your logic is "the contractor SpaceX used to design its turbopump developed expertise on NASA (and other) contracts".

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