In my first post about SpaceX, I laid out the company background with some great photos of their rockets and launch facilities during an engine test. I also go into a brief profile of PAYPAL founder Elon Musk, the man behind this very serious rocket company. The first launch of Falcon-1 is set for later this month, and I'll post information as it comes available.
SpaceX announced details yesterday about its new launch vehicle, the Falcon 9, an Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) class vehicle. With up to a 17 ft diameter fairing, Falcon 9 is capable of launching approximately 21,000 lbs to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in its medium configuration and 55,000 lbs to LEO in its heavy configuration, a lift capacity greater than any other launch vehicle. In the medium configuration, Falcon 9 is priced at $27 million per flight with a 12 ft fairing and $35 million with a 17 ft fairing. Prices include all launch range and third party insurance costs, making Falcon 9 the most cost efficient vehicle in its class - worldwide.
SpaceX initially intended to follow its first vehicle development, Falcon 1, with the intermediate class Falcon 5 launch vehicle. However, in response to customer requirements for low cost enhanced launch capability, SpaceX accelerated development of an EELV-class vehicle, upgrading Falcon 5 to Falcon 9. SpaceX has sold Falcon 9 to a US government customer. SpaceX still plans to make Falcon 5 available in late 2007.
Falcon 9 uses similar engines, electronics, guidance & control and separation systems to Falcon 1. However, in the case of Falcon 9, there are nine Merlin engines clustered together. Some examples of rockets that made effective use of clustering are the Saturn I manned rocket (eight thrust chambers) of the Apollo Program and the Soyuz manned rocket (thirty-two thrust chambers) currently used to service the International Space Station. Clustering provides the ability to lose multiple engines during flight and still complete the mission, resulting in a higher level of propulsion reliability.
A recent study performed by the Futron Corporation, concluded that Falcon 5 was superior in design reliability to other vehicles in its class, due to engine redundancy. Falcon 9, by extension, has even higher reliability with increased propulsion redundancy.
Falcon 5 and Falcon 9 will be the world's first launch vehicles where all stages are designed for reuse. The Falcon 1 has a reusable first stage, but an expendable upper stage. Reuse is not factored into launch prices. When the economics of stage recovery and checkout are fully understood, SpaceX will make further reductions in launch prices.