For as long as mankind has dreamed of reaching out to the planets and stars, there have been those who also dreamed of the day when private industry would take up the challenge of space travel. From Jules Verne to Robert Heinlein, great authors have written about rockets launched not by military powers, but by civilian companies led by men and women of vision, enthusiasm, and determination.
That day has finally arrived thanks to SpaceX, and you are lucky enough to bear witness to the first few days of the new Civilian Space Age.
The target launch date for Falcon I maiden flight is Halloween (October 31) from our island launch complex in the Kwajalein Atoll. The customer for this mission is DARPA and the Air Force and the payload will be FalconSat-2, part of the Air Force Academy's satellite program that will measure space plasma phenomena, which can adversely affect space-based communications, including GPS and other civil and military communications.
For video of the May hold down firing at Vandenberg, click here.
In a previous post, (SpaceX Released Details of Falcon 9) the details of the newly designs Falcon9 are laid out from information provided by SpaceX. Here is an updated history of the spacecraft from company founder, Elon Musk.
The History of Falcon 9
About eighteen months ago, a customer approached SpaceX with launch mass and fairing volume needs that exceeded the Falcon 5. We iterated on several different solutions, including upgrading the Merlin engine thrust and adding liquid or solid strap on boosters. All the options held significant drawbacks in cost, schedule or reliability, except one – a nine engine first stage.
By adding an additional four engines on the base and stretching the tanks, we were able to achieve a payload of approximately ten imperial tons to low Earth orbit, which is slightly greater than that of the Boeing Delta IV Medium. Going further and adding two first stages as liquid strap on boosters, like Delta IV Heavy, allowed us to place about 25 tons into LEO – more than any launch vehicle in use today.
This is very significant as it allows SpaceX to lift the full range of commercial and military satellites, as well as service the Space Station with considerably more cargo. It also maximally leverages our investment in avionics, guidance & control, structural design, launch infrastructure and the Merlin engine. Our strategy of using the Merlin engine throughout the Falcon product line is similar to Southwest's strategy of using only 737s throughout its fleet. However, in our case we get economies of scale in both manufacturing and servicing of the engine.