SpaceX Falcon 9 Rocket Blasts Off for First Test Space Flight
A possible replacement for the space shuttle, SpaceX's $100 million investment, the Falcon 9 cargo rocket, faces a critical moment with a test launch.The Falcon 9 rocket, built by aerospace technology company SpaceX, blasted off on its first test flight June 4, continuing the company's push to create private vehicles that someday could take passengers and cargo beyond Earth's boundaries. The rocket reached orbit in about 9 minutes.
The Falcon 9 rocket launched into its first test flight from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at about 2:45 EDT. The rocket was initially scheduled to launch at 1:30 EDT and its engines had been ignited when SpaceX officials aborted the launch because of a glitch in the system. Another problem had delayed the launch from its original 11 a.m. EDT target time.
"A 100 percent success would be reaching orbit," the BBC reported SpaceX CEO Elon Musk explaining on the eve of the launch. "But I think given this is a test flight, even if we prove out just that the first stage works correctly-that will have been a good day. And it will be a great day if both stages work correctly."
Falcon 9 is a two-stage, liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene (RP-1)-powered launch vehicle. The main engine, called Merlin, was developed internally at SpaceX. The Falcon 9 rocket has nine Merlin engines clustered together, so that if an engine failure occurs the mission can still be completed. In December 2008, NASA announced the selection of SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon Spacecraft to resupply the International Space Station when the Space Shuttle retires in 2010. The $1.6 billion contract covers a minimum of 12 flights, with an option to order additional missions for a cumulative total contract value of up to $3.1 billion.
"It's important to note that since this is a test launch, our primary goal is to collect as much data as possible, with success being measured as a percentage of how many flight milestones we are able to complete in this first attempt," a company release cautioned. "It would be a great day if we reach orbital velocity, but still a good day if the first stage functions correctly, even if the second stage malfunctions. It would be a bad day if something happens on the launch pad itself and we're not able to gain any flight data."
Musk, the founder of PayPal and Zip2, established the company in 2002. President Obama made a visit to the SpaceX Falcon 9 launch site at Cape Canaveral in April, just prior to his national speech at Kennedy Space Center describing the administration's new space initiatives.