SpaceX Hits the Mark with Launch
Space Exploration Technologies, aka SpaceX, the private enterprise spaceflight
company founded by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, successfully launched a
Malaysian satellite into orbit July 13 using the company's Falcon 1 rocket.
After four Falcon 1 test launches-three unsuccessful-the July 13 effort
represented the first SpaceX venture to take a functional satellite into space.
The launch of Malaysia's remote sensing RazakSAT satellite marks a critical milestone for SpaceX, which in 2006 won a $1.6 billion NASA contract to design, build and operate a resupply program for the ISS (International Space Station). Under the contract, SpaceX will fill the gap in American spaceflight to the ISS after the shuttle fleet retires at the end of the 2010 and the Ares/Orion begins in 2016.
The Falcon 1 rocket blasted off at approximately 11:30 p.m. EDT and took 8.5 minutes to climb into space. The liftoff was from the U.S. Army's Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Omelek Island in the Kwajalein Atoll, about 2,500 miles southwest of Hawaii.
SpaceX made space history in 2008 when its Falcon 1 became the first privately developed liquid-fuel rocket to orbit the Earth. The Falcon is a two-stage launch vehicle powered by liquid oxygen and rocket-grade kerosene. According to SpaceX's Website, the Falcon 1's tank structure is made of aluminum-lithium alloy, and "the interstage, which connects the upper and lower stage for Falcon 9 [and Falcon 1], is a carbon fiber aluminum core composite structure."
According to SpaceX, its Merlin engine is the highest-performance gas generator cycle kerosene engine ever built, exceeding the Boeing Delta II main engine, the Lockheed Atlas II main engine and the Saturn V F-1.
Riding atop the Falcon rocket for the NASA missions will be the Dragon capsule, composed of three main elements: the nose cone, which protects the vessel and the docking adaptor during ascent; the pressurized section, which houses the crew or pressurized cargo or both; and the Service Section, which contains avionics, the RCS system, parachutes and other support infrastructure.
SpaceX says its ISS cargo and crew transport missions will save taxpayers money and keep high-tech jobs in the United States.
"Let's consider the default plan under way, which expects that our country will use the Russian Soyuz at the currently negotiated price of $47 million per seat for the period between shuttle retirement and Ares/Orion reaching [the] space station," SpaceX declares on its Website. "Even assuming that we drop the number of U.S. astronauts going to [the ISS] from the current 30 per year ... down to 14 per year, the cost will be approximately $3.3 billion."