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SpaceX completes successful first test launch of Falcon 9 rocket

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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Falcon 9Private access to space took a giant leap forward Friday with a successful test launch of the Falcon 9 rocket, developed and built by SpaceX, a venture headed by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk.

The two-stage Falcon 9, which stands about 48 meters tall*, lifted off from a Cape Canaveral launchpad at 2:45 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time carrying a dummy capsule that could soon deliver supplies to the International Space Station—and, one day, even astronauts to orbit. Less than 10 minutes after launch, according to the SpaceX live Webcast, the rocket’s upper-stage engine shut down, having delivered its payload safely to Earth orbit.

Despite myriad delays in executing the test, including a false start at the launch pad Friday, success in the inaugural launch of the Falcon 9 marks a major achievement for SpaceX. The company’s smaller Falcon 1 rocket took four launches to achieve its first full success. Falcon 9 upper stage

Hopes are especially high for SpaceX in light of President Obama’s budget request, released in February, for fiscal year 2011. Obama’s plan for NASA calls for terminating the space agency’s own line of Ares rockets, which had been intended to boost astronauts and cargo into space, and contracting with private operators to provide those launch services instead.

In 2008 NASA announced that it had selected SpaceX as one of the providers of resupply missions to the space station through 2016. At the time, the space agency said it had ordered 12 flights from SpaceX at an estimated cost of about $1.6 billion. According to a SpaceX launch manifest, the first Falcon 9 resupply mission to the International Space Station will not launch before 2011.

The Falcon 9 is powered by SpaceX’s Merlin engine, which runs on liquid oxygen and kerosene rocket fuel. The Falcon 9′s first stage boasts nine Merlin engines to lift the more than 300-metric-ton rocket off the ground. After nearly three minutes of flight the first stage separates and falls away as a single Merlin engine takes over to power the upper stage to orbit.

Image credits of first stage flight [top] and second stage after separation [bottom]: SpaceX

*Correction (6/18/2010): The height of the rocket was originally identified as 55 meters, which is the planned height of the operational Falcon 9 with a satellite enclosure. The test rocket launched June 4 was 48 meters tall.





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  1. 1. richard schumacher 4:56 pm 06/4/2010

    The 2nd stage may not have been successful. Before it reached orbit it was rolling at an increasing rate when SpaceX cut off the live video feed.

    In any case this is a major milestone on the road to private space transportation and exploitation, which is an important part of President Obama’s reforms of NASA.

    Link to this
  2. 2. ennui 7:27 pm 06/7/2010

    In Russia the Russian Science Council members were told that rockets were not the way to go to Deep Space.
    "We need another technology for that!"
    With a little bit of luck, the 180 wannabee Astronauts get one chance in 180 to be lifted up to the ISS by Space X, while the Cosmonauts are whooping it up, flying all over deep space, using the technology of the Flying Saucer that Nasa rejected.
    Good show though.

    Link to this
  3. 3. scasagra 9:33 pm 06/7/2010

    this text "hunger hormone ghrelin, which blocks certain receptors in the brain, telling your body when it is time to eat.

    But a team of researchers thinks this hormone might be doing more than just urging you to pile on some calories. It might also be helping to regulate the levels of cholesterol in your bloodstream." was part of the article or a confusion

    Link to this
  4. 4. masonstorm3333 5:11 pm 11/22/2010

    I think this is one of the few times imo when privatization is a really good idea. Whether we think it’s necessary or not, we need to continue to develop new forms of space travel and technology to facilitate it. What the ppl whose only argument is “we have too many problems down here to be worrying about this,” they fail to understand the two most important implications of aeronautical research. The first is for national defense… it’s bad enough that nasa has to rely on Russia to ferry them to the ISS. If we keep going at this rate, our disadvantage will only grow as they continue to develop new technologies in their space program while we pump the brakes on ours. Is air and space superiority something you really want the Russians to have? It doesn’t seem like a good idea for any one country to have, let alone one whom we have a sketchy history with. The second is that with aeronautical research comes a flood of new technologies, most of which are very applicable to us down on earth. For example, if it wasn’t for nasa, we wouldn’t have the chips that we use for non-invasive biopsies, solar energy, and a whole litany of other things (<a href="http://www.thespaceplace.com/nasa/spinoffs.html#Top">http://www.thespaceplace.com/nasa/spinoffs.html#Top</a&gt; has a good number of inventions that most of us don’t know came from our space program). And if you’re one of those ppl that are so skeptical (or cynical imo) that you still don’t think that any of the things on this list warrant a larger investment in a privatized space industry, just remember that while you sleep at night, you most likely have nasa to thank for that, too. If you use any type of home security system, chances are they use infrared and laser technology that came out of nasa’s research (just look at the <a href="http://www.homesecurityfamily.com">adt home security</a> infrared camera page. They even admit that the technology came from nasa!)

    Link to this
  5. 5. masonstorm3333 5:12 pm 11/22/2010

    I think this is one of the few times imo when privatization is a really good idea. Whether we think it’s necessary or not, we need to continue to develop new forms of space travel and technology to facilitate it. What the ppl whose only argument is “we have too many problems down here to be worrying about this,” they fail to understand the two most important implications of aeronautical research. The first is for national defense… it’s bad enough that nasa has to rely on Russia to ferry them to the ISS. If we keep going at this rate, our disadvantage will only grow as they continue to develop new technologies in their space program while we pump the brakes on ours. Is air and space superiority something you really want the Russians to have? It doesn’t seem like a good idea for any one country to have, let alone one whom we have a sketchy history with. The second is that with aeronautical research comes a flood of new technologies, most of which are very applicable to us down on earth. For example, if it wasn’t for nasa, we wouldn’t have the chips that we use for non-invasive biopsies, solar energy, and a whole litany of other things (<a href="http://www.thespaceplace.com/nasa/spinoffs.html#Top">http://www.thespaceplace.com/nasa/spinoffs.html#Top</a&gt; has a good number of inventions that most of us don’t know came from our space program). And if you’re one of those ppl that are so skeptical (or cynical imo) that you still don’t think that any of the things on this list warrant a larger investment in a privatized space industry, just remember that while you sleep at night, you most likely have nasa to thank for that, too. If you use any type of home security system, chances are they use infrared and laser technology that came out of nasa’s research (just look at the <a href="http://www.homesecurityfamily.com">adt home security</a> infrared camera page. They even admit that the technology came from nasa!)

    Link to this

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