SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Complex-40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station today. This commercial launch by SpaceX is a pathfinder for the first NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services development flight.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket has enjoyed a successful maiden test flight after the first launch attempted was aborted.
The rocket, which could one day carry astronauts, blasted-off from its launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida at 2:45pm today.
The Falcon 9 tank walls and domes are made from aluminum lithium alloy. It has nine Merlin engines clustered together. This vehicle will be capable of sustaining an engine failure at any point in flight and still successfully completing its mission.
This will result in a higher level of reliability than a single engine stage. The SpaceX nine engine architecture is an improved version of the architecture employed by the Saturn V and Saturn I rockets of the Apollo Program, which had flawless flight records despite losing engines on a number of missions.
The SpaceX has developed a hold-before-release system — a capability required by commercial airplanes, but not implemented on launch vehicles. After first stage engine start, the Falcon is held down and not released for flight until all propulsion and vehicle systems are confirmed to be operating normally. An automatic safe shut-down and unloading of propellant occurs if any off nominal conditions are detected.
The California-based firm developed the vehicle with a large subsidy from NASA.
Friday's first launch attempt was aborted at the last second because an engine parameter fell out of limits.
According to the Spaceflight Now website, a SpaceX spokesperson said the rocket achieved orbit, but they were not sure of the altitude or inclination.
US President Barack Obama, who inspected the rocket on its pad in April, has said he wanted the business of taxiing astronauts to and from the International Space Station handed to the commercial sector.
Many experts believe the Falcon is in a prime position to win that business. Before the rocket can be allowed to launch humans, it has to first demonstrate performance and reliability in the role of lofting robotic spacecraft.
The Falcon 9 will offer the lowest cost per pound/kilogram to orbit, despite providing breakthrough improvements in reliability.
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden released the following statement."Congratulations to Space X on today's launch of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Space X's accomplishment is an important milestone in the commercial transportation effort and puts the company a step closer to providing cargo services to the International Space Station.
"Preparations are proceeding for the first NASA-sponsored test launch under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services project later this year.
COTS is a vital development and demonstration partnership to create a commercial space transportation system capable of providing cargo to the station. "This launch of the Falcon 9 gives us even more confidence that a resupply vehicle will be available after the space shuttle fleet is retired."
Spaceflight Now has dozens of missions scheduled for 2010 as they develop their commercial space flight program.
The Falcon sits on the launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The Falcon launch vehicle family is designed to provide breakthrough advances in reliability, cost, flight environment and time to launch.