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The fourth time is a charm for SpaceX, after successfully launching a rocket into orbit

Space Exploration Technologies, also known as SpaceX, successfully launched a commercial rocket into orbit carrying a dummy payload.  On the company's fourth attempt, the Falcon I vehicle headed into space after launching from Omelek Island with a 364-pound dummy satellite.

SpaceX, backed by PayPal founder and Tesla Motors Chairman Elon Musk, wants to become the first company able to launch a privately developed rocket into Low Earth Orbit (LEO).  Musk hopes the company is one day able to carry supplies -- and even astronauts or space tourists -- into space and to the International Space Station (ISS).

"This really means a lot," Musk said after the successful launch.  "There's only a handful of countries on Earth that have done this.  It's usually a country thing, not a company thing.  We did it!"

Prior to the successful launch on Sunday, the latest attempt made it 135 miles above Earth's surface, but the rocket failed after the second stage was unable to separate from the first stage.  This time around, the aluminum chamber designed to mimic a satellite will stay attached to the two-stage rocket as it begins to orbit Earth.

The Falcon 9 rocket could help NASA take cargo and astronauts into orbit in the future, assuming SpaceX can continue its successful launches.  In addition, an injection of private capital makes it possible for SpaceX to keep attempting to prove the effectiveness of Falcon for one-tenth the total launch cost of commercial launches.

SpaceX plans to launch another Falcon 1 sometime in early 2009, with the Malaysian RazakSat satellite as its main cargo.  If all goes according to plan, a Falcon 9 launch is expected sometime next summer.

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By randomly on 9/30/2008 12:22:53 AM , Rating: 2
They have to word that 'first' carefully since Orbital Sciences was the first with a privately funded orbital launch vehicle. The Pegasus and Taurus are solid fuel designs though.

It's very impressive and I've been wishing them success. It's a very good day.

I only hope they can survive economically. OS was thinking they would be launching 50 times a year with the Pegasus when they developed it, it's in the same payload class as the Falcon 1. The reality of it turned out to be that the market was much smaller than anticipated and they only launch a few times a year.

The real deal will be getting the EELV class Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy going.

By rtrski on 9/30/2008 9:23:43 AM , Rating: 2
SpaceShipOne was the first nongovernmental manned ship "to space", but was not an "orbital" launch vehicle. I think they topped 100km altitude (suborbital, but well into what is considered "space"), while Falcon hit like 135 miles (~217km). And was unmanned, clearly.

Your point is well intended I think: both are firsts, but in very different categories, not much 'nuanced' language required.

I too am quite excited by their success. I hope the Falcon 9 and Heavy do well, and quickly - I'd much rather see them get the contract to recrew/resupply the ISS during the wait after the shuttles get mothballed than send the money to Putin.

By randomly on 9/30/2008 9:37:27 AM , Rating: 3
Suborbital only requires 1/40 the energy of an orbital flight. The difference is in the velocity, not the altitude. I was referring to Orbital Sciences Pegasus and Taurus launch vehicles, not the SpaceShip One. Both of which were orbital launch vehicles developed privately. They have roughly the same lift capacity as the Falcon 1.

They are however solid fuel designs, so to claim a first Spacex needs to include the 'first liquid fueled' in their statement.

Regardless of the technicalities though it's a major accomplishment and I look forward to the Falcon 9.

By rtrski on 9/30/2008 10:56:04 AM , Rating: 2
I'm horribly embarrassed - I totally forgot about Pegasus (although it's not ground-launched, it was indeed to orbit).

Taurus too - but was Taurus government funded, while SpaceX Falcon has been entirely private (corporate) funded? Now I'm not so sure where the line is. Liquid vs. solid may be it, after all...?

By mellomonk on 9/30/2008 10:57:05 AM , Rating: 3
The first that Space X is touting is that the falcon is an entirely new design and launches from the ground. Most of the other private ventures are based on military or governmental developed tech. The Orbital Sciences Pegasus is air launched making it flexible, but with a limited sized payload. Their Taurus launch vehicle is derived from the Minuteman ICBM I believe. Sea Launch is using Russian built Zenit launchers.

It is just semantics but Space X deserves some props for developing an all new design and doing it for a fraction of what the NASA or the DOD would have spent. Their Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy could really shake up the private launch business.

By rtrski on 9/30/2008 3:09:40 PM , Rating: 2
Thanks for the clarification!

By randomly on 10/1/2008 3:07:08 PM , Rating: 2
The first stage of the Taurus was based on the MX ICBM first stage motor design, but it's not quite the same. The Taurus upper stages are derived from the Pegasus.

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