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SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket launched late Friday afternoon, bearing much of the hopes of the fledgling commercial space industry with it.  (Source: SpaceX)

The launch was picture perfect, with a dummy payload delivered in orbit, as planned.  (Source: SpaceX)

The Falcon 9 will propel both cargo loads and human crews aboard SpaceX's Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.  (Source: SpaceX)

Beleagured by Republican critics who want to keep the space industry nationalized and a messy divorce, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk wearily commented, "There’s more weight on our shoulders... I wish there weren’t."  (Source: Wired)
Republicans are criticizing the effort, cry for socialized space industry

At around 2:35 p.m. on Friday, nine engines fired, propelling the 154-ft. SpaceX Falcon 9 from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida into a fiery sprint through the Earth's atmosphere.  Minutes later, the first stage fell off, dropping into the Atlantic Ocean, while a second stage fired, delivering a dummy payload into orbit 155 miles above Earth.  For SpaceX, the mission was picture perfect -- a happy ending to years of struggles.

SpaceX was founded in 2002 by tech-pioneer Elon Musk who serves as the company's CEO and CTO.  Musk, also CEO of Tesla Motors, sunk $100M USD of his own PayPal fortune into the company.

The company first saw success in September 2008 with the launch of its Falcon 1 rocket powered by its Merlin (first stage) and Kestrel (second stage) engines.  On July 14, 2009, a Falcon 1 rocket delivered its first commercial payload -- the Malaysian RazakSAT satellite.  Those successes came after a fair share of failures -- the first three launches of the Falcon 1 proved unsuccessful.

Today, SpaceX is offering Falcon 1 launches for $8.9M USD, with slight discounts for mass contracts.  The Falcon 9, launched Friday, is the next stage in its bid for commercial space dominance.  

The Falcon 9 is designed to carry much higher payloads.  Where as the Falcon 1 can deliver 670 kg to low earth orbit (LEO), the Falcon 9 "heavy" variant can deliver 29 tons of cargo to low Earth orbit.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 is powered by 9 first stage Merlin 1C rockets which burn liquid oxygen (LOX) and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellants.  Those rockets are fired by dual redundant pyrophoric triethylaluminum-triethylborane (TEA-TEB) igniters.  The first stage can produce 4.94 MN of thrust and 304 sec (3.0 kN/kg) of specific impulse in vacuum.  

A carbon fiber aluminum core composite structure joins the first and second stages.  The design is made more affordable as the engine used in the second stage engine is identical to those found in the first, albeit with a smaller fuel tank and only a single engine.  The second stage engine has a burn time of 345 s.

At a press conference, CEO Musk commented, "I hope people don’t put too much emphasis on our success because it’s simply not correct to have the fate of commercial launch depend on what happens in the next few days. But it certainly does add to the pressure. There’s more weight on our shoulders because of that. I wish there weren’t."

The issue of the commercialization of the space industry has created an unusual role reversal for the Democrats and Republicans in Washington D.C.  President Obama, amid criticism about "nationalizing" the automobile industry is charging ahead with plans
to privatize the space industry, a move long championed by the U.S. Armed Forces.  Under his leadership, NASA has pledged $3.5B USD in contracts to SpaceX and Orbital Transportation Services, a rival firm.

Republicans are decrying the denationalization effort and the delays that have ensued.  Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, Republican of Texas, commented after the Friday launch, "Make no mistake even this modest success is more than a year behind schedule, and the project deadlines of other private space companies continue to slip as well."

SpaceX is deaf to the criticism, though, and is turning its focus to continued commercialization of the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9 platforms.  It is also hard at work developing its Dragon capsule, a manned vessel that can seat up to 7.  The capsule is expected to launch in a test flight aboard a Falcon 9 rocket, sometime this year or next.  The craft utilizes PICA-X, a proprietary variant of NASA's phenolic impregnated carbon ablator material.

Designs from SpaceX's and Orbital, under Obama's plan will service the International Space Station and replace NASA's aging Shuttle fleet, which is in the process of being retired.



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After reading the title
By FITCamaro on 6/7/2010 6:49:40 AM , Rating: 5
Don't even have to guess the author.

Republicans aren't against a private space industry. They're against a complete lack of NASA having the ability to get cargo and people into space on its own. The US lacking that ability is a huge security issue when China is going full speed to get into space. And they're not going to care when the world cries as they weaponize space. Then instead of being leaders in space, we'll be behind.




RE: After reading the title
By bleekii on 6/7/2010 7:13:17 AM , Rating: 2
How does having three or more private, USA owned, space transportation companies leave NASA without the ability to get the job done? Besides NASA is still working of space vehicles, long range ones. They will be testing a plasma engine in a couple of years which was also developed by a private company/ former astronaut.


RE: After reading the title
By MozeeToby on 6/7/2010 11:51:23 AM , Rating: 4
What you're basically saying (and for the record, I agree with you) is that LEO isn't that hard anymore and there is enough demand that it can be fulfilled economically by commercial operators. If NASA is about pushing the boundary, you've got to realize that LEO is no longer the boundary. Let them focus on the next step; near earth asteroids, the moon, and interplanetary hops.


RE: After reading the title
RE: After reading the title
By bleekii on 6/7/2010 7:22:33 AM , Rating: 5
I should also point out that the Air Force has a space program of its own which is as big as NASA ever was. They handle most of that weapons and defense stuff.


RE: After reading the title
By superPC on 6/7/2010 1:24:26 PM , Rating: 2
This is unfortunate considering what that money could do if the USAF joined with NASA to make a manned spacecraft instead of going its own way.


RE: After reading the title
By SPOOFE on 6/7/2010 3:05:09 PM , Rating: 4
Yeah, they could be twice as inefficient together as they are individually!


RE: After reading the title
By delphinus100 on 6/7/2010 9:55:43 PM , Rating: 2
But the USAF's responsibility pretty much ends at LEO. They don't care about those who whine about 'been there, done that,' 'tired of going round and round,' etc. Farther out is not their job. Getting (back to) to the Moon or to Mars is good, but it matters not at all from a defense perspective.

But USAF/DoD would probably like better ways to LEO (meaning RLVs) as much as NASA should, they just aren't inclined to pay for it...though this may be changing.


RE: After reading the title
By NA1NSXR on 6/7/2010 7:30:42 AM , Rating: 4
This is the kind of bullshit garbage that makes me reconsider having this feed on my news tab in the first place.


RE: After reading the title
By TSS on 6/7/2010 8:09:33 AM , Rating: 3
Heh you're already behind because the bid for the space-tankers will go on for a couple of decades.

And considering what the chinese are still lending you incredible amounts of money i don't think space-weapons is the thing you need to fear them for. And that's a problem both republicans and democrats are to blame for. For starting it or for not stopping it is both equally bad. Ferrying cargo wouldn't be a problem either if you could turn to the US private sector instead of to the russians.

Besides even the chinese can shoot down stuff in orbit. And it's a bit early to start worrying about Ion cannons.


RE: After reading the title
By zmatt on 6/7/2010 8:48:34 AM , Rating: 2
Nasa is working on new stuff. Private American space companies aren't a bad thing. And if you are worrying about wepaonizing space, I'm pretty sure that's the Air Force's department, not NASA. NASA's goal is to explore space and further mankind's knowledge. I think they haven't been too successful in that lately. Not that they have much competition, so they don't have much to worry about. Others have plans to reach the moon but we are still 40 years ahead of them there. Tony Stark isn't worried about that, he is trying to make a buck getting commercial satellites in orbit cheaply and effectively. national security risk? no. Economic opportunity for high tech jobs and bringing engineers back into the US giving us a new technological lead? you betcha. We were the first to explore space and we will be the first to commercialize it. This isn't a bad thing. NASA has no business getting into commercial LEO rockets anyways.


RE: After reading the title
By zinc183 on 6/7/2010 9:19:50 AM , Rating: 3
It's all about where the money is at. I wouldn't be surprised that this sudden change from Obama is to collect some sort of kickback or payback some favors. It's all about the money and the contracts.


RE: After reading the title
By Mr Perfect on 6/7/2010 7:03:28 PM , Rating: 2
There's no need for kickbacks or payback, we've got good old fashioned federal taxes! I can't imagine how much tax they pay the government when each launch is $8.9 million.


RE: After reading the title
By superPC on 6/7/2010 9:54:59 AM , Rating: 3
Agreed. It's good to have several fully private space launch corporation, but that's the problem. it's private. if the US need to launch a manned secret mission (infiltration of hostile space station for example) it has zero ability to do so. if they launched in through private corporation, it can't be a secret anymore since the corporation have to report to shareholders etc.


RE: After reading the title
By gamerk2 on 6/7/2010 10:19:28 AM , Rating: 2
...Wait, coorporations can't hide stuff from shareholders?

I'm pretty sure something like that would go under the "Other Expsnese" collumn on the income statement anyways...


RE: After reading the title
By Uncle on 6/7/2010 12:00:20 PM , Rating: 2
Ya really. Enron(peace be with them)and some of the other corporations that received bailout money have been fleecing the consumers for years. Shareholders turn a blind eye as long as their bank accounts grow larger. 10 mil to 100 mil CEO earnings and still received bailout money, and not a peep from the shareholders. Ever go to a shareholder meeting, they cheer these asses on. Oh sure they go after the occasional ponzi CEO,only because their isn't any solid assets to collect other then their houses and cars. An occasional fall-guy seems to be enough for the public to consume. The rest of Corporate America continues on its merry way until the public screams for more heads to fall. Someone like a Martha Stewart will become a scape goat.


RE: After reading the title
By zmatt on 6/7/2010 10:25:37 AM , Rating: 2
I'm detecting sarcasm, but i'll bite. who said they can't co-exist? There are simply some things in space that NASA has no business getting involved in. For example workhorse rockets. They are there to explore, not send up satellites for directv. The military would be in charge of infiltrating a Chinese space station anyways. NASA is a civilian organization, their job is exploration and scientific discovery as it pertains to space. Not commercial space endeavors and not space warfare.


RE: After reading the title
By superPC on 6/7/2010 1:16:40 PM , Rating: 2
NASA is a government entities. should the situation arise, it's asset can be used for military purposes. and since NASA no longer have any manned spacecraft, as of right now, the US has absolutely ZERO capability to launched a manned military space mission. it's kind of a waste if the US build a new manned space craft just for the military that can't be used for normal NASA research mission.


RE: After reading the title
By delphinus100 on 6/7/2010 10:01:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
it's kind of a waste if the US build a new manned space craft just for the military that can't be used for normal NASA research mission.


And yet the US government builds specialized combat and research air craft, all the time.

Part of the Shuttle's problem was trying to be all things to all users...


RE: After reading the title
By Jeffk464 on 6/7/2010 1:15:23 PM , Rating: 1
You cant have a secret launch of something this big.


RE: After reading the title
By superPC on 6/7/2010 1:18:55 PM , Rating: 2
we can't have a secret launch but we can have a secret mission attach to that launch, which is impossible to do in a private corporation.


RE: After reading the title
By JediJeb on 6/8/2010 11:45:28 AM , Rating: 2
Just like it was impossible to have a private company build a secret spy plane like the SR71.

I think that through contracts private sector companies can and probably do assist in many "secret missions" that the public never knows about. To say that a private company must tell its board members and share holders every secret would mean that Boeing and Lockheed Martin could never build military aircraft like the F117, B2, and others.


RE: After reading the title
By hashish2020 on 6/7/10, Rating: 0
RE: After reading the title
By delphinus100 on 6/7/2010 10:12:47 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
...if they launched in through private corporation, it can't be a secret anymore since the corporation have to report to shareholders etc.


Hughes. Glomar Explorer. It wasn't anyone on the company payroll that leaked that operation...

Nor would it be the first time any private company handled classified material for the government. (However, it is almost impossible to carry out a secret launch of anything, including radar tracking, even though you may not be sure of what's aboard. Any space-capable nation will know if something's slowly approaching one of their assets...)


RE: After reading the title
By hlper on 6/7/2010 11:59:01 AM , Rating: 1
I am pretty sure Republicans are just against Democrats, and the other way around. It doesn't matter what the idea is, we just can't look like we are working together on anything. And we have to say words like communists and socialized to scare stupid voters.


RE: After reading the title
By Jeffk464 on 6/7/2010 1:09:21 PM , Rating: 1
Nasa, still has plenty of rockets to get cargo into space. Its the manned portion of the space program that it is loosing out on.


RE: After reading the title
By Reclaimer77 on 6/7/2010 6:22:24 PM , Rating: 2
lol yeah seriously, "Republicans cry for socializing space!!!!"

Oh Mick, you kill me.


RE: After reading the title
By delphinus100 on 6/7/2010 9:40:17 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
The US lacking that ability is a huge security issue when China is going full speed to get into space.


How does that follow? (And 'full speed' China can't even average one LEO flight per year, yet...)

quote:
And they're not going to care when the world cries as they weaponize space


Space weapons especially ASATs (as we've seen from both sides, recently) don't have to be manned.

And in any case, how would the so-called 'program of record' have done anything to change this? Constellation would still not have given us Orion/Ares-1 before about 2017. (and would've made a poor, expensive, slow-reaction space fighter) There would still be a 'gap.'


RE: After reading the title
By FPP on 6/8/2010 6:17:34 PM , Rating: 2
I find it interesting that Obama seems to think space travel should be privatized while health care should be nationalized...?...


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