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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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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!


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