Critical Section

SpaceX into orbit

Tuesday,  10/07/08  10:23 PM

Last Sunday I noted that SpaceX had successfully launched their Falcon1 rocket into orbit.  This is an incredible accomplishment, amazing really that they were able to do this as a privately funded company, on their own.  It was "only" their fourth launch, which given that everything must work in order for success to occur, is pretty great.  My admiration for my ex-Paypal-boss Elon Musk knows no bounds, he is an amazing person who is able to assemble teams of amazing people and get them to do amazing things.  I'm not embarrassed to admit that a part of me wants to pick up the 'phone and ask Elon for a job :)

Space X Falcon 2 launch videoSpaceX Falcon1 launch videoSpaceX have just released a detailed launch update, with lots of great pictures and including a really cool five minute video of the launch highlights (here it is, for your viewing pleasure, set to a nice driving rock beat, too).

It is worth emphasizing again that this is a different sort of accomplishment to that done by the Ansari X-prize contestants, including winner Burt Rutan and SpaceShipOne.  As remarkable as that was, it consisted of building a launch vehicle and going "into space", formally defined as a 100km height.  SpaceShipOne reached a height of 112km and a top speed of 2,300mph (that speed was reached lower in the flight; by the time the craft reached 112km it was traveling zero, and then descended back to Earth).  In contrast, SpaceX's Falcon1 rocket had to reach an altitude of 640km in order to attain Earth orbit, at which point it was traveling 16,901mph.  It had to expend nearly 30 times as much energy as SpaceShipOne in order to do this.  In addition to putting itself into orbit, it also brought a payload of 340kg along with it, to demonstrate the future capacity to launch satellites and otherwise do useful work.  It is anticipated that the upcoming Falcon9 will be able to haul a payload of 10,000-25,000kg into orbit.  That means it could bring people into orbit, and puts it squarely into competition with NASA :) 

Of course the key capability with people is to be able to bring them back, and this remains to be demonstrated.  Stay tuned!

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