Space X Falcon 9 rocket launch ushers in commercial spaceflight

The Space X Falcon 9 rocket on the launch pad at night

The Space X Falcon 9 rocket launch represents a major step away from NASA toward the commercialization of spaceflight. Flickr photo.

The Space X Falcon 9 rocket achieved Earth orbit in its first launch test Friday. The Falcon 9 represents a new direction in low-orbit cargo resupply missions away from government-sponsored programs toward commercial spaceflight. Friday’s launch, was the first flight test of the Falcon 9, a two-stage, 180-foot-high rocket carrying a mock-up of the Space X Dragon capsule. The successful launch sets the stage for commercial spaceflight to the International Space Station for NASA.

Commercial spaceflight worth billions

The Space X Falcon 9 is being sent into orbit as NASA’s space shuttles are being sent into retirement. Universe Today reports that SpaceX plans to fly up to three Falcon 9/Dragon test missions for NASA. Cargo deliveries to the International Space Station could begin with the Falcon 9’s fourth flight as early as next year. Space X has a $1.6 billion contract to take on some of the resupply duties that will no longer be handled by the space shuttle fleet. Another company, Orbital Sciences Corp, has a $1.9 billion station resupply contract with NASA. Orbital Sciences Corp. will start testing its Taurus 2 rocket next year.

Falcon 9 rocket is a bargain

The Space X Falcon 9 rocket is powered by the first new U.S.-made rocket engines in nearly a decade. The Orlando Sentinel reports that Space X, founded in 2002, has attracted hundreds of former employees from NASA and its aerospace contractors to the companies’ facilities in California, Texas and Florida. Space X founder Elon Musk is investing $100 million from the fortune he made by selling PayPal to pursue a goal of making spaceflight more affordable. Musk has attracted another $300 million from investors. NASA is still spending $300 million a month on the Constellation moon-rocket program President Obama will cancel at the end of the year.

Falcon 9 launch date roulette

The odds were against a successful Falcon 9 rocket test. Spaceflight experts give the typical launch test a 50-50 chance. Musk told reporters Thursday that he gauged the chances of a successful Falcon 9 launch at 70 to 80 percent. The chances of surviving a Russian-roulette trigger pull are 83 percent. “So if anybody remembers that scene from ‘The Deer Hunter,’ that’s tomorrow,” he said. With successful earth orbit on its first test flight, the Space X Falcon 9 defied the odds in spectacular fashion.

Space X: more Falcon 9 tests planned

It took four launches  for Space X to get its earlier Falcon 1 rocket to orbit. MSNBC reports that some in Congress and the space community have serious doubts about the ability of Space X and other commercial companies to meet NASA’s requirements for future spaceflight. But Musk said the survival of Space X or commercial spaceflight would not depend on the outcome of the latest Falcon 9 launch date. Space X was planning to continue with a series of launches regardless of the outcome of the Falcon 9 test.

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