SpaceX conducts another flawless test of its Falcon 9 rocket

launch of falcon 9 on initial test flight June 2010

The second test flight of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket proceeded without a glitch and brought routine commercial spaceflight a step closer to reality. Image: CC Wikimedia Commons

SpaceX launched the second test flight of its Falcon 9 rocket Wednesday. Objectives of the Falcon 9 test flight included another successful launch and separation and re-entry into the atmosphere of the Dragon spacecraft. The outcome of the Falcon 9 test flight will determine how soon SpaceX can begin commercial spaceflight missions to the International space Station.

SpaceX Falcon 9 hits another bullseye

After lifting off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., the SpaceX Falcon 9 achieved orbit without a glitch and released the Dragon space capsule. About 90 minutes later, the Dragon splashed down as planned in the Pacific Ocean. Wednesday’s test flight was the second of three Falcon 9 tests required by NASA before SpaceX begins cargo deliveries to the International Space Station. SpaceX has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA for 12 missions after the space shuttle fleet is taken out of service. The space shuttle Discovery will embark on the final mission of the program in February.

Falcon 9 continues to beat the odds

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is a two-stage, 180-foot-long orbital vehicle designed to be more reliable and significantly more cost effective than the space shuttle. In June SpaceX conducted a flawless initial test flight of the Falcon 9, an unprecedented achievement in the complex, risky business of space travel. SpaceX engineers gave the second test flight a 70 percent chance of success. Wednesday’s launch was delayed after small cracks were detected in a second stage engine nozzle, but the problem wasn’t enough to abort the test flight.

The future of commercial spaceflight

After the space shuttle is retired, the U.S. will rent space aboard Russian Soyuz rockets until SpaceX and Orbital Sciences, another company NASA picked as a commercial spaceflight contractor, begin regular operations. SpaceX won the race to the launchpad in June after spending eight years and $400 million to design and build the Falcon 9. SpaceX has priced its cargo missions to the space station from $50 million to $56 million per round trip. Each shuttle flight costs NASA about $1 billion. If a third test flight is successful, SpaceX could begin flying cargo to the space station next year. The company said it will be ready to ferry astronauts to the space station in about three years.


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