Chair Force Engineer

Sunday, September 28, 2008

One small launch for a rocket, one giant leap for newspace

My hat goes off to SpaceX for successfully achieving orbit on the fourth launch of Falcon I. I'm sure a lot of observers of this industry, and a lot of space enthusiasts feel the same way. It's been a rocky road to get to this point, and the road will be even bumpier from here out. But with that being said, this is a brief moment for SpaceX to bask in the glory of achieving orbit with a privately-developed vehicle.

The only concern I have from watching the launch video feed is all of the debris that seemed to hang around the second stage nozzle. With that being said, I thought that separation was much cleaner than on the previous flights.

While Falcon I has found success, Falcon IX will be a much tougher challenge. With nine Merlin engines on the first stage and a single Merlin on stage 2, it's a much more complex vehicle than Falcon I and its pairing of one Merlin with one Kestrel.

Another factor worth considering is the long-term profitability of SpaceX. The Pegasus launcher is case-in-point. Also developed with private funds, the Pegasus program was launched with claims of low cost per each kilogram of payload to orbit. Due to a lack of missions and a low launch rate, Pegasus prices skyrocketed beyond what was initially projected. SpaceX hopes that Falcon IX will have a high flight rate thanks to COTS and space tourism missions. But if these goals aren't met, Falcon IX will turn into little more than another fairly-expensive EELV-class rocket like Delta or Atlas.

With all that being said, today is a very encouraging day. The accomplishments of SpaceX leading up to today's launch may be more important than the other government-funded space stunts of this past week, at least in terms of advancing humanity's permanent presence in space.

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