Private rocket launch successful on maiden flight (Update 3)

Jun 04, 2010
The SpaceX Falcon 9 test rocket lifts off of pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The privately-owned US firm SpaceX launched a rocket on its first test flight Friday, in what observers say is a milestone for the space industry and in the race to develop commercial carriers.

A privately owned rocket successfully blasted off on its first flight, marking a significant milestone for the space industry in the race to develop commercial carriers.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket blasted off in mid-afternoon Friday from Cape Canaveral in Florida, reaching Earth orbit as planned nine minutes into the flight.

"All in all, this has been a good day for SpaceX and a promising development for the US space program," said Robyn Ringuette of SpaceX, who provided commentary on the launch from the firm's headquarters in Hawthorne, California.

The two-stage rocket delivered the Dragon capsule, a mockup of the company's spacecraft aimed to eventually facilitate human space travel, into orbit after a 9.5-minute trip.

The first and second stage of the white, 180-foot (55-meter) tall rocket separated successfully just three minutes and six seconds into the flight.

"Congratulations to Space X on today's launch of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement.

"Space X's accomplishment is an important milestone in the commercial transportation effort and puts the company a step closer to providing cargo services to the International Space Station."

Technical glitches initially delayed the launch, including an automatic computer override of the system that led SpaceX to abort its first attempt.

The launch represented a key test in developing commercial launchers capable of ferrying cargo and astronauts to the orbiting International Space Station (ISS).

It came as President Barack Obama seeks to convince a reluctant Congress of the merits of his decision in February to cancel the Constellation program -- designed to return US to the moon by 2020 -- which effectively killed the Ares 1 rocket.

He has turned to the private sector to help fill the gap after the space shuttle fleet is grounded later this year, and before a new generation of spacecraft is developed.

Obama has proposed spending six billion dollars over five years to help the private sector develop reliable and affordable launchers to transport cargo and US astronauts to the International Space Station.

During the transition period, the United States will depend on Russian Soyuz rockets for access to the ISS -- unless the private sector can propose viable launchers.

The president visited SpaceX installations at Cape Canaveral during an April visit to the Kennedy Space Center.

SpaceX leaders emphasized that the Falcon 9 launch was just the first in a series of test flights.

"As a former Apollo astronaut, I think it's safe to say that SpaceX and the other commercial developers embody the 21st century version of the Apollo frontier spirit," said Rusty Schweickart, who served as an astronaut aboard the Apollo 9 lunar mission.

Former space shuttle astronaut Byron Lichtenberg said he expected that many more astronauts would travel in space thanks to the Falcon 9's success.

"Lower cost launches means more flights, which means more astronauts," he added.

"We've only had 500 astronauts in the history of the Space Age, but I hope to see thousands more in the decades to come."

NASA has already signed contracts with SpaceX -- or Space Exploration Technologies Corporation -- a start-up founded eight years ago by multimillionaire Elon Musk, who made his fortune by helping found and eventually sell online pay system PayPal.

The NASA contracts, signed in late 2008 and worth 3.1 billion dollars, are to deliver cargo to the ISS between 2011 and 2016.

The US space agency has also signed contracts with another company, Orbital Sciences Corp. Its Taurus II rocket is set for its first flight in 2011.

SpaceX and other upstarts would be up against industry giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin, which together operate United Launch Alliance (ULA), whose stable includes Atlas V and Delta 4 rockets that have logged considerable flight hours.

SpaceX founder Elon Musk, a dot.com 'renaissance man'

SpaceX founder Elon Musk is a hard-charging former Internet entrepreneur who has channeled a dot.com fortune into a series of ambitious ventures -- from space flight to electric cars to solar energy.

Besides SpaceX, whose Falcon 9 rocket blasted off on its maiden voyage on Friday, Musk, 38, is the co-founder of electric carmaker Tesla Motors and SolarCity, a company which makes solar panels for homes and businesses.

Born in South Africa to a South African father and a Canadian mother, Musk moved to Canada in his late teens and then to the United States, earning bachelor's degrees in physics and business from the University of Pennsylvania.

After graduating from the prestigious Ivy League institution, Musk abandoned plans to pursue further studies at Stanford University and started Zip2, a company which made online publishing software for the media industry.

He banked his first millions before the age of 30 when he sold Zip2 to US computer maker Compaq for more than 300 million dollars in 1999.

Musk's next company, X.com, eventually became PayPal, the online payments firm bought by Internet auction giant eBay for 1.5 billion dollars in 2002.

Over six feet (1.8 meters) tall with a high forehead and a piercing gaze, Musk acknowledges that his personal intensity has been a key to his success.

"I believe in really pushing super hard and not giving up," Musk said in an interview with Time magazine for its latest issue on the 100 most influential people in the world.

"As long as I can see a path to success I'll keep going so long as I have the resources to do so," he said.

In 2002, Musk launched SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies Corp., where he serves as chief executive and chief technology officer, with plans to develop low-cost rockets.

The US space agency NASA has contracted SpaceX to help deliver cargo and astronauts to the Internernational Space Station while a new generation of space vehicles is being developed to replace the space shuttle.

Musk hopes to eventually send a manned mission to Mars but space flight is just one of his many passions.

Jon Favreau, director of "Iron Man," calls Musk a modern-day "Renaissance man."

In an article for Time, Favreau said that he and actor Robert Downey Jr. modeled the main character in the movie -- "genius billionaire Tony Stark" -- after the Silicon Valley star.

Musk told Time that his goal was to be "involved in things that are going to make a significant difference to the future of humanity.

"That was the motivation for getting involved in the Internet and then sustainable energy with Tesla and SolarCity," he said.

Musk founded Palo Alto, California-based Tesla in 2003 to manufacture "affordable electric vehicles for mainstream consumers."

Tesla's first vehicle, the Tesla Roadster, is a high-performance sports car which costs over 100,000 dollars and can go nearly 250 miles (400 kilometers) on a single charge.

Its owners include California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hollywood star George Clooney. Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page are investors in the company.

In January, Tesla announced plans for an intial public offering of stock and Toyota said last month it was acquiring a 50-million-dollar stake in Tesla and teaming up to jointly develop electric vehicles.

Tesla is also making a "Model S" five-passenger sedan. Expected in 2012, the Model S is to sell for around 50,000 dollars.

Tesla has yet to turn a profit, however, and the company has reportedly eaten up much of Musk's once vast fortune. Musk has also poured 100 million dollars of his own money into SpaceX over the years.

Musk's financial situation has come to light in his divorce case from his Canadian-born wife, science fiction writer Justine Musk.

According to technology blog VentureBeat, Musk wrote in a February filing in their divorce case that he "ran out of cash" late last year and has been living off personal loans from friends since October 2009.

Justine Musk, mother of their five sons, which include triplets, has been chronicling the divorce proceedings on her blog, "Love, soul & vision."

One post she sarcastically titled "Golddigger" outlined her demands from her "billionaire and utterly brilliant" husband, including a request for 10 percent of his stock in Tesla and five percent of his SpaceX shares.

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User comments : 19

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Yelmurc
Jun 04, 2010
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
frackingawesome
4 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
YAY!
TAz00
4 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
Provide a link to http://www.spacex.com/ please
daen
5 / 5 (5) Jun 04, 2010
Well done to Elon and the good people at SpaceX. I'm not sure how many "firsts" this flight achieved, but there are many of them. First second-stage ignition by a completely private company springs to mind, among others. And I can imagine hearts jumped into mouths after that first abort ... As far as I see it, that just means the safety systems work well :-) But second time round, the views from the cameras were all that was needed to see that everything had gone better than expected. Once again, amazing work.
trekgeek1
5 / 5 (4) Jun 04, 2010
Elon Musk knows exactly how to approach the future. I believe he is also the owner of Tesla motors. Electric vehicles and space exploration.
nygiantsrobert
1.8 / 5 (4) Jun 04, 2010
Wonderful to see the launch succeed...but..."It would be a great day if we reach orbital velocity, but still a good day if the first stage functions correctly, even if the second stage malfunctions," the company said...comments like that make me wonder if SpaceX has real faith in their system...Was this a lucky first-try fluke ???
boznz
3.5 / 5 (2) Jun 04, 2010
Well done to all concerned
JCincy
3.7 / 5 (6) Jun 04, 2010
Fantastic! Congratulations SpaceX!

I'm disappointed that the Obama administration chooses to make drastic cuts in NASA's budget while throwing money at the technological dead end known as Chrysler.

Renting Russian space shuttles too reach the ISS is a sad commentary on our space program. JFK must be weeping.
ralph_wiggum
5 / 5 (4) Jun 05, 2010
This is the future. Government-funded space exploration is a dead end. The government will and should continue to support basic research and other not immediately monetizable scientific endeavors. But after 50 years and many billions of dollars in satellites, zero-G research, and tourism at stake it's time to make orbital flights and eventually all US spaceflight purely commercial. Regardless what you think of Obama's other actions -- this is the next logical (and probably overdue) step for space exploration, as it would be for any other industry.

I don't care if China spends $100 billion on a Moon or Mars mission as long as the US has half a dozen companies able to do the same for 1/5 the cost if there were paying customers.
Yaz
not rated yet Jun 05, 2010
Congrats. What are those 4 towers around the launch for, "im guessing attitude control during launch", not sure. What are they called?
Eikka
5 / 5 (3) Jun 05, 2010
This is the future. Government-funded space exploration is a dead end.


All the technology behind SpaceX exists because of government funding. The whole thing stands on the shoulders of NASA's technology, with a thin veneer of private enterprise put on top to cover up the fact that none of this would exist if it wasn't for the taxes paid and work done by the government to put technology and people in space.

Because governments are good at what they do. They see a goal, and they go there, and even though they do it very inefficiently like climbing a mountain at the steepest cliff, they get there eventually. Private business only goes where there's profit, and there is no profit in space until all the systems are mature enough so they can simply hop onboard the show and start selling peanuts.
Mayday
3.4 / 5 (5) Jun 05, 2010
Eikka, I think you missed the point of the first sentence. This is about the future, not the past. Yeah, shoulders of giants and all that, but today, and for the foreseeable future most world governments are moving toward the socialist-liberal ideals of "wealth-redistribution." That frame of mind doesn't put many payloads into space.

I'm afraid that for as far into future as anyone might be able to gaze, only the most maniacal and tyrannical socialist governments will look to space. And not necessarily for the most admirable purposes.

Going private may be our last, best hope.
spacester
5 / 5 (3) Jun 05, 2010
@ Mayday: Bingo!

@Eikka: Um, no. The shoulders of giants, yes, but SpaceX has built this rocket from a blank sheet of paper for low operational cost and high reliability. They have developed a spectacular series of brand spanking new rocket engines, which are currently under production by the scores, fully qualified and ready to change the game in commercial launches.

The BoeLockMart world sucked at the government's teat with cost-plus contracts for decades and while Pratt & Whitney (now Boeing) did create the awesome RS-68, they were never going to bring the cost of access to LEO down until a guy like Elon Musk came along.

Elon is going to take us to Mars. Just so you know.
spacester
5 / 5 (2) Jun 05, 2010
@Yaz: Lightning towers.

@ralph_wiggum: Yessir. You get it. It is a great time to be a space enthusiast!

@JCincy: Um, a $6 Billion dollar boost is actually a "cut" how?

@daen: What if the Falcon 9 ends up NEVER failing? Wouldn't that be something? It is possible.

@Elon Musk: Congrats to you and your team, and know that I for one am not surprised at the successful orbital insertion, nor am I reading anything in the gossip columns about you. Keep working towards our future as a space-faring civilization.
spacester
not rated yet Jun 05, 2010
@nygiantsrobert: That is a delightfully ironic question, from my perspective. A lucky first try? Far from it. SpaceX is all about reliability. Once the kinks are worked out, the murphy's law stuff, the design concept emerges. It is a robust package.

SpaceX has enemies. I can point you to the forums where his company is routinely subjected to written abuse. This was in fact a test flight. Privately, Musk had very very high expectations for this flight. But as a test flight, with all the politics going on right now, it was critical that the public understand the nature of flying test flights.

A second-stage failure would have been a huge disappointment for Elon's team.
RobertKLR
not rated yet Jun 06, 2010
Everybody's a comedian. Well done, SpaceX!
Eikka
not rated yet Jun 06, 2010

@Eikka: Um, no. The shoulders of giants, yes, but SpaceX has built this rocket from a blank sheet of paper for low operational cost and high reliability.


The Merlin rocket engine in Falcon is based on a design that was built for the Apollo missions lunar lander under government contract.
po6ert
1.5 / 5 (2) Jun 06, 2010
behind every great man there is a woman telling him he is wrong. marriage is a trap that genius should avoid or if that is impossible a very strong pernup agreement would be advisible to avoid being gored ( pun intended )
gold2_718
not rated yet Jun 08, 2010
Does anyone know where the capsule is? SpaceX says they achieved orbit but have been mum about which orbit or even if they know where it is. Did they lose it?
spacester
5 / 5 (1) Jun 10, 2010
The batteries have already run out. The orbital test article was about as dummy of a spacecraft as they get.

As it is still attached to the second stage, I am sure it is being spotted by backyard observers.

I suppose you could day they "lost it" but they never intended to NOT lose track of it. It'll burn up in a year or so.

And of course NORAD is all over the situation and could tell you exactly where it is if you really wanted to know. But then they might have to kill you. :D