Today at 4:15 PM (PDT) the private company SpaceX successfully launched its partially reusable Falcon 1 rocket into orbit for the first time after a string of three prior failures. The rocket, and the company, was built from scratch over the last six years with the goal of reducing the cost of launching payloads, and eventually people, into orbit. In doing so, SpaceX has developed the lowest priced launch vehicle in the world, at $7 million/launch, and only the second privately-financed orbital rocket in history. Orbital Science’s Pegasus rocket was the first, and until today the lowest-cost orbital launcher in the world, costing $30 million/launch.
However, while the Falcon 1 rocket itself is a worthy accomplishment, it is particularly noteworthy because it serves as a test bed for the much larger, fully reusable, Falcon 9 rocket that is scheduled to fly in 2009. If successful, it will be the first fully reusable launcher in history and provide the lowest-cost per pound of any launcher in the world. NASA has a contract with SpaceX to fly demonstration cargo flights of the Falcon 9 and its Dragon space capsule to the International Space Station and could enter into a contract to fly astronauts as soon as 2011 in the seven person capsule.
You can watch the launch video at SpaceX’s Web site.
Falcon 1 Flight 4 liftoff. Image courtesy of SpaceX.