After three separate failures, Space Exploration Technologies (or SpaceX) got the Falcon 1 into space.
Falcon 1, SpaceX’s liquid-fueled rocket, lifted off its launch pad at the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Defense Test Site on September 28 at 7:15 p.m. EDT. "As the saying goes, the fourth time’s the charm," said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. "This is one of the best days of my life."
This momentous occasion for the private space travel industry was not without errors or sacrifice. Since Musk, who was the co-founder of PayPal, founded SpaceX back in 2002, Falcon had launched three previous times, all ending short of their goal in a brilliant flash of light. The first attempt was victim to fire caused by a fuel leak shortly after launch. The second attempt was nearly a success, but an early shut down of the rockets second stage ended the near-completed run. Back on Aug. 2, an engine timing issue caused the rocket’s first stage to separate, and then collide with the second stage, abruptly ending the flight.
However, the fourth attempt was a complete success, ending with an Earth orbit that ranged from 310 to 434 miles, or 500-700 kilometers. "This is really just the first step for SpaceX," said Elon after the launch. "We’ve shown that we can get to orbit, [and] we’ve shown that we don’t have any design errors...The team is elated and ecstatic."
According to Space.com, "The booster stands 68 feet tall (21 meters) tall and is designed to haul payloads of up to about 1,256 pounds (570 kg) to low-Earth orbit." On Sunday nights launch, the Falcon 1 was carrying a 364-pound dummy satellite, which the SpaceX team nicknamed RatSat. The satellite should stay in orbit for anywhere between five and ten years. As for the fifth iteration of the Falcon 1, it should launch sometime in early 2009, and will carry a Malaysian satellite as well as several other payloads.
Currently, SpaceX is also working on the Falcon 9 rocket, a big brother of sorts to the Falcon 1. The Falcon 9 is due to be tested down at NASA’s Cape Canaveral launch pad in the summer of 2009.