I’ve been following SpaceX for years, since they were building their first hardware and trying to launch it from a small island in the Pacific. I posted this fall when SpaceX became the first privately-funded company to successfully launch a liquid-fueled rocket into space. That was their Falcon 1 launch vehicle, with 1 engine. They’ve had their Falcon 9 vehicle (9 engines) in development for nearly as long, and just before New Years Eve it was fully integrated on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral! SpaceX took four tries to get Falcon 1 into orbit, and I hope that the first Falcon 9 launch works straight off.
The recent HUGE news for SpaceX is that they were awarded a $1.6 billion (yes, with a B) contract to launch 12 rockets and send 20,000kg (~22 tons) of cargo to the International Space Station. NASA may also elect for additional missions for a total of $3.1 billion total value! They will be competing for longer-term contracts with Orbital Sciences. One difference is that SpaceX will be launching Falcon 9 in the next couple of months, where Orbital doesn’t expect to launch their newly designed vehicle until at least 2010, putting SpaceX a year ahead. An interesting paragraph in this Wall Street Journal article regarding the contract says quite a bit:
SpaceX, which easily came out at the top of all the cost, management and technical rankings, is slated to start flights in late 2010, and the contracts stretch for seven more years.
Anyway, I thought people might enjoy photos of what will likely be the future of commercial spaceflight in the US for many years to come. (All taken from SpaceX’s Updates page.)
Beautiful shot of Falcon 9 at the Cape:
Fully integrated at the Cape:
Fitting the HUGE fairing to the rest of the rocket:
Another shot just before the fairing was attached:
Nine, yes NINE first-stage engines shipping from testing in Texas:
The second stage engine: