Says 2008 Should See Falcon 1, Falcon 9 Launches
Things have been fairly quiet from
the gang at SpaceX, since the March launch of the company's Falcon
1 launch vehicle. Founder Elon Musk tells ANN, however, that
doesn't mean SpaceX has sat idly by.
"This has been an incredibly busy period for SpaceX and for me
personally, with one side effect being that non-critical tasks like
website updates have been postponed," Musk told ANN this week. "Now
that we have finished submitting materials for the NASA COTS
(Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) demonstration program
critical design review and have hired some additional resources to
help compile information, website updates should be posted every
four to six weeks."
As ANN reported, Falcon 1
performed flawlessly through the first five minutes of the March 20
launch, before a problem developed in the booster's second stage
that prevented the rocket from reaching full orbit. The second
stage, and its payload, likely reentered the Earth's atmosphere
after about a half-orbit -- but given the fate of the company's first launch, Musk
called the second launch an overall success, and said work would
continue on Falcon 1 and the significantly larger Falcon 9
The next Falcon 1 launch is targeted for mid-January of 2008.
"This could have happened sooner, but, in addition to addressing
the flight anomalies, there were some important performance
upgrades that we decided to implement," Musk says.
As for the larger Falcon 9, Musk says development work continues
'round the clock on the larger booster, on track for the first
Falcon 9 launch from Cape Canaveral, FL by the end of next
"More than anything else, the Falcon 9 design is absolutely
focused on reliability," Musk said. "This is one of the few launch
vehicles in the world designed to the higher safety and reliability
standards required for manned spaceflight. Before carrying
astronauts to the International Space Station, the Falcon 9 will
undergo an intense NASA safety review and will be required to have
far higher structural safety margins and ability to tolerate
sub-system failure than are needed simply to launch satellites.
"A significant advantage of the Falcon 9 is the ability to lose
any engine on the first stage and still safely complete the
mission, much as a Boeing 747 can lose an engine and still be ok,"
Musk continues. "Like jet engines, each of our Falcon 9 Merlin
engines is wrapped in a Nomex and Kevlar flak jacket, so that even
a worst case fire or explosion is contained and cannot affect other
engines or the stage itself. In the event of an engine failure, it
just means that the first stage will fire for a little longer than
would otherwise be the case."
Musk also notes that, unlike Falcon 1 -- which flew with several
systems not yet proven in actual flight testing -- the Falcon 9
"will have considerable flight heritage. It will use the same
engines and much of the same avionics, mission assurance processes
and automated health monitoring, as well as hundreds of lessons
learned from Falcon 1.
"The reason SpaceX started out with the Falcon 1 was primarily
so that we could learn our lessons at a small scale before
transitioning to a much larger vehicle," Musk explains. "That said,
I should be clear that the Falcon 1 will always be an important
part of the SpaceX product line -- five of our 11 upcoming missions
are on the Falcon 1."
In related news, Musk says SpaceX continues to grow. The company
currently employs roughly 350 employees, and is looking for more.
But, even more importantly, Musk says SpaceX's books are in decent
"Financially, this is shaping up to be a pretty good year. Even
if we don’t sign any additional launch contracts, it looks
like we will be both cash flow positive and possibly profitable in
2007, our fifth full year of operation," Musk says. "The incoming
cash flow is a combination of payment for the March Falcon 1
flight, mission unique development revenue, NASA COTS milestones
and payments for upcoming launches (we have 11 launches on contract
Specific details of the company's progress on Falcon 1 and
Falcon 9 are available on the SpaceX website.