Rocket Being Touted As Space Shuttle Replacement
It's an entirely new concept. Not the rocket its self, that
works like most rockets do. But in the case of the Falcon 9, a
rocket designed and financed by a private company rather than the
government could become the nation's primary delivery vehicle for
cargo, and eventually crew, to the International Space Station.
That's what's riding on the looming first launch of the Falcon
9, designed by Space-X. And founder Elon Musk says the pressure to
perform is enormous.
If the Falcon 9 launch is successful, NASA, Congress, and the
White House will be much more comfortable proceeding with
commercial space ventures, which are a big part of President
Obama's stated long-term goals for space exploration. If Falcon 9
suffers a significant launch failure, then it will strengthen the
hand of some in Congress who want to see a continuation of the Ares
1 program, currently scheduled for cancellation along with the
entire Constellation program which former President George W. Bush
envisioned for retuning men to the moon.
MSNBC reports that Musk estimates a Falcon 9 launch should cost
about $50 million, while the launch of an Atlas 5, NASA's current
utility rocket, runs about $138 million. Those are the savings that
have drawn the attention of the White House. Atlas and Delta
rockets launch the majority of non-human payloads into space under
the auspices of the Unite Launch Alliance, a joint venture of
Lockheed Martin and Boeing.
President Obama personally joined Musk for a tour of the Falcon
9 launch complex at Cape Canaveral recently. The smaller Space-X
Falcon 1 rocket was unable to attain earth orbit until the 4th and
5th tries, which increases the pressure on the Falcon 9 initial
launch. Musk says the first countdown may not go all the way to
zero. He said if anything looks the least bit out of place, the
launch will be scrubbed and rescheduled.
Falcon 1 Launch
Currently, Space-X is waiting for approval from the Air Force
for Falcon 9's flight termination system. The best estimate for a
scheduled launch of the spacecraft is sometime late in May, but
Musk said the second rocket is already being built, and a new
Falcon 9 can roll off the assembly line every three to four months
once production ramps up.