Friday, June 4, 2010

SpaceX Falcon 9 - Shrinking the Gap?

In the wake of the mess I like to call the ADHD space policy, SpaceX is a name at the forefront of companies who are shaping a new chapter in human spaceflight, at least to near-Earth orbit, and some day will enable 500 people to go to space not in 50 years but in a year or less.

Optimism aside, as we're talking space access here, there are many steps between now and achieving this goal. Today SpaceX made a big step towards proving the viability of commercially designed and built rockets and platforms. At 2:45pm Falcon 9 made its inaugural flight into orbit. From its first stage with nine Merlin engines through separation, second stage and telemetry, the launch went without a hitch except for being delayed when a safety system aborted the launch 2 seconds before the initial launch, demonstrating the ability to recycle very quickly after an abort.

I watched the launch on-line just like I watched the Ares I-X launch last October. Unlike the Ares launch, this one felt much more forward looking - When launched, Ares-I was already slated to be scrapped by the Augustine Commission. However, Falcon 9 will probably become the first commercial platform to get supplies and in several years maybe astronauts to the International Space Station, lowering costs and allowing NASA to focus its efforts towards longer term and farther goals.

Here's a video of the launch in case you missed it:

And here's a forward looking rendering of how a manned mission may look like:

I think that The Gap, the time between retiring the Space Shuttle and when humans will launch from the United States to space again, has shrunk today. It is still there and there will be setbacks before it becomes an unpleasant memory, but today was a demonstration of cooperation and innovation which will be necessary to move forward with human spaceflight.

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