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Commercial rocket goes to the Cape


Posted on behalf of Ashley Yeager

In just a matter of days, the first Falcon 9 (F-9) rocket will be assembled on Florida’s famous launch site, Cape Canaveral.

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the private California-based company responsible for designing the F-9, successfully launched its Falcon 1 rocket into low-earth orbit in September. Falcon 1 can carry a 1-tonne payload, and its successful blast-off marked what SpaceX hoped would be the dawn of a new, substantially cheaper, era of space flight, Nature news reported.

The delivery of the first of F-9’s three booster stage flight tanks to the Cape on 22 December puts SpaceX well on its way to having “a fully integrated launch vehicle by year’s end,” Elon Musk, chief executive officer and chief technical officer of the company, wrote on the Falcon 9 progress update site.

All of the hardware for the rocket has either already arrived or is on its way to the launch site, and the company is now preparing for F-9’s first flight, scheduled for 2009.

The rocket should be able to carry 12 tonnes of payload into low-Earth orbit or more than 4 tonnes to a geostationary transfer orbit, a key staging spot for astronauts or cargo heading to the Moon or Mars. The F-9 could also serve as an additional supply vehicle for the International Space Station (ISS).

As NASA is winding down its space shuttle program for 2010, it is looking for vehicles to service and resupply the ISS. SpaceX already won NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services competition to service the ISS. As the Falcon 9’s estimated launch cost of $37 million is about a third of the cost of competing launchers, the company also hopes to win the US space agency’s Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract to provide reliable, safe and cost-effective cargo delivery services to the ISS.

Musk is “cautiously optimistic” that SpaceX will win the contract, according to the Orlando Sentinel. However, Orbital Sciences Corp. and a PlanetSpace team including, Lockheed Martin, Boeing and ATK, are also vying for the job.

NASA will announce its choice for the CRS contract today, 23 December.

Top image: the first stage, as it arrives in Cape Canaveral/SpaceX.


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