‘Space tourism’ may just become a reality with the successful launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 private rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Friday. Touted as an important milestone for private role in the launch industry, the 180-foot rocket delivered a dummy Dragon payload into the planned 155 miles high orbit. The success, which came after an initial abort at the time of ignition, has cleared the decks for private flights to the International Space Station as soon as next year.
The two-stage space vehicle had 10 engines, of which nine were first stage Merlin engines. It was powered by RP-1 kerosene rocket fuel and liquid oxygen. There was a four-hour launch window for the rocket and the liftoff took place at 3 hours and 45 minutes. There was one abort as one of the engines returned above normal pressure reading.
The rocket was build by SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, also an Internet entrepreneur. The flight assumes special significance in the light of President Obama’s space priorities. According to these, NASA would mainly be concerned with deep space exploration, while low-Earth orbit would be turned over to the private players.
Relief and ecstasy summed up the mood at SpaceX after the rocket achieved orbit, Musk said. People have put in a lot of hard work, sweat and blood into it, he added. Basic objectives of the Falcon 9 rocket are to carry cargos and supplies to the International Space Station and to bring experiment samples and equipment back to earth.
Obama recently visited the Kennedy Space Center to delineate the NASA’s role in future. His plan included use of commercial rockets for cargo and crew transport to the International Space Station, while NASA will be mainly concerned with deep space missions. However, Obama’s plans have invited sharp criticism from some Members of Congress and astronauts, notably Neil Armstrong. They maintain that allowing greater role to private companies would dilute NASA’s edge in space.
SpaceX now plans to launch a fully loaded rocket and capsule in summer, while the flight to the space station would have to wait till next year.
The successful launch of SpaceX Falcon 9 resulted in a wave of joy among space enthusiasts, who has been following the developments closely for last several months. There was a flurry of congratulatory messages. Charles F. Bolden Jr., NASA Administrator said that it is an important accomplishment that brings the company at the threshold of providing cargo services to the International Space Station. Byron Lichtenberg of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation and a former NASA astronaut remarked this launch would increase the number of astronauts in the future. Lower cost launches translate into more astronauts, he explained.
While private industry have been making NASA rockets since long under NASA control, Falcon 9 is different in the sense that it is fully private and a lot less expensive. Aviation majors such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing are expected to join the bandwagon soon.