back to article SpaceX Falcon 9 achieves orbit on maiden flight

The SpaceX Falcon 9 launched on its maiden flight on Friday at 11:45am Pacific Daylight Time, 15 minutes short of the end of its four-hour launch window. As live-blogged on the Space Exploration Technologies website: Posted June 04, 2010 11:45 Pacific Time T+ 00:00:06 Liftoff! Posted June 04, 2010 11:46 Pacific Time T+ 00: …


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  1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge


    ...those prices actually are pretty reasonable. Good for them!

  2. Dug Fin

    SpaceX and NASA

    First, the picture in the article is not of the rocket launched June 4th. The one pictured has a large payload shroud while the flight rocket did not. Photoshop strikes again.

    More importantly the relationship between NASA and SpaceX is more complex. NASA worked hard to keep new hardware development "in house" and many NASA employees are going to be negatively affected by the success of Falcon 9 and the planned Dragon vehicle.

    If you were to sample the material from the NASA PR machine a year ago you would have to work quite hard to find mention of Falcon 9, Dragon or SpaceX because it was not what the bureaucracy in NASA wanted. It was something forced on them by the Bush administration that is now being adopted by the Obama administration as its own idea. NASA wanted Aries.

    Don't be fooled, there are many in NASA who wish that the contracts with SpaceX might never be fulfilled.

    1. Vulch

      Photoshop not required.

      That's just the vehicle they were using at the start of the year to practice procedures with. The failure of the first Falcon 1 flight was due to corrosion in components caused by longer than normal exposure to the elements while they did similar testing so for the 9 they've used two vehicles instead of one.

      The hammerhead shroud will be used for non-Dragon payloads.

    2. Anonymous John

      Re SpaceX and NASA

      Just about all the job losses will be due to retiring the Shuttles. Even if Constellation goes ahead, it will need a smaller workforce. Contractors, rather than NASA employees.

      Privatising low Earth orbit activities was inevitable. The Ares I would only have had a limited role in supporting the ISS.

  3. cphi

    he actually *did* it

    been following these guys since before the first Falcon 1 blew up. absolutely remarkable achievement. congratulations. perhaps we might finally get the space industry we've all been waiting for ever since Apollo was concluded.

  4. jake Silver badge

    Well done, guys & gals!

    ::insert standing ovation here::

    Things sure have changed since I worked at Bigger Blue ... Onwards & upwards!

  5. Bruce Hoult
    Thumb Up

    risk reduction worked

    A really great effort!

    I'm not 100% sure, but with nine 1st stage engines this may set the record for the most ever in a successful stage. Saturn V had 5 in each of the first two stages. The Soviet N1 moon rocket had 30 in the 1st stage and 8 in the 2nd stage but it never successfully got to the end of the 1st stage burn.

    SpaceX made a few mistakes along the way and learned a few lessons, but they seem to have managed to do all the learning with the much smaller and cheaper Falcon 1, which had only 1 of the same kind of engine in the first stage. There is a large amount of commonality between the two rockets.

    1. Mike Richards


      How many engines did the Energia stack have? I think it was at least eight - four on the core and whatever were on the boosters.

      This is a good strategy for cost-reduction - make lots of reasonably reliable engines and a design that can tolerate a certain amount of failure rather than a few highly reliable, highly expensive engines which has traditionally been the American approach.

      The Soviets of course had no choice with their engines on both the R7 and N1 - they simply couldn't build big enough engines, so they clustered lots of relatively small motors. Worked though - even the N1's engine has turned out to be a star on the Atlas V.

      1. TeeCee Gold badge


        ".... even the N1's engine has turned out to be a star on the Atlas V."

        Difficult not to be. As it's not only a closed cycle unit, but an oxygen rich one to boot, its efficiency is off the scale compared to anything NASA have produced.

        They built it the old way: Take plans, build engine, test engine, BANG, fix bit that went bang, test engine, BANG, repeat until working engine achieved, redraw plans from result. NASA's "ticks in boxes" style involves going back to redesign / planning whenever anything (including BANG) goes wrong. They reckon it would have taken them at least 30 years to go through the number of design iterations the Russians did in two.

        But NASA and their contractors have a process and a focus on safety, which makes it all ok....

  6. Chris Hawkins

    Pretty good for a guy from Pretoria High!

    Well done Elon Musk,

    It is amazing that South Africa has produced two very successful entrepreneurs who have succeeded in breaking the mold in space and in open source software.

    What Musk and Shuttleworth have managed to do, nothing short of taking on the establishment, is breaking the mold in their respective fields because they believed they could do and were not afraid to try. It is interesting that neither hail from countries of the "old world".

    NASA has done so much but it must get back to r & d and the difficult things. Routine missions to orbit and even the moon must be commercialised.

    I was stunned by the efficiency of the launch which I watched live via the excellent quality webcast. It was better than NASA and the down-view video link continued in high quality colour until the craft reached orbit and flew out of range. It was also interesting that after the first launch abort, the team were able to clear the glitch within 90 minutes and launch successfully. Has Nasa ever done this?

    I would love for El Reg to promote and organise the first journalist in space and El Reg reader to the ISS or round the moon mission, when the Dragon capsule is ready. El Reg could make a mint on video transmission rights alone....

    Four Seats....

    - Commander Pilot ?

    - El Reg Hack: Lester Haines ?

    - El Reg Reader....

    - Paris?

    1. Rumcajz

      re: Four Seats....

      A paper airplane (Paris) doesn't need it's own seat, Lester can hold it on his lap*. I suggest the fourth seat goes to amanfrommars.

      * Also, I don't think the paper plane would survive re-entry from orbit...

  7. Rattus Rattus
    Thumb Up

    Nice work guys!

    Well done!

  8. Andus McCoatover


    Seriously well done, folks.

    I must admit to having a little chuckle to - what? a dozen million bucks on the first stage that lasted precisely 3 minutes, but...I suppose it did the job well.

    Makes BP's oil slick bill of 69 million greenbacks for 47 days start to look quite reasonable.

  9. moth

    most 1st stage engines?

    @Bruce Holt:

    that probably depends on whether you are counting combustion chambers or turbopumps. The soviet R7 series rockets have 20 main first stage chambers, grouped in fours to share five sets of turbopumps.

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up

    Historically new rocket designs have a 1st lauch 50% success rate.

    You can bet the SpaceX team learned a hell of a lot from the 3 F1 flight failures and 4th successful launch. Some of it subtle, most probably that lots of little poorly attended to details can stick you right in the back if your not careful. Hopefully they have also documented this experience for the future.

    Pre launch they stated that success was a spectrum. Perfect orbit was at the best end, pad failure the worst.

    I don't think we've seen *anything* from OSC, the surviving recipient from the last round of COTS funding (and a typical NASA con-tractor, successor to the equally NASA loved Rocketplane-Kistler).

    Right now NASA *could* have a crew rated, crew *carrying* US mfg and designed capsule carrying US astronauts from a US launch site to ISS by June 2013 (BTW that schedule has a 6 month float built into it )

    AFAIK Orion (the capsule) is still on a diet to fit it on Atlas V for "lifeboat" duties. When it's out of design review it *might* start construction.

    As others have pointed out a sizable chunk of NASA bureaucracy don't want *anything* that's not NASA designed carrying humans from a US launch site. But NASA is a *federal* agency. If I were an American now would be a good time to put pen to paper and mail my Congressman and/or Senator to get NASA to fund the COTS-D (crew transport option of the commercial Orbital Transportation Services programme) option.

    Obviously thumbs up to SpaceX. It's not just how far they've come. It's how *little* money (in comparative terms) they have spent doing so. Much of it outside the North Alabama Space Administration's home turf.

    1. hayseed

      Free Enterprise

      Things are about to heat up in competition!! Don't you love free enterprise!! Red, White, and Blue!!

    2. hayseed

      OSC not a con

      What do you have against OSC? The OSC Pegasus launched the X-43a, and the Pegasus is a neat way for very small satellites to be launched on rockets that don't spend half their fuel overcoming dynamic pressures. They have NOTHING to do with idiots like Rocketplane-Kistler.

      1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


        "OSC not a con"

        I did not say it was. I said government con-tractor. My usual short hand way of describing companies that have *very* limited business outside of government contracts. Essentially their *major* skill is producing powerpoint presentations to promise the earth and ensure the enormous paperwork (and AFAIK a lot of it still *is* on paper) that the endless US government procurement regulations required, backed up by a well supplied lobbying machine. With cost+, who *cares* if it doesn't (or in some cases could never) work?

        On the cost front I think you'll find Pegasus has the *highest* cost per lb to orbit of any US expendable launcher. It's only the fairly small payload that keeps the total cost down (the design estimated cost *doubled* about the time they took on a mfg of solid rockets as a partner, based on Dr Elias's paper at the 2003 Responsive Space conference). It makes *interesting* reading.

        SpaceX received c$270m to build a new launcher based on growing their current design (with key machinery already acquired) using common propellants and engines in both stages and a new capsule which was designed from day 1 to be crew rated.

        OSC received the remaining funds from the RK award when RK could not match the NASA funding (probably due to VC houses noticing they had the same team on board that had spent c$900m to get a bunch of parts made while Spacex had done 4 launches on c$250m)

        Now OSC are planning to design, build, test and launch a new 2 stage launcher (liquid fueled 1st stage, solid fuel 2nd) and a capsule for c$170m

        Or rather they are promising to *supervise* the design of this hardware (AFAIK Allient are doing the SRB and the Russians doing the 1st stage using Russian designed engines that I suspect they got surplus when the Kistler contract when down the pan). Which *might* mean the capsule will be made in house. Or maybe not.

        Maybe Russian design and mfg costs really *are* that lower. And the solid 2nd stage is a piece of cake with *no* vibration or combustion instability problems. All of which will go together (with *no* integration effects bought on by mating a solid 2nd stage with a liquid 1st stage) for 40% less than the conceptually *much* simpler SpaceX design.

        So their 1st launch of this *totally* new vehicle (whose structure is unlike either the Pegasus or original Taurus designs they have an experience base in ) will go without a hitch (despite the historical trend that 1st new vehicle launches are 50% successful).

        OTOH SpaceX has 5 launches of experience to shake down its operations and 2 successful launches, one of its COTS entry. All of OSC's hardware progress (and the actual knowledge of how to make this progress) seems to reside in their subcontractors. They are *aiming* for a 1st launch in 2011.

        I remember the X33. $1bn for a bunch of NASA sponsored parts building and the elimination of funding to any serious competition to the ELV launch business of Lockmart.

        I hope there *will* be competition and OSC does have a new successful (crew rated) launch vehicle. Competition can be good for innovation.


  11. Bruce Hoult

    most 1st stage engines?


    Yeah, definitions are tricky. The original R7 had a central core with four chambers, which served as both part of the 1st stage and the entire 2nd stage, plus four strap-on boosters with their own fuel tanks to serve as a 1st stage, much like the SRBs on Shuttle, except they were similar in design to the core.

    Given that the N1's problems were due to the plumbing complexities of running a number of pumps and engines off the same tank, I think the separation of those in the (earlier!) R7 mean it doesn't count for this purpose. Each of the nine engines on the Falcon 9 has it's own nozzle, chamber, and pumps, and they all feed from the same tank.

  12. shawnfromnh


    Finally we have an alternative to NASA's overpriced and padded infrastructure. NASA was great years ago but now they are just an expensive bloated part of government. I can't wait till Space X is as large as they are and are not a burden to the US taxpayer but instead a contributor that pays taxes and also offers reasonable costs to getting equipment and people launched into space.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "I can't wait till Space X is as large as they are and are not a burden to the US taxpayer but instead a contributor that pays taxes and also offers reasonable costs to getting equipment and people launched into space."

      Well you might have to wait a while for that. The deal that NASA has inked with both SpaceX and OSC still leaves payload around $20000 lb. Time will tell if SpaceX uses what *should* be a substantial profit to offer genuine lower (and for price elasticity in this market that would have to be about $1000/lb) costs to commercial customers or accept the golden handcuffs that come with sucking on the federal nork. NASA might start ratcheting that price down in the next round. I hope it does and it should be possible, *provided* there are at least 2 competitors for each launch. BTW NASA *does* contribute to the US economy.

      Its manned section (based around Alabama) in particular pay several thousand civil servants (and the prime contractor USA) a great deal of money to pump into the local economy and pay taxes.

      Of course if you mean act as a *net* contributor IE *not* govt funded, that would be different. A subtle point often wasted on politicians.

      That would mean competing at *global* prices which IIRC were at most 1/2 that of the EELV launch prices (which were meant to be lower than the ELVs they replaced so the USAF would not feel so shafted on every satellite it launched compared with anyone who was allowed to say use an Ariane launcher).

      ULA whined they could not compete with global launch prices. So they got free cash in the for of subsidies for "Assured access." It's interesting that COTS is in *principle* designed to insure "assured crewed access" to ISS for the US, but without the subsidy.

      Competing globally for launches means no more 1200 page launch commit criteria (you can download it. It makes *long* reading), 100 (Ariane), not 4000 staff to prep a launch. GNC algorithms that don't need 20000 hours of staff time to simulate a 15 minute flight (that's not a number I pulled from a bodily orifice) and an end to the stupid, stupid ITAR regulations.

      Actually I quite like ITAR. It has probably stimulated more independent work on aerospace components world wide (in order to not get your project held in the US because the documents for your space spec components are in a 6 month long queue while the 3-4 people in the DoD who do this stuff work through the rest of the pile). BTW on ITAR the US treats the UK just about the same as it would treat North Korea). And as one US aerospace staff member said "It's so close to a protection racket I can't tell the difference"

      If these items can be consigned to history maybe you have a chance of seeing foreign customers *come* to the US for a launch on a *regular* basis.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        ITAR response

        ITAR is a very big pain in the posterior.

        Even if you get a TAA in place so that US people can talk to you in the UK, they will still only tell you Jack Sh1t!

        I take Technical support calls from the US

        "Your XYZ product doesn't work properly"

        "XYZ is an incredibly complex product, can you tell me what section you think does not work, and how your are testing it?"

        "No and no. But we need it fixing by next week or the £xM order is scrapped!"

        ... Yes, I have actually had that conversation on more than one occasion!

        Or when helping with Sales support from the US

        "We quite like you XYZ product, but it doesn't quite do what we want"

        "What would you like changing?"

        "Can't tell you"

        "What is the intended system, so that we can make an educated guess as to what you require?"

        "Can't tell you"

        "What do you want us to do?"

        "Create 3 or 4 datasheets for similar products to XYZ, and we'll tell you if we want to buy any of them"

        Working with the US might be very frustrating, but I can assure you that the French aerospace customers are far more demanding and just as secretive.

  13. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Well done, Mr Musk

    D D Harriman would have been proud.

    1. Tom Cooke

      @Neil Barnes

      Great Heinlein reference.

      Historic day.

      That's all.

  14. Joe Blogs 1

    It's a conspiracy!

    I for one welcome our new Falcon 9 overlords...

  15. Parax


    saw it live, it was a good show, but could do with a better commentry ('s, comentry was good but the techincal isues they were having made it unwatchable)

    So does anyone know why the first launch attempt aborted? it looked like the engines did not spin up, was this another forgot to turn the helium on issue?

    It alos looks like Falcon9 caused a stir in Australia about an hour after launch, More spirral UFO's Lots of pictures too:

  16. Ian Halstead
    Thumb Up

    That capsule...

    Looks like a cgi of a Playmobile scene to me.

    1. Doogs

      re: That capsule...

      Reminded me of something else.

      "Get your money for nothing and your chicks for free..."

  17. Dale 3

    Wait until the bank holiday...

    ...and everything will be half price.

  18. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Now they have a sussecful flight under their belt

    What's the betting they will schedule the other COTS flights in by the end of the year?

    *Full* COTS (*Except* the crew transport element) certification by Jan 1st 2011.

    NB The crew escape system is *not* a simple solid rocket. The Apollo system had about 4 separate motors to carry out different functions and the tower carried the "Q ball" local wind direction sensor. AFAIK no US mfg has developed anything of that size and complexity (ejector seats seem to have pretty complex pyrotechnic sequences) since. Given SpaceX's willingness to study prior art but not be a slave to it they might just as well go with some sort of throttleable pressure fed like a set of oversized draco thrusters.

    Mines the one with a copy of Sutton 4th Ed in the side pocket.

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