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When purple things are pulsating on your mind, I'm the one whose clock you want to clean. Aiding is Sparky, the Astral Plane Zen Pup Dog from his mountain stronghold on the Northernmost Island of the Happy Ninja Island chain, this blog will also act as a journal to my wacky antics at an entertainment company and the progress of my self published comic book, The Deposit Man which only appears when I damn well feel like it. Real Soon Now.

Monday, March 27, 2006


My pal Elon has had a setback -

Mishap destroys SpaceX Falcon 1 after maiden launch

March 24, 2006
The Falcon 1 rocket, launched by SpaceX, was destroyed shortly after its maiden launch today. Despite an earlier highly successful static test firing off the main engines, this fourth attempt at launch failed during the first stage burn. After clearing the tower, an onboard webcam revealed a swirl of flame around the base of the rocket before contact was lost. Both the Falcon 1 launcher and its Falconsat payload were lost.

It was later revealed that a fire had cut a helium pneumatic line causing the safety valves in the fuel system to automatically close, shutting down the main engine. The cause of the fire and the fuel leak that fed it has yet to be determined.

Falcon 1
Length 21.3 m (70 ft)
Diameter 1.7 m (5.5 ft)
Mass 27,200 kg
(60,000 pounds)
Stages 2
Stage 1
Engines 1 Merlin
Thrust 343 kN
(77,000 lbf)
2.6 kN·s/kg
(255 s (sea level))
Burn time 169 s
Propellant RP-1/LOX
Stage 2
Engines 1 Kestrel
Thrust f 31 kN
(7,000 lb)
3.2 kN·s/kg
(327 s (vacuum))
Burn time 552 s
propellant RP-1/LOX
200 km, 28° 670 kg (1480 lb)
400 km, 51°
580 kg (1280 lb)
700 km
(Sun synchronous)
430 kg (950 lb)

The Falcon 1 is a semi-reusable launch vehicle, designed and manufactured by SpaceX to provide commercial launch-to-space services. The two-stage-to-orbit rocket uses Lox/RP-1 for both stages, the first powered by a single Merlin engine and the second powered by a single Kestrel engine.

It is the world's first privately funded and developed liquid-fuelled orbital launch vehicle, and is currently priced at US$6.7 million.


The Falcon 1 is designed to minimize price per launch for low-Earth-orbit satellites. It is also intended to verify components and structural design concepts that will be reused in the Falcon 5. The first stage returns by parachute to a water landing and is recovered for reuse, while the second stage is not reusable.

First-stage view of the Merlin engine.

First stage

The first stage is made from friction-stir-welded aluminum alloy. It employs a common bulkhead between the LOX and RP-1 tanks, as well as flight pressure stabilization. It can be transported safely without pressurization (like the heavier Delta II isogrid design) but gains additional strength when pressurized for flight (like the Atlas II, which cannot be transported unpressurized). The resulting design has the highest mass fraction of any current first stage. The parachute system, built by Irvin Para­chute Corp­oration, uses a high-speed drogue chute and a main chute.

Until SpaceX gains experience with reusing the first stage, the quoted price presupposes that no reuse of the first stage is taking place. If and when the recycling process is perfected, the launch price may be expected to drop.

Second stage

The second stage tanks are built with a cryogenic-compatible aluminum–lithium alloy. The helium pressurization system pumps propellant to the engine, supplies pressurized gas for the attitude control thrusters, and is used for zero-g propellant accumulation prior to engine restart. The pressure tanks are made by Arde corporation and are the same as those used in the Delta IV. They consist of an inconel shell wrapped by a composite.

Launch sequence

Launch sequence (maiden flight example);
time scale is in seconds.

The main engine is ignited and throttled to full power while the launcher is restrained and all systems are verified by the flight computer. If the systems are operating correctly, the rocket is released and clears the tower in about seven seconds. First-stage burn lasts about 2:49 minutes. Stage separation is accomplished with explosive bolts and a pneumatically actuated pusher system. See the launch sequence timeline below for more details.

Launch sites

The Falcon 1 can be launched from five different sites, with the maiden flight scheduled for Kwajalein and the second flight scheduled for Vandenberg.

First flight failure

The Merlin engine on fire during launch of the first Falcon 1 flight.
The Merlin engine on fire during launch of the first Falcon 1 flight.

The date for the maiden flight of the Falcon 1 had been postponed several times for a number of reasons, including engine problems and being forced by Vandenberg to change launch locations due to delays in the launch of a Titan IV rocket. The maiden flight was planned for Saturday, 26 November 2005, from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands carrying a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency payload, but was postponed until mid-December. The payload was the United States Air Force Academy’s FalconSAT–2, which would have measured space plasma phenomena.

During the launch attempt of 19 December 2005, a faulty valve caused a vacuum condition in the first stage, which got sucked inward and was therefore structurally damaged. A decision was made to replace the first stage for this launch and repair the damaged stage for later reuse.

The new target date for the launch was set for 10 February 2006 with a static firing countdown rehearsal scheduled for the day before. However, project managers were unsatisfied with the results of that test and decided to lower the vehicle for closer inspection. Launch on the maiden flight took place on Saturday 25 March 2006 at 09:30 local time (22:30 UTC, Friday 24 March 2006).

The vehicle had a noticeable rolling motion, as shown on the video before the feed was lost, rocking back and forth a bit, and then at T+26 seconds rapidly pitched over. The rocket impacted the ocean, apparently on its side, at about T+41 seconds.

The first official statement from Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX read:

"We had a successful liftoff and Falcon made it well clear of the launch pad, but unfortunately the vehicle was lost later in the first stage burn. More information will be posted once we have had time to analyze the problem."

On March 24, Space X's website for the official maiden voyage of Falcon 1 said, "Early insights from investigators examining Friday's failed launch of the first SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket suggest a fuel leak triggered a fire that ultimately brought down the booster", the company's founder said today.

The launch vehicle crashed onto a dead reef located about 250 feet from the launch site. During the impact the FalconSAT–2 payload separated from the booster, was thrown high into the air, and then crashed through the roof of a machining room on the island. Reports of damage to the payload range from slight to significant.[1]

While Musk said in November 2005 that he would not be deterred by the failure of the first launch attempt, he added "if we have three significant failures, then we probably don't know what we are doing. I question whether anyone would want to launch on us if we had three significant failures... We would probably exit the business." [2]

Further missions

The second mission is scheduled to launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying a Naval Research Laboratory Tacsat and a Space Services Incorporated space burial payload (which will include remains of James Doohan, Gordon Cooper, and others). This was intended to be the original maiden flight, but delays in a Titan IV launch from the Vandenberg complex had a knock-on effect to SpaceX.

Launch log

Date & Time Flight Payload Result
24 March 2006 at 22:30 UTC
(25 March 09:30 local)
1 FalconSat–2 Failure at T+25 seconds
loss of vehicle; payload recovered

See also


  1. ?Someone's looking out for that satellite...”, Kwajalein Atoll and Rockets, 25 March 2006.
  2. ?Launch could lead to new age of tourism”, San Francisco Chronicle, 25 Nov 2005.

External links


Type Private
Founded 2002
Location El Segundo, California
Key people Elon Musk: CEO and CTO
Industry Aerospace
Products Orbital rocket launch
Revenue unknown
Employees 160

The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is a space-transportation startup company whose stated goal is to improve the cost and reliability of access to space "ultimately by a factor of ten". It is based in El Segundo, California.

SpaceX is developing a family of mostly reusable two-stage keroseneliquid-oxygen launch vehicles. The Falcon 1 is designed with a reusable lower stage, while the larger Falcon 5 and Falcon 9 will be the world's first fully reusable launchers and have multiple first-stage engines.


SpaceX was founded in June 2002 by CEO/CTO Elon Musk, who had also co-founded startup companies Zip2 and PayPal, and who so far has invested in SpaceX about $100,000,000 of the fortune he gained through the sales of his two previous companies. Although Musk has stated that he could financially handle a couple of early-launch failures, he also has said "If we have three consecutive failures […] it's not clear to me that we know what we're doing and maybe we should go out of business."

As of November 2005, the company has approximately 160 employees.[1] The launch crew in the Marshall Islands comprises 25 persons, with 6 in mission control. This small number of employees, when compared to other companies that produce similarly sized rockets, is part of the cost reduction that Musk is trying to achieve. He sees other rocket manufacturers as providing space-launch services at an unreasonably high price to support an unnecessary bureaucracy.

Launcher versions

For comparison:

Version Falcon 1 Falcon 5 Falcon 9 Falcon 9 Falcon 9-S5 Falcon 9-S9
Stage 0 2 boosters with 5 × Merlins each 2 boosters with 9 × Merlins each
Stage 1 1 × Merlin 5 × Merlin 9 × Merlin 9 × Merlin 9 × Merlin 9 × Merlin
Stage 2 1 × Kestrel 1 × Merlin 1 × Merlin 1 × Merlin 1 × Merlin 1 × Merlin
(max; m)
21.3 47 47 53 53 53
1.7 3.6 3.6 3.6 3.6 3.6
Initial thrust
318 1,890 3,400 3,400 ? ?
Takeoff weight
27.2 154.5 ? 290 ? ?
Fairing diameter
(Inner; m)
1.5 3.6 3.6 5.2 5.2 5.2
(LEO; kg)
570 4,100 9,300 8,700 16,500 24,750
(GTO; kg)
1,050 3,400 3,100 6,400 9,650
(Mil. USD)
6.7 18 27 35 51 78
11,754 4,390 2,903 4,023 3,091 3,152
17,143 7,941 11,290 7,969 8,083
Success ratio


Falcon 1 was developed and launched first.

Maiden flight

The first Falcon 1 at Space Launch Complex—Three West (SLC-3W), Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The maiden launch of the Falcon 1s occurred on 24 March 2006, at 22:30 UTC (09:30 local time, 25 March), from Omelek Island, in the Kwajalein Atoll. After 29 seconds of flight, the main engine failed, leading to loss of the vehicle soon thereafter. An investigation of the cause of the propulsion failure is underway. High-resolution photography of the launch shows the engine on fire during ascent.

The company provided a live webcast of the flight from various launchpad cameras, with mission-control voiceover. The webcast showed water-dump, ignition, and pad liftoff. The view switched to an onboard camera, with the atoll clearly receding in the background. About 40 seconds into the flight, the webcast ceased.

The 19.5-kilogram (43-pound) United States DARPA payload FalconSAT-2 was built by United States Air Force Academy cadets to investigate the phenomenon known as "space weather", or plasma in the upper atmosphere. The planned orbit was 450 kilometers (280 miles).

The Falcon 1 maiden flight was originally scheduled for 1:00 P.M. PST (4:00 P.M. EST, 9:00 P.M. GMT) on March 24. An unplanned hold of about 90 minutes occurred because a ship tasked with recovery of the first stage was in a restricted down-range zone.

On March 17 and March 22, before the maiden flight, two static firings were performed in order to validate the rocket hardware and launch procedures.

On November 26, 2005, a launch attempt was postponed ("scrubbed") because of weather and ground-related holds. On December 19, 2005, a second scrub occurred when a faulty valve caused the first-stage kerosene tank to deform during an unfueling maneuver. Subsequently, the launch tower was redesigned to reduce liquid-oxygen boil-off and to avoid wind-related holds. On February 10, 2006, further static testing led to a delay for an unspecified cause.

See also Ariane 5 Flight 501 for comparison.

Upcoming launches

The second Falcon 1 launch will loft a Naval Research Laboratory Optical Sciences Division Tacsat payload from Vandenberg Air Force Base's Pad 3W. This launch was originally scheduled for early 2006, but presumably will be postponed several months, according to This flight was originally scheduled to carry a secondary payload, arranged through Texas-based Space Services, Inc.: memorial capsules containing the cremated remains of 187 persons, including Project Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper and Star Trek actor James Doohan.

The maiden launch of the Falcon 9 is scheduled for late 2007, with a U.S. government payload, followed by a launch, in the first quarter of 2008, with a payload of a Bigelow Aerospace Genesis Pathfinder expandable space-station module[1].

On May 2, 2005, SpaceX announced that it had been awarded an Indefinite Delivery/Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for Responsive Small Spacelift (RSS) launch services by the United States Air Force, which could allow the Air Force to purchase up to $100,000,000 worth of launches from the company. [2]

Future development

Manned orbital spaceflight: SpaceX Dragon

Main article: SpaceX Dragon

The SpaceX Dragon is a conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule spacecraft, capable of carrying 7 people or a mixture of personnel and cargo, to and from low Earth orbit. The nosecone of the vehicle has a hinged cap which opens to reveal a standard ISS Common Berthing Mechanism, which allows the Dragon to dock to the US segment of the ISS. The capsule is being developed by SpaceX, a space transportation startup company.

The Dragon capsule will be launched atop a Falcon 9 vehicle. SpaceX has built a full-sized prototype of the vehicle and "thoroughly tested" its life support system. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has stated that he plans to have the capsule enter service by 2009.

The vehicle is part of a proposal submitted on March 3, 2006 for NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program for commercially delivering cargo and crew to the International Space Station. SpaceX's team for the COTS proposal consists of a number of companies, including MD Robotics, a Canadian company which built the International Space Station's Mobile Servicing System, a robotic arm with a mobile re-attachable base. They intend to use the robotic arm to simplify docking with the space station.

While currently focused on the launch of unmanned spacecraft, SpaceX has announced that it plans to pursue a manned commercial space program through the end of the decade. [2] SpaceX seeks to win America's Space Prize, which will award $50,000,000 to the first US company that launches at least 5 astronauts on a privately financed and developed reusable spacecraft to low Earth orbit twice within 60 days before 10 January 2010. The company has also expressed an interest in competing for crew and cargo resupply contracts to the International Space Station (ISS) under the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

More details of the manned program were released on March 6, 2006.[3] The SpaceX Dragon is a conventional blunt-cone ballistic capsule, capable of carrying 7 persons or a mixture of personnel and cargo, to and from low Earth orbit. The nosecone of the vehicle has a hinged cap, which opens to reveal a standard ISS Common Berthing Mechanism, which allows the Dragon to dock to the U.S. segment of the ISS.

The Dragon capsule will be launched atop a Falcon 9 vehicle.

Heavy lift launchers

On September 8, 2005, SpaceX announced the development of the Falcon 9, an upgrade to the Falcon 5, which would have nine Merlin engines in its first stage.[4][5] The design is an EELV-class vehicle, intended to compete with the Delta IV and the Atlas V rockets. As in the Falcon 5, all stages will be designed to be reusable. The configuration of Falcon 5 has been changed, so that it is now a downscaled Falcon 9 with five Merlin engines in its first stage and not completely fueled tanks. According to the SpaceX updates webpage, the company has been working on the test stand for the Falcon 9, called the BFTS. This test stand will need to provide for the 350-metric-tons-force (3.4-meganewtons) of thrust that the 9 Merlin 1Bs are capable of delivering. The test stand has been built to withstand 1500 metric-tons-force (15 meganewtons) of thrust.

Additionally, SpaceX has announced plans for the development of the Merlin 2 engine, a scale version of a larger F-1-class engine to be developed in the future. The company is rumored to be working on a very large rocket to accompany the F-1-class engine, known as the BFR.[6] In the past, Musk has said "Long?term plans call for development of a heavy?lift product and even a super-heavy, if there is customer demand. We expect that each size increase would result in a meaningful decrease in cost per pound to orbit. For example, dollar cost per pound to orbit dropped from $4,000 to $1,300 [$8,800/kg to $2,900/kg] between Falcon 1 and Falcon 5. Ultimately, I believe $500 per pound [$1,100/kg] or less is very achievable." On other occasions, Musk has stated that he expects to be able to offer a price of $1,000 per kilogram by 2010.

Satellite systems

In January 2005, SpaceX bought a 10% stake in Surrey Satellite Technology, Ltd.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:


Sparky wants this to work ASAP.


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