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SpaceX Falcon 9 launch scheduled

Posted by Richard on June 3, 2010

The inaugural flight of Space Exploration Technologies Corporation's Falcon 9 launch vehicle is scheduled for this Friday, with a backup launch date of Saturday. The launch window on both days is from 11 AM to 3 PM Eastern, and the launch will be webcast here.

The Falcon 9 is SpaceX's next step in cheap, reliable private space transportation. Its predecessor, Falcon 1, has already successfully placed satellites into orbit. Falcon 9 will provide much greater payload capacities, including the reusable Dragon crew and cargo capsule that's expected to be used to resupply the International Space Station. 

One of the few decisions President Obama has made that I wholeheartedly agreed with was the cancellation of NASA's Ares/Orion shuttle replacement program in favor of relying on private companies like SpaceX. Unfortunately, after an uproar from all the vested interests and their congresscritters (Republican and Democrat), he backpedaled, so now it's going ahead in some kind of scaled-back form.

When Obama originally cancelled Ares/Orion, SpaceX CEO/CTO Elon Musk succinctly stated the argument against the breathtakingly expensive shuttle replacement: "The President quite reasonably concluded that spending $50 billion to develop a vehicle that would cost 50% more to operate, but carry 50% less payload was perhaps not the best possible use of funds."

Orion was designed to carry four people and cost $1.5 billion per flight. SpaceX's Dragon capsule will carry seven people in crew configuration. SpaceX has a contract with NASA to resupply the ISS using Falcon 9 and Dragon. The cost? $1.6 billion for twelve flights. Total. Just a smidge more than a single Orion mission.

I hope the Falcon 9 flight goes well (although a failure or limited success wouldn't be a big deal; the first Falcon 1 launch failed, but it went on to success). The commercialization and privatization of space flight can't come soon enough. As Glenn Reynolds says, "Faster, please!"

UPDATE (June 4): Woohoo! A completely successful inaugural launch:

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time
T+ 00:09:34 Please continue to check SpaceX.com for additional flight information, including photos and videos as they become available!

Posted June 04, 2010 11:54 Pacific Time
T+ 00:09:04 Falcon 9 has achieved Earth Orbit!

Unfortunately for me, it happened while I was out getting lunch. Oh, well — I'm sure they'll post a video here soon enough.

UPDATE 2: The first video clips are available. 

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