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Falcon 1 Lost In First Launch Attempt

File image of Falcon 1 during a recent test firing.
by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Mar 24, 2006
What was meant to herald a new era in low cost spaceflight Friday instead became an object lesson in just how difficult it is to build a new launch vehicle from scratch.

Space Exploration Technologies Inc. has yet to report in detail what happened to Falcon 1, but Elon Musk, the company's founder and chief executive officer, said this in a statement shortly after the loss of the rocket: "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."

Falcon 1 either exploded or veered off course less than one minute into its maiden flight. Lifting off from its launch pad on Kwajalein Atoll, in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, the first privately launched rocket intended to reach orbit seemed to rise flawlessly, at 22:32 UTC, sweeping dust and debris into the lens of the ground-based television camera that was watched by an unknown but presumably large number of viewers around the world on the Internet.

Then, as ground controllers switched to a downward-looking view from Falcon 1's exterior, the image suddenly froze and shortly thereafter the screen went dark and the transmission did not resume. There was no hint of an explosion or course deviation.

Had the flight succeeded, Falcon 1 would have lifted into space 80 years and 8 days after Robert Goddard launched the first liquid-fueled rocket, on March 16, 1926, in Auburn, Mass.

The plan was for the rocket to accelerate to 17,000 miles per hour, or Mach 25, in under 10 minutes, and eventually reach an elliptical orbit between 400 kilometers and 500 kilometers (250 miles and 320 miles), or about 50 kilometers (32 miles) above the International Space Station. Indeed, at one point, about one hour and 15 minutes before liftoff, the ground controller announced that the countdown had been suspended until the "collision-avoidance window" with the station had been secured.

Designed from the ground up by SpaceX, the 70-foot-long Falcon 1 is a two stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen and purified, rocket grade kerosene. The main engine of Falcon 1, called Merlin, was the first all-new American hydrocarbon engine for an orbital booster to be flown in 40 years, and only the second new American booster engine of any kind in 25.

Falcon 1 also was designed to fly using state-of-the-art avionics, which require a small fraction of the power and mass of other systems. It would have been the world's only semi-reusable orbital rocket apart from the Shuttle.

Priced at $6.7 million, the rocket, if it can be flown successfully, will provide the lowest cost per flight to orbit of any launch vehicle in the world, despite receiving a design reliability rating equivalent to that of the best launch vehicles currently flying in the United States, SpaceX said in an earlier statement.

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Musk Vows To Launch Falcon 1 Again Within Six Months
El Segundo CA (SPX) Mar 25, 2006
Space Exploration Technologies Inc. will begin an investigation soon in partnership with the U.S. government to determine what caused its Falcon 1 rocket to fail less than one minute into its first launch attempt Friday.

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