McGregor TX – Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) conducted the first nine engine firing of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle at its Texas Test Facility outside McGregor on July 31st. A second firing on August 1st completed a major NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) milestone almost two months early.
“This was the most difficult milestone in development of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and it also constitutes a significant achievement in US space vehicle development. Not since the final flight of the Saturn 1B rocket in 1975, has a rocket had the ability to lose any engine or motor and still successfully complete its mission,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. “Much like a commercial airliner, our multi-engine design has the potential to provide significantly higher reliability than single engine competitors.”
SpaceX is developing a family of launch vehicles intended to increase the reliability and reduce the cost of both manned and unmanned space transportation, ultimately by a factor of ten. With its Falcon line of launch vehicles, powered by internally-developed Merlin engines, SpaceX offers light, medium and heavy lift capabilities to deliver spacecraft into any altitude and inclination, from low-Earth orbit to geosynchronous to planetary missions. SpaceX currently has 12 missions on its manifest, excluding the two previous Falcon 1 demonstration flights, plus indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contracts with NASA and the US Air Force.
As a winner of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services competition (COTS), SpaceX is in a position to help fill the gap in American spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS) when the Space Shuttle retires in 2010. Under the existing Agreement, SpaceX will conduct three flights of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft for NASA, culminating in Dragon berthing with the ISS. SpaceX is the only COTS contender that has the capability to return cargo and crew to Earth. NASA also has an option to demonstrate crew services to the ISS using the Falcon 9 / Dragon system. SpaceX is the only COTS contender that has the capability to return pressurized cargo and crew to Earth. The first Falcon 9 will arrive at the SpaceX launch site (complex 40) at Cape Canaveral by the end of 2008 in preparation for its maiden flight.
Founded in 2002, the SpaceX team now numbers more than 500 full time employees, primarily located in Hawthorne, California, with four additional locations: SpaceX's Texas Test Facility in McGregor near Waco; offices in Washington DC; and launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific.