Private rocket company SpaceX is about to attempt a launch of its next spacecraft, the new Falcon 9. One of the private rocketeers that might soon supplant or even replace the U.S. manned space program, SpaceX wants to use the Falcon 9 to eventually launch humans into space. For now, weather permitting, the company needs to get Falcon 9 through its first unmanned test flight.
This spacecraft uses the same SpaceX Merlin engines, avionics and aluminum-lithium alloy/carbon-fiber structure of the Falcon 1 vehicle that launched successfully a couple of years ago. However, the much larger Falcon 9, about the same height as the stacked Space Shuttle, has nine of those Merlin engines clustered together in the first stage, rather than the one of the Falcon 1. Cranking out 1.1 million pounds of thrust in its first stage, this rocket is designed for much bigger payloads.
Perhaps stinging from the three unsuccessful attempts before the success of the fourth Falcon 1 launch in 2008, SpaceX reps appear to be concerned about the success of this mission, as you can tell from the qualifying statements within their latest press release:
"It's important to note that since this is a test launch, our primary goal is to collect as much data as possible, with success being measured as a percentage of how many flight milestones we are able to complete in this first attempt. It would be a great day if we reach orbital velocity, but still a good day if the first stage functions correctly, even if the second stage malfunctions. It would be a bad day if something happens on the launch pad itself and we're not able to gain any flight data."
The launch window opens tomorrow at 11 a.m. Eastern Time, with another window opening Saturday at that same time. You'll be able to watch the launch on a webcast here starting at 10:40 EDT, and we'll keep you posted as the story develops. We're rooting for you, SpaceX!