As reported by The Associated Press, SpaceX enjoyed a highly successful launch this morning from its newly christened and highly historic 39A launchpad at Kennedy Space Center. The launch had to be scrubbed Saturday – with only 13 seconds left on the clock before the engines were ignited – when a potential problem with the steering system was detected.
Saturday’s SpaceX Launch Delay
Even though Elon Musk himself said that the chance of anything going wrong with the Falcon 9 launch was extremely small – even with the anomaly – SpaceX chose to err on the side of caution for this launch, with Musk tweeting:
“99% likely to be fine, but that 1% chance isn’t worth rolling the dice. Better to wait a day.”
This is hardly surprising, given that SpaceX has had only one successful launch – from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base – since the fiery accident it experienced last year that destroyed one of its Falcon 9 rockets on the ground before launch. A great deal of money and reputation are riding on SpaceX’s ability to more consistently carry cargo – and ultimately personnel – into Earth orbit and beyond.
Sunday’s Successful Launch
The successful launch on Sunday of the SpaceX Falcon 9 is another step in Elon Musk’s short-term goal of getting back on track toward carrying out much more regular launches. According to The Verge, Musk and SpaceX wants in short order to transition to launches every 2-3 weeks. This would be a staggering increase over the current rate of launches by the company. If achieved, the company might finally reach the point where its operations become profitable.
SpaceX also wants to soon begin reusing the first stages of the Falcon 9 rockets it has recovered. If the company can successfully refurbish and reuse these rocket stages multiple times at minimal additional expense, it would be possible for them to slash their current cost for launch from $60 million to perhaps less than $40 million.
Interestingly, this reduction of roughly 30 percent is far less than the savings they will get by reusing these rocket stages. This means that the company’s profits will – nope and intended – start to so were once the Falcon 9 re-usability is confirmed and becomes a regular thing.
Supplying the International Space Station
The SpaceX Dragon capsule – lifted into orbit by the Falcon 9 – is currently one of the few means by which the orbiting international space station can be resupplied. The interruption in the supply stream caused by the accident SpaceX experienced last year was an inconvenience, but hardly a disaster.
At the same time, if SpaceX wants to move on to carrying personnel up to the space station – as they have contracted with NASA to do in a few years – they will have to demonstrate a long and consistent streak of reliability and safety in their launches.
While the Dragon 2 – the version of Dragon that will carry astronauts into orbit – will be supplied with an escape system so that astronauts can in theory survive a launch accident, this obviously is not something NASA would want to have to rely on regularly. They would much rather the SpaceX rockets smoothly carry the capsules up into orbit without incident.
More than this though, if SpaceX is going to be successful in its much more long-term goals of traveling to Mars and establishing massive, self-sustaining human colonies there, reliability and re-usability of its rockets are going to be essential. This is not only because humans will be unlikely to climb aboard a rocket they think has a high chance of exploding. Reliability and re-usability will also vastly reduce the costs involved in such an incredible project.
[Featured Image by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]