From NASA’s confused, convoluted and underfunded Constellation program to the de-funding of it in favor of a non-existant plan, there has been little good news from the American space program. There is one exception, however. SpaceX has been making great progress in the design and testing of the Falcon 1 and 9 rockets. The Falcon 9 is especially exciting. It’s the first space launch vehicle to be developed 100% privately, the first completely new liquid-fueled rocket in decades and the first American rocket capable of completing a mission with an engine failure since the lastSaturn-IB lifted off in 1975.
The Falcon-9 is designed to be human rated and is complete with the Dragon capsule, designed to carry cargo and eventually humans to Low Earth Orbit. The rocket also can be configured as the Falcon-9 Heavy, which consists of three core boosters and is capable of lifting 28 metric tons to LEO, putting it ahead of the mighty Russian Proton rocket, the current most popular heavy lift ELV, and exceeding the capacity of all current ELV’s with the exception of the ultra-heavy configuration of the Atlas-V.
SpaceX also hopes to make the Falcon-9 considerably cheaper than other rockets. The vehicle is intended to be partially reusable, with stages being retrieved after parachuting back to earth. If the design meets projections, it may set a new standard for the economics of heavy lift vehicles and possibly help reestablish the United States as a major player in the commercial satellite launch business.