SpaceX Rocket Achieves Earth Orbit on First Flight -Signals New, Commercial Space Era

Space-x-orbit The first flight of a privately developed rocket that may eventually carry NASA astronauts to space took off Friday afternoon and reached orbit in what appeared to be a nearly flawless trip signaling what may experts believe is the start of the private. commercial space era.

The Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, SpaceX for short, launched the 154-foot, 735,000-pound Falcon 9 rocket from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, heading east over the Atlantic. The nine first-stage engines ignited at 2:45 p.m. and burned for three minutes before dropping into the ocean while the second-stage engines burned about six minutes to place a dummy payload capsule almost perfectly into the target orbit 155 miles above the Earth.

“We achieved 100 percent of our objectives on the mission,” said Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and chief executive as well as  electric vehicle maufactuer, Tesla Motors CEO.

The two stage, 180-foot rocket left the pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at about 2:45 p.m. Eastern. It achieved earth orbit nine minutes later. The lauch this afternoon followed several delays earlier in the day including a sailboat that had wandered into an off limits area near the launch site and an attempt that was aborted just seconds before ignition due to an engine related issue.

Musk hopes to use the Falcon 9 to compete against United Launch Alliance — a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed-Martin. SpaceX hopes to use the rocket to power Dragon, a craft that could carry cargo — and perhaps people — to the International Space Station. The Obama Administration wants to rely more heavily on private firms to supply the station.

SpaceX was awarded $3.5 billion in contracts by NASA to deliver cargo to the ISS through 2016.  SpaceX’s first rocket launch, the Falcon 1, occurred in 2008 after several failed first attempts. The Falcon 1 delivered a Malaysian satellite into orbit last year.

Casey Kazan via New York Times and Wired

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