Sunday, September 28, 2008

Falcon 1 Reaches Orbit

See RLV News for news, thoughts, and links on Falcon 1 reaching orbit. Here are some of the posts:

Falcon I in orbit!!

Falcon I launch thoughts...

Falcon 1 flight roundup

If SpaceX can follow this success with a consistent, low cost line of future successes, we've seen a profound advance in space.

Even if the low cost Falcon 1 was the main goal of the effort, making a reliable institution of that alone would be a big victory. It would put commercial space in orbit, and lend future orbital commercial space efforts that happen to have the right ingredients a new level of credibility. It would be one more enabler for new smallsat business, which I see as a really big deal, as I consider smallsats to have the same type and magnitude of entrepreneurial and innovative potential as the suborbital and orbital space access efforts. It would also raise the bar for small launchers worldwide. Finally, it gives one realistic avenue for Google Lunar X PRIZE teams to reach the Moon for the prize and for post-prize commercial and government support efforts.

However, Falcon 1 is just one part of the SpaceX plan. A successful Falcon 1 line is a big step towards a successful Falcon 9 line, with all that means in that class of launcher in the commercial and government realms. In addition to lower-cost satellite launch, with all that means in terms of creating a "virtuous circle" of shorter development times, less need to squeeze the last bit of performance out of every kilogram of satellite hardware, and lower satellite costs, it's also a big step towards solving NASA's post-Shuttle ISS cargo supply problems. Not only that, but it makes a NASA COTS D ISS crew transportation effort more attractive. This is one more step towards directing Ares 1 away from LEO and towards the Moon and beyond. If one success follows another, it may allow NASA to consider COTS-like efforts in other areas in the future. It's also a step that has to be noticed by Bigelow Aerospace, considering their transportation needs. Such successes, if they come, are bound to be observed by other launch providers and launch customers, which hopefully will encourage a bigger launch market and lower launch costs worldwide.

In itself one Falcon 1 flight doesn't achieve all of this by any means. Let's not get carried away. The rest of it may not happen, or maybe some of it will, and some won't. If it does happen, it's almost a given that it will seem to happen too slowly. However, the door is now wide open for these future advances.