Tuesday, March 11, 2008

SpaceX Signs Contract with US Department of Defense

SpaceX has just announced that they have formally signed a contract with the Department of Defense for the launch of a payload aboard a Falcon 1 rocket in June.

Woo. The government is launching a satellite. Big deal, right?

Well, actually, there are a couple of things that make this a big deal. First of all, SpaceX has not yet had a successful test flight. So if this launch succeeds, it will be the first time that one of these Falcon 1 rockets has made into orbit. Secondly (and more interestingly), the full payload will likely not be determined until two weeks prior to launch.

That's right, kids. They are planning and putting together this mission without even knowing what the payload is. To give you an idea of the significance of that, many rocket launches go gone through months of careful measurements to make sure the weight is exactly right and is distributed correctly, and integration to make sure the payload fits the rocket. However SpaceX is putting together this Falcon 1 rocket knowing only that there's going to be some "stuff" in it (though there are three known candidates for what that "stuff" will be). That's a fairly impressive timeline, and that's one of SpaceX's goals.

SpaceX has geared themselves up for ultra-low-cost launches, and one of their principal ideas is that when a customer orders a launch, that launch could potentially be performed very quickly from the time that it was requested. This is one of the steps needed to accomplish that.

Here's specifically what they're doing. The main payload will be specified by the Department of Defense. It will be one of three things: an Air Force Research Laboratory satellite bus, a satellite bus designed by SpaceDev (it's funny how the names of these potential space tourism companies constantly appear in eachothers' news stories), or two nanosatellites designed by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research. According to the SpaceX Press release, the secondary payload will be "a rideshare adapter experiment for ATSB of Malaysia ... and two CubeSat payloads." I'll probably talk a lot more on this launch as it approaches, and I'll be sure to post more details on the secondary payload at that time. For now, though, I'll have to leave it at that. I just... uh... haven't gotten much sleep lately due to daylight savings time and some other stuff going on. Yeah, that's my excuse.

But this is all very good for the space tourism industry! Not only is this because of the fact that SpaceX could potentially take tourists into orbit someday, but because any space tourism payload will vary in weight just like this Falcon 1 payload. The technology to launch a rocket with minimal alterations, whether it holds 6 children or 6 pie-eating champions, will be necessary in a space tourism setting. While SpaceX's June launch may not be directly related to space tourism, I call it one step closer to the goal.

By the way, have I gone on a rant about daylight savings time yet? No? Well, you can look forward to that in the near future.

Progress: 3.89%  Flight Time: 0:05:50

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