It was announced that the private space company, SpaceX, had set today as their launch window for their Falcon 1 rocket system to orbit the Earth. The press release reads:
Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) has scheduled the launch of the Falcon 1 Flight 3 mission for Saturday, August 2nd. The launch window will open at 4:00 p.m. (PDT) / 7:00 p.m. (EDT) and remain open for five hours. If launch is delayed for any reason, SpaceX has range availability to resume countdown through August 5.
Lift-off of the vehicle will occur from SpaceX’s Falcon 1 launch site at the Kwajalein Atoll, about 2500 miles southwest of Hawaii. Falcon 1 launch facilities are situated on Omelek Island, part of the Reagan Test Site (RTS) at United States Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) in the Central Pacific.
Update: Approximately 140 seconds into the flight, Falcon 1 suffered an undisclosed anomaly. The vehicle had just switched to inertial guidance mode. At the last check, it was travelling at a velocity of 1050 m/s at an altitude of 35 km. It is assumed Falcon 1 is lost. Webcast has now been closed.
The Falcon 1 rocket system
The California-based space systems company was founded by Elon Musk in 2002 to provide a commercial alternative to launching payloads into space. SpaceX is currently carrying out a series of test flights of their Falcon 1 rocket, which is a two-stage, liquid oxygen and kerosene fuelled launch vehicle. Falcon 1 has already undergone two test flights, one in March 2006 and the second was in March 2007. The first launch failed only 29 seconds into the flight after the main engine failed, causing the loss of the rocket. The 2007 launch had more success and reached a velocity of 11,000 miles/hour, but unfortunately did not attain orbital velocity. It lost control at around 300 miles altitude and was lost. Today marks the third test flight, and hopes are high that lessons have been learnt and Falcon 1 will be successfully inserted into a stable low Earth orbit.
The Falcon 1 first stage is powered by a single Merlin 1C Regenerative engine that SpaceX developed. This is the first time the Merlin 1C will be used. The second stage is powered by a single Kestrel engine (again, developed by the company).
If successful, this third test flight will be celebrated as the first new orbital rocket to be developed and launched for over ten years; it will also be the first new US hydrocarbon engine for an orbital booster to be flown in 40 years and only the second US engine of any kind in more than a quarter of a century. What makes this historic endeavour even more impressive, is that once Falcon 1 reaches orbit (hopefully within today’s launch window), SpaceX will be the world’s first private company to develop an operational liquid fuel rocket to orbit the Earth
UPDATE (8:43pm): The webcast presenters announced an “anomaly” during Falcon 1’s ascent. We await news about this event, but it is assumed Falcon 1 is lost.
More information from today’s press release: SpaceX