Sophont
Monday, April 05, 2004
 
Private Rocket Cuts Cost to Orbit
AWST STORY: "The SpaceX Falcon rocket project will specifically target Boeing, by offering the SpaceX Falcon V booster for 60-70% less than Boeing can fly its Delta II and newer Delta IV Medium Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle, said Elon Musk, SpaceX chairman and CEO.

SpaceX plans to pursue Boeing by using existing technology in innovative ways on its Falcon V first stage, combined with a powerful and proven Pratt & Whitney RL10 hydrogen/oxygen-powered second stage.

As two Falcon V designs move forward, the smaller Falcon I proof-of-concept launcher (see cover) is making progress in ground tests and moving toward first flight as early as May at Vandenberg AFB, Calif.

The Falcon I development is funded in part by the Defense Dept.'s Office of Force Transformation because the Pentagon believes if SpaceX is successful, it could have a major 'transformational effect' on how military space operations are launched.

SpaceX wants to fly up to three Falcon I missions in 2004 at a $5.9-million list price per flight to compete directly against Orbital Sciences Corp. (OSC) in the small-payload market as it develops the heavier capability to take on Boeing.

As the Falcon I moves into service, the first launch of the initial Falcon V, with oxygen/kerosene engines in both stages (below), is set for 2005, followed in 2006 by the geosynchronous transfer version of the RL10 upper stage.

Falcon I will demonstrate innovative technologies like a 'pressure-assisted stabilization' tank design, a unique common tank bulkhead to save weight and a lithium-aluminum upper stage, along with in-house-built engines to separate the company from the traditional higher cost contractor pool.

SpaceX is 'attacking the culture' of the entrenched launcher contracting structure, which at times has resisted even simple innovative changes, said Michael Griffin, who has just been appointed head of the Space Dept. at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. 'The importance of a successful effort on Musk's part is that the space industry needs 'existence proof' that cheaper, more efficient launch vehicle design and operation is possible,' Griffin said. He is noted for championing innovation at the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization and was previously NASA's chief engineer. He has also headed the In-Q-Tel Inc. technology company.

Starting with the first flight this summer, the vehicle's first stage will be reusable. (more)"

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