President Obama’s plans for a more diverse and commercial company-inclusive space industry are primed to take a leap forward tomorrow, as SpaceX readies its Falcon 9 rocket for launch from Cape Canaveral. It’s all subject to the weather, though.
Falcon 9 is SpaceX’s flagship rocket, biggest in its Falcon rocket fleet. The vehicle will help ferry cargo up to the International Space Station in the years between NASA’s retirement of the Space Shuttles and developing a new heavy-lift launch capability of its own. It’s 55 meters tall, and powered by nine of the same Merlin engines that SpaceX has been developing for years to power its fleet–the total shove these liquid oxygen/rocket kerosene engines give the vehicle is about 1 million foot-pounds. These specs make the vehicle a promising medium-heavy lift rocket, capable of carrying payloads that measure up to 11 meters tall. And they’re also good enough that one day the rocket may be able to be human cargo-ratable, turning it into a serious alternative launch system for NASA to consider for the manned space missions.
Hence the first launch of Falcon 9 is a big deal. It’s been delayed recently as lift-off halts and weather launch scrubs pushed the launch schedule at the Cape backwards, but now that a rocket ferrying GPS satellites successfully hit space last week, it’s SpaceX’s turn on the pad. Just today the company’s team completed a top-to-tail test of the entire vehicle’s systems to meet the Air Force’s safety requirements, and passed that test, so everything looks set for tomorrow’s launch window. This is due to open at 11 a.m. EST, and lasts four hours. There’s a 40% chance the weather may force a launch-scrub, so the same window has been reserved for Saturday. Let’s hope Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk has enough small change left hidden down the back of his couch to pay for further launch attempts if both these launch windows close, though–the U.S. space industry could do with a boost like a successful SpaceX rocket.