Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) met its goal of having its first Falcon 9 rocket in place and fully integrated at Florida?s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station by the end of 2008.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based company mated the rocket's 17-foot (5.2-meter) payload fairing to the Falcon 9 first stage by Dec. 30, completing integration a day earlier than planned.
"With Falcon 9 integrated, our focus shifts to the big launch mount and erector," SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk wrote in his final update of 2008. "All the pieces have been delivered, and the coming days will see a tremendous amount of welding to join them all together."
Once the launch mount and erector are complete, Musk said, Falcon 9 will be transferred to the erector and raised vertical early this year.
The medium-lift Falcon 9 rocket is a two-stage booster designed to launch SpaceX?s Dragon spacecraft and other payloads from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station?s Space Launch Complex 40 launching pad. When hoisted into vertical launch position, the rocket will stand 180 feet (54.9 meters) tall and measures about 12 feet (3.6 meters) wide up to its larger diameter payload fairing.
SpaceX has five Falcon 9 launches on its manifest for 2009, including a maiden flight sponsored by a U.S. government customer that the company will not name and two demonstration flights under NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. The demo flights are intended to prove that SpaceX is ready to begin making regular cargo runs to the International Space Station under a $1.6 billion contract NASA awarded the company on Dec. 23.
SpaceX achieved its first launch success in September 2007 using its smaller Falcon 1 rocket after three failed attempts.
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