Next Falcon 1 Launch Could Slip to February

HOUSTON - SpaceExploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) will attempt its second launch of theFalcon 1 rocket in late January or early February, SpaceX Chief ExecutiveOfficer Elon Musk said here Dec. 5.

The ElSegundo, Calif.-based company previously had been targeting December or earlyJanuary for the upcoming launch, a demonstration flight funded by the U.S.Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The firstDARPA demonstration flight, conducted in March from the company's privatelaunch complex on the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean, achieved 30-secondsof powered flight before an engine fire traced back to a corroded nut broughtthe mission to an abrupt and premature end.

Muskoffered no explanations for the possible delay until February but hadpreviously said that launch range conflicts were likely to push the launch outof December.

In parallelto preparing for its next Falcon 1 launch, SpaceX also is getting ready for aJanuary preliminary design review for Dragon, a ballistic capsule the companyis developing with $278 million in assistance from NASA's Commercial OrbitalTransportation Services (COTS) demonstration program.

Muskpraised the COTS program as potentially "one of the best NASA programs ever,"saying "it holds the potential to really save the space station."

"Thenational budget is going to get really squeezed and there's not going to be alot of money to support the space station" without the low-cost solutions beingfostered by COTS, he predicted.

SpaceX intendsto launch Dragon to the International Space Station on the Falcon 9, anine-engine rocket the company is under contract to launch for the first timein 2008 as part of a classified launch for an unidentified U.S. governmentcustomer.

Musk saidit was "still unclear" whether the first Falcon 9 launch will go out ofKwajalein or Cape Canaveral, Fla. He said SpaceX was making the necessarytechnical and regulatory preparations for either option. "We're dual-pathingit," he said.

Musk told attendeesof the 2nd Space Exploration Conference - Implementing theVision here that SpaceX will produce 30rocket-booster engines in 2007. A static Falcon 9 multi-engine firing is slatedto take place in March, he said.

As SpaceX'sproduction activities ramp up, the approximately 250-employee company isstarting to outgrow its current 100,000-square-foot design and manufacturingfacility in El Segundo. Musk said SpaceX will move into a 500,000-square-footmanufacturing facility in six months.

Muskappeared on a panel with his fellow COTS competitor, Rocketplane KistlerPresident Randy Brinkley. That Oklahoma City-based company has a $207 millioncontract with NASA to demonstrate that the K-1 reusable rocket can be used toresupply the international space station.

Brinkleysaid the K-1 is 75 percent completed by mass and will launch for the first timein 2008.

Brinkleysaid the Oklahoma City-based company sees a $4 billion a year market for the K-1over the next five years. In addition to space station resupply flights,Brinkley said there are opportunities for the K-1 in commercial and governmentsatellite launch and U.S. Air Force-sponsored so-called responsive spaceactivities.

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Editor-in-Chief, SpaceNews

Brian Berger is the Editor-in-Chief of SpaceNews, a bi-weekly space industry news magazine, and He joined SpaceNews covering NASA in 1998 and was named Senior Staff Writer in 2004 before becoming Deputy Editor in 2008. Brian's reporting on NASA's 2003 Columbia space shuttle accident and received the Communications Award from the National Space Club Huntsville Chapter in 2019. Brian received a bachelor's degree in magazine production and editing from Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.