Hawthorne (CA) – Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), a company that may play a critical role in providing NASA an opportunity to continue its space flights when the Space Shuttle retires in 2010, made another step toward a functional space craft. The company said that it successfully conducted a full mission-length firing of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle on Saturday.
SpaceX said that the static test firing involved the first stage firing of 178 seconds, which is believed to be enough to take a space craft from Earth to orbit. The Falcon 9 launch vehicle remained secured to the ground and never left the McGregor Test Facility in Texas.
The company said that the rocket develops 855,000 pounds of force at sea level. In vacuum, the thrust increases to approximately one million pounds or four times the maximum thrust of a Boeing 747 aircraft. Consuming more than two million pounds of propellant, the rocket’s nine engines fired for 160 seconds, after which two engines were shut down to limit the acceleration; the remaining seven engines continued firing for 18 more seconds to simulate a typical climb to orbit.
SpaceX said that the test-firing was a critical milestone to show that all nine engines of Falcon 9 work and that the launch vehicle is able to compensate for the shutdown or loss of engines and still complete its mission goal. Rockets used by NASA today do not have this capability, SpaceX said. However, the Saturn V and Saturn 1 rockets had such a feature.
“The full mission-length test firing clears the highest hurdle for the Falcon 9 first stage before launch,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. “In the next few months, we will have the first Falcon 9 flight vehicle on its launch pad at Cape Canaveral, preparing for lift-off in 2009.”
In September, SpaceX’ Falcon 1 became the first privately-developed liquid fuel rocket to achieve Earth orbit.
SpaceX has won NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services competition (COTS) and claims that it is the only COTS contender with the capability to return cargo to Earth and demonstrate the capability to carry crew to and from the ISS. Under an agreement with NASA, SpaceX will conduct three flights of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft for the organization.