June 3, 2010

SpaceX To Test Falcon 9 Rocket On Friday

SpaceX, a private spaceflight company, has officially set Friday as the target date for the launch debut of its new Falcon 9 rocket.

The new rocket, which is designed to haul cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), may also one day help carry astronauts to Earth orbit.

Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) planned to roll out Falcon 9 today to its dedicated seaside launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

If weather prevents the rocket from launching during its four-hour window on Friday, SpaceX will try again on Saturday.

Forecasters predict that both days will have about a 60 percent chance of favorable weather. 

Another hurdle that could prevent the launch from taking place is final approval of its flight termination system (FTS), which is an explosive charge that would destroy the rocket if it flew off course.  Both SpaceX and the U.S. airfare must be confident that the system works before Falcon 9 lifts off.

"We are now looking good for final approval of the FTS by this Friday, June 4th, just in time for our first launch attempt," SpaceX officials said in a Tuesday statement.

The test version of the Falcon 9 rocket will carry a mockup of SpaceX's Dragon capsule, which is designed to carry cargo to the ISS.

NASA awarded SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract to use Falcon 9 and Dragon to haul cargo to the station starting in 2011.  The company said if all goes well on the first test launch, real cargo will fly atop the second Falcon 9 flight.

SpaceX said its expectations are not set too high for this first effort to run through a complete countdown and launch of the 178-foot tall rocket.

"Since this is a test launch, our primary goal is to collect as much data as possible, with success being measured as a percentage of how many flight milestones we are able to complete in this first attempt," SpaceX said in the statement. "It would be a great day if we reach orbital velocity, but still a good day if the first stage functions correctly, even if the second stage malfunctions. It would be a bad day if something happens on the launch pad itself and we're not able to gain any flight data."


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