New entrants in the domestic launch industry have the potential to lower costs, and increase reliability. Some relatively new companies are beginning to produce new launch vehicles for the commercial sector and for government. One such company, SpaceX had a stated goal to reduce the cost and increase the reliability of launching payloads into space by a factor of ten. SpaceX was founded by Internet entrepreneur Elon Musk, co-founder of the popular electronic payment system PayPal. Prices were estimated at $6.7 million for the launch of their smaller vehicle, the Falcon 1, and $78 million for the largest, the Falcon 9.
Space Exploration Technologies of El Segundo was one potential quick reaction launch provider. Headed by Elon Musk, the company was developing a small satellite launcher dubbed Falcon. The Falcon launch vehicle family was designed to provide breakthrough advances in reliability, cost, flight environment and time to launch. The primary design driver was and was expected to remain reliability. SpaceX recognized that nothing was more important than getting customer's spacecraft safely to its intended destination. The company aimed to reduce the cost of putting payloads into space while increasing reliability. While normal light payloads cost about $24 million (by one estimate), SpaceX wanted to deliver a $6 million business model for small to medium payloads. The contractor was developing a family of launch vehicles intended to reduce cost and increase reliability of access to space ultimately by a factor of 10.
The US Department of Defense awarded SpaceX a contract to launch a research satellite for around March 2004 on its new Falcon 1 rocket. NASA had been unwilling to consider making an award to SpaceX, saying that NASA would only launch on types of rockets that had already had at least one successful launch. The company's long-term goals were to launch 4 or 5 times a year with its Falcon 1 rocket.
In September 2004, SpaceX was one of 4 companies to receive a contract from DARPA and the USAF to demonstrate low-cost, highly responsive launch technology. Under this contract, SpaceX was to demonstrate the ability to reduce on-pad processing time by 50 percent compared to the standard Falcon 1 launcher. SpaceX was competing with 3 other companies, Lockheed Martin, Air Launch, and Microcosm, under the second phase of a DARPA contract. The winner would be chosen to proceed with production of a low-cost, responsive launch vehicle.
SpaceX broke ground on a launch pad on Omelek Island in early April 2005. In conjunction with the project, the company set up office and warehouse space on Kwajalein. Construction of the launch site on Omelek Island by Kwajalein Range Services was completed in June 2005. The first SpaceX launch from Omelek was scheduled for the summer of 2005. SpaceX had evolved from a blank sheet of paper to a fully qualified 2-stage rocket with the capability of launching 1,300 pounds to low-earth orbit, about 500 miles up.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|