Musk: Mood at SpaceX “Just Ecstatic”

An update on Falcon 1 from SpaceX’s Elon Musk:

A week spent reviewing data has confirmed that the flight went really well, including the coast and restart. The mood here at SpaceX is just ecstatic! This is the culmination of six years of hard work by a very talented team. It is also a great relief for me, who led the overall design of the rocket (not a role I expected to have when starting the company). I felt a little sheepish receiving the AIAA award for the most outstanding contribution to the field of space transportation two weeks before this flight.


SpaceX Success: What it All Means….

Falcon 1’s first stage falls away during Sunday’s launch. Credit: SpaceX.

SpaceX ‘Falcon 1’ Marks New Era For Space Industry

Information Week

“A privately developed liquid fuel rocket has entered Earth orbit, becoming the first such rocket to do so and heralding the dawn of the private sector space industry.”

SpaceX success is huge milestone
Huntsville Times

Homer Hickam and Tim Pickens weight in….



Congratulations are due to Elon Musk and his team at SpaceX. On Sunday, they successfully launched the Falcon 1 rocket from the Marshall Islands. The rocket took off at 16:16 PDT; the second stage reached an orbital velocity of 52,00 meters per second at 8 minutes and 21 seconds after launch.

The rocket carried a “payload mass simulator of approximately 165 kg (364 lbs), designed and built by SpaceX specifically for this mission. Consisting of a hexagonal aluminum alloy chamber 1.5 meters (5 feet) tall, the payload attaches to the standard Falcon 1 payload mounting structure. It does not separate, but remains attached to the second stage as it orbits the Earth,” according to SpaceX.

SpaceX Could Launch Falcon 1 Today

Elon Musk posted the following update on his blog:

Falcon 1 is currently cleared for liftoff sometime between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. (California time) tomorrow, Sunday September 28th. Of course, if we see anything that requires investigation, the launch will be postponed, but we’ll let you know as soon as we know. As with prior flights, you can access the webcast from the SpaceX site:

Elon Musk: The Falcon and Dreams of Mars

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

NASA at 50: Privatizing Space
Washington Post

The results of a webchat Q&A with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who discusses the progress of his Falcon rockets and his dreams for Mars.

Aiming for Stars, Entrepreneurs May Also Fill Gaps
Washington Post

As NASA turns 50 this week, the space agency faces increasing competition from entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson who are pushing for space tourism in low Earth orbit and trips to the moon and Mars.

SpaceX Finds “No Major Issues”, Delays Falcon Launch 5 Days

Artist impression of a Falcon 9 lifting off from Cape Canaveral. Credit: SpaceX

SpaceX released this message from CEO Elon Musk earlier today:

“The static fire took place on Saturday [20 Sep 2008, CA time], as expected, and no major issues came up. However, after a detailed analysis of data, we decided to replace a component in the 2nd stage engine LOX supply line. There is a good chance we would be ok flying as is, but we are being extremely cautious.

“This adds a few extra days to the schedule, so the updated launch window estimate is now Sept 28th through Oct 1st [CA time].”

Dude….No major issues? Except for that part in the fuel line? That you replaced?

Ah….that Silicon Valley double speak. I know it well. Maybe too well.


Falcon 1 Could Launch as Early as Tuesday

Undaunted by three straight failures, SpaceX could launch its fourth Falcon 1 vehicle as early as Tuesday. Company founder Elon Musk’s latest blog update on Friday indicates that the company is close to a launch from its facility in the Marshall Islands.

“Having said that, it is still possible that we encounter an issue that needs to be investigated, which would delay launch until the next available window in late October. If preparations go smoothly, we will conduct a static fire on Saturday and launch sometime between Tuesday and Thursday (California time).”


Upgrade an Engine, Wreck a Rocket

SpaceX says that it has discovered the cause of the failure that doomed its Falcon 1 rocket on Saturday. The new Merlin first-stage engine that founder Elon Musk praised as the major achievement of the failed flight may have performed a little too well.

The new engine added a more thrust to the first stage than the one used on the previous flight. This caused the first stage to ram into the second stage after the two segments separated at 2 minutes and 20 seconds into the flight, reports.

“We have quite a definitive understanding of what went wrong on the last flight,” Musk told reporters in a teleconference, adding that the timing error was on the order of seconds. “If we were to increase that gap by even a second or two, this problem would not have arisen.”

Yep, that’s all it takes. A mere second to destroy a multimillion-dollar rocket and consign its payloads to a watery grave. Musk and his team are now learning the difficult lessons that every other rocket pioneer has learned before them.


Falcon 1 Crash Sent Gordo’s and Scotty’s Ashes into the Pacific

Saturday’s failure of SpaceX’s Falcon 1 launch vehicle did more than destroy three small satellites. It also sent the ashes of Mercury astronaut Leroy Gordon Cooper Jr., Star Trek actor James “Scotty” Doohan and 206 other people into the Pacific Ocean instead of orbit.

The remains were placed aboard the rocket through a Texas-based company called Celestis. A spokeswoman, Susan Schonfeld, told The New York Times that the company would re-fly the remains of all 208 people using backup samples.

This launch marked the second effort to send Doohan’s and Cooper’s ashes into space; last year, they were launched aboard an UP Aerospace suborbital rocket in New Mexico. The payload containing the ashes was lost for about three weeks in the rugged mountains before being recovered in good shape.

One of Doohan’s seven children, Ehrich Blackhound, said he has had enough. He wrote an eloquent piece on Boing Boing saying that each launch opens an unhealed wound.


Elon Musk’s Full Statement on Falcon 1 Launch Failure

Below is the text of Elon Musk’s statement concerning the failed Falcon 1 launch.  The SpaceX founder did not speak the media after the accident; the statement was read during a brief teleconference with reporters by Diane Murphy, SpaceX’s vice president for marketing and communications.

“It was obviously a big disappointment not to reach orbit on this flight [Falcon 1, Flight 3].  On the plus side, the flight of our first stage, with the new Merlin 1C engine that will be used in Falcon 9, was picture perfect. Unfortunately, a problem occurred with stage separation, causing the stages to be held together.  This is under investigation and I will send out a note as soon as we understand exactly what happened.

“The most important message I’d like to send right now is that SpaceX will not skip a beat in execution going forward.  We have flight four of Falcon 1 almost ready for flight and flight five right behind that.  I have also given the go ahead to begin fabrication of flight six.  Falcon 9 development will also continue unabated, taking into account the lessons learned with Falcon 1.  We have made great progress this past week with the successful nine engine firing.

“As a precautionary measure to guard against the possibility of flight 3 not reaching orbit, SpaceX recently accepted a significant investment. Combined with our existing cash reserves, that ensures we will have more than sufficient funding on hand to continue launching Falcon 1 and develop Falcon 9 and Dragon. There should be absolutely zero question that SpaceX will prevail in reaching orbit and demonstrating reliable space transport. For my part, I will never give up and I mean never.

“Thanks for your hard work and now on to flight four.”


Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated that Musk had sent the statement as an email to employees. Apparently, he did make the statement directly to employees.

Falcon Fails

UPDATE: has an email that Elon Musk sent to employees. It reads in part:

“It was obviously a big disappointment not to reach orbit on this flight. On the plus side, the flight of our first stage, with the new Merlin 1C engine that will be used in Falcon 9, was picture perfect. Unfortunately, a problem occurred with stage separation, causing the stages to be held together. This is under investigation and I will send out a note as soon as we understand exactly what happened.”

Earlier Updates:

SpaceX has suspended its webcast of the Falcon 1 launch and posted the following message on its website:

Posted August 2, 2008 – 20:38 PDT
“We have heard from launch control that there has been an anomaly. More details will be posted to the website as available.”

The last report on the vehicle came 2 minutes and 20 seconds after liftoff at 8:33 p.m. PDT:

“Vehicle switching to inertial guidance mode. 1050 m/s, altitude of 35 km.”

There is also this report from

“A video camera mounted on the rocket appeared to show some oscillations during the ascent. Whether that was normal or a sign of trouble is not yet clear.

“About two minutes, 20 seconds into the ascent, the video broadcast provided by SpaceX was abruptly terminated. A company spokesperson then said there had been ‘an anomaly’ with the launch vehicle.”

Falcon 1 Launch Set for Today

SpaceX will try to launch its Falcon 1 rocket from the Kwajalein Atoll at approximately 5:55 pm. PDT (00:55 UTC). They’re webcasting the launch.

This is the third launch attempt for Elon Musk’s rocket. The first launch vehicle exploded shortly after takeoff. The second failed to attain orbit. This third rocket is carrying the following payloads:

  • The Trailblazer satellite developed by SpaceDev of Poway, Calif., for the Jumpstart Program of DoD’s Operationally Responsive Space (ORS) Office, as a test platform to validate the hardware, software and processes of an accelerated microsatellite launch.
  • Two NASA small satellites: PRESat, a micro laboratory from NASA’s Ames Research Center; and NanoSail-D, which will unfurl an ultra-thin solar sail, developed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in collaboration with NASA Ames Research Center.

SpaceX Update: Third Falcon 1 Launch Crucial

Falcon 1 lifts off on its second test flight. Credit: SpaceX

Third Time’s the Charm?
Geoffrey Little
Air & Space Magazine

“For [Elon] Musk, it’s a critical moment in his second career. A co-founder of PayPal with a personal fortune estimated at more than $300 million, the South African native has sunk more than a third of that amount into his 470-person space company. This is not a hobby; SpaceX’s manifest lists 14 launches through 2011, all with customers who have contracted for low-cost launches on Falcon 1 and the much larger Falcon 9, which is being built and tested for launch early next year.

“Musk aims to use these rockets and their variants to smash the current price to reach orbit. A Falcon-1 launch costs under $8 million, about half the industry average; the Falcon 9 goes for less than $37 million to lift 7,700 pounds to low Earth orbit; a planned Falcon-9 Heavy will be able to lift 62,000 pounds for $94.5 million.”

Musk: Dragon Development Progressing, Moon Trip Could Cost $80 Million

Rob Coppinger of Flightglobal and Hyperbola has a couple of SpaceX updates. CEO Elon Musk recently visited London, where he spoke before the United Kingdom’s Royal Aeronautical Society.

Musk says that his company, SpaceX, should complete development work on its first Dragon test vehicle by the end of the year. Dragon, which is designed to carry cargo and crew to the International Space Station, will be flight tested next year. The work is being done under NASA’s COTS program.

Coppinger also reports that Musk has set a price tag on the cost of sending a Dragon spacecraft on a circumlunar flight: $80 million.

This strikes me as a fairly low figure. It’s a bold claim coming from a company that has yet to fly anything successfully in space. SpaceX’s small Falcon 1 rocket has failed in two launches; a third attempt is set for later this summer. The larger Falcon 9 booster, which would be required for a lunar mission, has not yet flown. There also would be significant modifications required for the Dragon spacecraft, which is designed for orbital use.

Coppinger recorded Musk’s 10-minute address to the Royal Aeronautical Society and the hour-long Q&A that followed. You can access audio recordings here.

Falcon 1 Launch Delayed a Month as Musk’s Shifting Explanation is Contradicted

SpaceX has delayed the scheduled third test flight of its Falcon 1 launch until at least the end of July amid conflicting reports amid conflicting reports from founder Elon Musk as to why…..

SpaceX pushes back target date for next Falcon 1 launch
Spaceflight Now
23 June 2008

“Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Space Exploration Technologies Corp., said the U.S. Army range at Kwajalein Atoll will be busy with other activities for the next month.

“‘Launch is no sooner than late July to early August,’ Musk said. ‘We will use the time to do additional checkouts.’

Minute Defect Delays SpaceX’s Falcon 1 Launch Again
30 June 2008

A tiny weld defect discovered in one of the Falcon 1’s engine nozzles as the rocket was being readied for a late June launch contributed to Space Exploration Technologies’ (SpaceX) decision to postpone its third attempt to put the rocket into orbit by at least a month…

“One Kwajalein official told Space News the range would be open and available throughout July with no launch activity on the schedule ‘unless there’s a black program going on that I don’t know about.’

“[Army Missile Command spokesman John] Cummings confirmed that the range would remain open throughout July, but said he did not know whether it is available to SpaceX sooner than July 29. ‘We haven’t looked because they did not ask for it,’ he said.”