From a SpaceX press release that I got today. It looks as if they are on track for the first demonstration flight of a Falcon 9 early in the new year:
Hawthorne, CA – December 18, 2008 – Space Exploration Technologies Corp (SpaceX) announces the arrival of the Falcon 9 first stage flight tank at SpaceX’s newest launch site, Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Arriving as scheduled, delivery of the Falcon 9 first stage fulfills SpaceX’s commitment to having Falcon 9 hardware at the Cape by year-end.
“Christmas has arrived a few days early for our team at the Cape,” said Brian Mosdell, Director of Florida Launch Operations for SpaceX. “The packages measure extra large this year, and they will keep everyone busy in the coming weeks.”
In preparation for the launch vehicle’s maiden flight in 2009, all Falcon 9 elements and ground support hardware have departed SpaceX’s manufacturing facility in Hawthorne, California. The hardware is currently making its way across the United States on a dozen big rigs which will converge at the launch site over the next two weeks.
Separated into sections for travel, the major parts of the 180 foot long, 12 foot diameter rocket included nine Merlin 1C engines mounted on a massive engine mount structure; a thrust skirt that transfers the force of the engines into the first stage propellant tank; a carbon composite interstage; a new Merlin Vacuum upper stage engine fitted to the second stage propellant tank; and the two halves of a 17 foot diameter payload fairing—large enough to enclose a school bus.
The prelaunch fitting will include a mix of both flight ready and qualification hardware which will undergo final integration at the launch site in a horizontal position, and then be raised to vertical on the custom built erector.
Arrival of Falcon 9 hardware at the Cape represents yet another critical milestone in a year of significant accomplishments for SpaceX. On November 22nd, the company successfully conducted a full mission-length firing of the Falcon 9, validating SpaceX’s design which uses nine engines on the first stage.
In addition, SpaceX has been rapidly upgrading SLC-40 into a state-of-the-art launch facility which will serve as a gateway to a new era in commercial space operations. Located on the Florida space coast, just south of NASA’s launch site for all Apollo moon missions and Space Shuttle flights, SLC-40 is a world class heavy lift launch facility, capable of supporting Falcon 9 and future Falcon 9 Heavy missions, as well as cargo and crew carrying missions using the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.
“2008 has been a year of rapid progress for SpaceX,” said Elon Musk, CEO and CTO of SpaceX. “The delivery of the Falcon 9 to the Cape is a major milestone in designing and deploying the most reliable, cost-efficient fleet of launch vehicles in the world. I applaud our SpaceX team who has worked 24/7 to make this happen.”
SpaceX currently has four Falcon 9 flights on the manifest for 2009, two of which are demonstration flights with the Dragon spacecraft as part of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) competition. Under this agreement, SpaceX will conduct a total of three flights of its Falcon 9/Dragon system to demonstrate cargo delivery capabilities to the International Space Station (ISS). At the option of NASA, the agreement can be extended to include demonstrating transport of crew to and from the ISS. The Falcon 9 will be the first vehicle since the Saturn V and Saturn 1 to have the ability to lose any engine/motor and still be able to complete its mission without loss of crew or spacecraft.
A video tour of SpaceX launch facilities at SLC-40, Cape Canaveral AFS, led by Elon Musk, can be found at the SpaceX website: www.spacex.com.
SpaceX is revolutionizing access to space by developing a family of launch vehicles and spacecraft intended to increase the reliability and reduce the cost of both manned and unmanned space transportation, ultimately by a factor of ten. With its Falcon line of launch vehicles, powered by internally-developed Merlin engines, SpaceX offers light, medium and heavy lift capabilities to deliver spacecraft into any altitude and inclination, from low-Earth to geosynchronous orbit to planetary missions. On September 28, 2008, Falcon 1, designed and manufactured from the ground up by SpaceX, became the first privately developed liquid fuel rocket to orbit the Earth.
As a winner of the NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services competition (COTS), SpaceX is in a position to help fill the gap in American spaceflight to the International Space Station (ISS) when the Space Shuttle retires in 2010. Under the existing Agreement, SpaceX will conduct three flights of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft for NASA, culminating in Dragon berthing with the ISS. SpaceX is the only COTS contender with the capability to return cargo and crew to Earth. NASA also has an option to demonstrate crew services to the ISS using the Falcon 9 / Dragon system.
Founded in 2002, the SpaceX team now numbers more than 620, located primarily in Hawthorne, California, with additional locations, including SpaceX’s Texas Test Facility in McGregor near Waco; offices in Washington DC; and launch facilities at Cape Canaveral, Florida, and the Marshall Islands in the Central Pacific.
Go to the SpaceX website, SpaceX.com, to see photos and other information.