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Falcon 1 finally claws way into space

PayPal founder's budget rocket is go

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The Falcon 1 "budget" rocket developed by PayPal founder Elon Musk finally made it to space early this morning (GMT) - a tad under a year after a previous launch attempt ended in disaster.

The 21-metre Space Exploration Technologies rocket blasted off at 2110 EDT yesterday (0110 GMT Wednesday) from Omelek Island in the Marshall Islands, New Scientist reports. It had been due to go on Monday when "its computers automatically aborted the launch due to a software glitch". After another minor glitch on Tuesday, due to a "low pressure reading", it eventually took just a few minutes to exit the Earth's atmosphere.

It wasn't all plain sailing, though. Around five minutes into the flight, the booster's second-stage engine shut down early because of an "unexpected roll". Musk dismissed the problem as "something straightforward to fix", beaming: "It's definitely a good day."

Indeed, a far better day than "Space X" had last March, when "a corroded nut cracked, triggering a disastrous fuel leak and fire" which destroyed the first Falcon 1.

The burn-and-crash didn't, however, seriously affect the Falcon 1's commercial prospects, New Scientist notes. Space X secured several new contracts in the wake of the hiccup, including "a $278m award from NASA to demonstrate cargo delivery services to the International Space Station".

Musk confidently said that Falcon 1 was now ready for its next challenge - to lift a military communications satellite into orbit. "We don't anticipate needing any more demonstration flights," he declared.

Those of you wishing to avail yourselves of Falcon 1's bargain-basement lifting capabilities will have to stump up around $7m - around 20 per cent of full-fat commercial rates. If you need a bit more va-va-voom, Space X is also putting together the 54-metre Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy.

The Falcons 1 and 9 are two stage, liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene-boosted vehicles, while the Falcon 9 Heavy boasts "two additional Falcon 9 first stages acting as liquid strap-on boosters". The latter can lift 28,000 kg to Low Earth Orbit or 12,000 kg to Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit.

Space X is also working on Dragon - its "pressurized capsule and unpressurized trunk used for Earth to LEO transport of pressurized cargo, unpressurized cargo, and/or crew members" - which forms part of the NASA ISS resupply project. ®

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