SpaceX Falcon 1 Makes History This Evening: Earth Orbit Achieved On Fourth Attempt


SpaceX’s Falcon 1 spacecraft made history tonight as the first privately developed launch vehicle to reach earth orbit from the ground. “About nine and a half minutes after launch, the second stage engine shuts down, and the Falcon 1 becomes the first privately developed liquid fuel rocket to orbit the Earth,” the company said.

This was their fourth attempt. The previous three attempts failed to reach orbit – the last launch, in August, lost two NASA satellites and the ashes of 208 people, including astronaut Gordon Cooper and James Doohan, the actor who played Scotty in the original Star Trek television show.

Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX), reached the milestone just four years after the company was founded, and with just $120 million in capital ($100 million from founder Elon Musk and another $20 million from Founders Fund).

Falcon 1 is a 70- foot tall two-stage, liquid oxygen and rocket grade kerosene powered launch vehicle. It lifted off today from Kwajalein Atoll (Omelek Island) in the Pacific Ocean, about 8,000 miles southwest of Los Angeles.

This fourth launch comes less than two months after the previous failure. The next launch will be a Falcon 1 carrying a RazakSat satellite for Malaysia. That launch, if successful, will be followed by the maiden flight of the much larger Falcon 9 rocket in the second quarter of 2009.

We first covered SpaceX in 2007, when a Falcon 1 craft reached space for the first time.