New entry in orbital launch business ready for first flight

A newly developed rocket designed to break into the orbital launch business with low-cost service waited on a Pacific atoll Friday to make its maiden flight.

The Falcon 1 had been scheduled for launch Friday from a pad on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands but the launch was bumped back to 1 p.m. PST (2100 GMT) Saturday because of preparations for a missile defense test launch, said El Segundo-based rocket builder SpaceX.

The rocket's payload is a satellite for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the Air Force Academy. FalconSat-2 will measure space plasma phenomena, which can impair space-based communications.

The Falcon 1 rocket is the first in what is intended to be a family of launch vehicles from SpaceX, the latest enterprise of Elon Musk, whose previous endeavors include PayPal, the online payment service now owned by eBay.

Falcon 1 is a two-stage rocket powered by liquid oxygen and kerosene. SpaceX says it would be the first privately developed, liquid-fueled rocket to reach orbit and the world's first all-new orbital rocket in more than a decade. It's price of $6.7 million (Ђ5.7 million) gives it the lowest cost per flight to orbit of any launch vehicle, according to the company.

"It's been 3 1/2 years, almost, of very difficult development and we're finally at the stage where we are able to launch and we feel we've done everything we possibly can to ensure that it's a reliable launch," Musk said at a recent press conference.

"The history of rocket development is one which is replete with failure and where there are very few successes," Musk added. "We hope to be one of those successes, but something that I want to make sure everyone's aware of is that no matter what happens on launch day I feel that we have really been quite successful already."

Musk said there were no shortcuts taken during development.

"I hope this is really the inaugural launch, something that is the first stepping stone in reducing the cost of access to space, not just for satellites ... but really ultimately for human transportation," he said.

Falcon 1 can carry 1,254 pounds (564.3 kilograms) to low Earth orbit. An intermediate version, Falcon 5, is planned, and SpaceX has announced a Falcon 9, designed to carry between 21,000 pounds (9,450 kilograms) and 55,000 pounds (24,750 kilograms) to low Earth orbit depending on configuration. Falcon 9's medium configuration will cost $27 million (Ђ22.95 million) ; heavy lift will cost $35 million (Ђ29.75 million), reported AP. P.T.

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