Monday, June 7, 2010

SpaceX's Falcon 9 Launch Success

SpaceX's commercially-developed rocket, the Falcon 9, successfully made it to orbit this past Friday. This is a big deal in the space community. Partly, it's exciting because almost everyone wants to see commercial companies (instead of just NASA or DoD) be able to successfully develop and launch rockets, since this should help to bring down the costs of launch. SpaceX is particular good for this, since they're advertising launch prices much lower than competitors. It's also a big deal because in President Obama's new proposed budget for NASA, he wants to cancel the development of the Ares I and Ares V rockets (which would have been developed by NASA) and instead rely on commercial companies (like SpaceX) to provide human transportation to the International Space Station.

There are about a million articles about the successful launch:
Private Rocket Has Successful First Flight (New York Times)
SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket enjoys successful maiden flight (BBC)
Feathering the Falcon’s nest (The Economist)

However, we should also keep in mind that it's only one launch, and as SpaceX said before the launch, a company and its design should not be judged solely by their first launch. So, I'm excited to see them keep going, so that they can prove with multiple launches that they really are reliable and successful in the long term. [Actually, I think this is an interesting issue, and something I've been thinking about recently. Before the launch, many people, including SpaceX, argued that failure was a real possibility, and that even if there was a failure, the company shouldn't be judged based on that one event. And I agree with that - it's historically very difficult to get success on the first launch of a new rocket, and lots of data can be gathered with the first launch to make future improvements. However, now that the launch has happened, many people are arguing that it proves that Pres. Obama's decision to rely on commercial providers was right. It seems to me that if you say that a failure shouldn't be used to judge the company overall, then you also shouldn't be able to allow a success to be used to judge the company overall. On the other hand, it is really awesome that it was successful, and that it was successful on the first try - maybe they do deserve "extra credit" for achieving success on the first try. So in that way, maybe success is actually more meaningful (and more predictive of future success) than a failure. Not sure about my logic here though - what do you think?]

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