Jeff Foust at Space Review has the best coverage I’ve seen of the successful first flight of Falcon 9. Jeff wraps up the article with these notes on the future:
(…) The path ahead for SpaceX
With the Falcon 9 demonstration launch a success, the company is now planning to move ahead with the first of three planned missions that are part of its Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA to develop a capability to service the ISS. The first of those launches, a demonstration flight of a full-fledged Dragon spacecraft but one that does not visit the ISS, is on track for later this summer, Musk said. The Falcon 9 rocket for that mission has been built and is ready to ship to Cape Canaveral, while the Dragon spacecraft is undergoing final reviews.
The second COTS flight, planned for the second quarter of next year, will launch a Dragon that is currently planned to approach the ISS, but not berth with the station. However, Musk said prior to Friday’s launch that the company has been in discussions with NASA about adding that capability to the mission, which under the original plan would take place on the third and final COTS demonstration flight. “Our aspirational goal is to deliver cargo on COTS flight 2,” he said. “This makes COTS flight 3 effectively a backup flight to COTS 2.”
“This bodes very well for the Obama plan,” Musk said after the launch. “It really helps vindicate the approach that he’s taking.”
SpaceX remains interested in human spaceflight as well, with Musk reiterating past statements that the company would be ready to fly people within three years of contract award (including one year of schedule contingency) to develop a crewed version of Dragon. They key aspect of that development would be a launch escape system. Musk said they have “a very exciting new architecture” for that system: rather than an escape tower mounted on top of the capsule that would pull it away, as was done on previous capsules and was being developed for Orion, the escape thrusters would be built into the sidewalls of the capsule and be available through all phases of the launch. In addition, he said, those engines could be used to allow a Dragon spacecraft to make a return on land, rather than splashdown in the ocean. “I think that’s really the right way to land a spaceship,” he said.
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