Dianne Molina at SpaceX has just told me that the company’s unmanned orbital launch vehicle, Falcon I, has a firm launch date.
The date will be announced in a press conference at SpaceX headquarters in El Segundo, California tomorrow (Friday) at 2 p.m. Pacific. I’m stuck here on the East Coast, but I’ll blog the phone conference set up for folks like me who can’t make it in person.
Falcon I has faced a long series of delays leading up to its maiden flight, the latest of which involved getting bumped from its planned first launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base, forcing a move to SpaceX’s launch complex at Kwajalein Atoll in the western Pacific Ocean.
If successful, SpaceX will drastically undercut the orbital launch market with $6.7 million launches (SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has told me that his nearest competitor charges around $25 million). Musk says he wants to become the Ford of space. “Ford didn’t invent the internal combustion engine,” he told me when I visited SpaceX earlier this year. “But he found out how to make one at low cost.” Likewise, “We didn’t invent the rocket engine; what we’re trying to do is figure out how to make it low-cost.”
Musk is also the only well-funded player, to my knowledge, who has publicly stated his intention to compete for Robert Bigelow’s America’s Space Prize, which will award $50 million to the first privately funded spaceship that can carry passengers to orbit and dock with the commercial space stations Bigelow is building.
A successful Falcon I launch, which will carry an Air Force Academy satellite on a mission to measure space plasma phenomena, will set SpaceX apart from a multitude of other companies building commercial space hardware but that have not yet launched vehicles. And maybe help me snag magazine assignments to cover the company. 🙂