Saturday, June 05, 2010

More on the SpaceX success

Great job by SpaceX to make their medium-lift Falcon 9 succeed on the first try. There were some anomalies (having no anomalies would be downright weird) but, when you put your payload in the orbit you want it, that's the definitition of a highly successful launch. And I mean they placed it PRECISELY in the 250km orbit they wanted, with variances under one degree.
Boeing and LockMart deserved praise for making the newest versions of Atlas and Delta work well on the first and (so far) every launch, but they were coming off a heritage of decades of evolving these designs. SpaceX did something remarkable, with only the lessons of a much smaller vehicle to validate Falcon 9 design ideas.
It's been my opinion that SpaceX may have relied too heavily on their computer simulations with the Falcon 1, given that they lost two birds to problems (stage bump and propellant slosh) discovered in the 1950s. They were certainly aware of these problems (I spoke once with Elon Musk about the history of new vehicles and found him extremely well informed on the subject), but relied on solutions proven in their simulations rather than building a bigger margin for error into their birds. Fortunately, one of the critical things Musk and company did right was create a program with realistic expectations and the resources to survive early failures and incorporate the lessons learned, something many other entreprenuers could not or did not do.
The success of Falcon 9 indicates they found the right balances in design, construction, and testing this time out. There's a lot to work yet to come, and there may well be failures before the design is perfected, but this is a huge step forward.
Champagne in Ten Forward to the entire company!

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