SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft reached orbit early Tuesday (May 22) morning, achieving the first goal of a critical test flight to the International Space Station. SpaceX and the commercial space era now enter a new phase as the Dragon spacecraft and its controllers seek to navigate to the space station in preparation for the first-ever docking of a commercial spacecraft with the orbiting lab. So far, so good.
The Merlin main engines on the Falcon 9 rocket are a version of a NASA-developed engine from the 1980s called Fastrac. SpaceX also needs a better second stage engine, and rockets experts favor the J-2X engine, an improved version of the Saturn V second stage engine.
What SpaceX and other commercial companies relying on rockets for launches need to focus on next is the "specific impulse" of their engines and lowering the cost per pound to orbit to $1K, iniitally, and some day in the far off future, $100 per pound.
For how SpaceX is pulling this off, I highly recommend:
It is a amazing that a small private company can do such sophisticated space launch that few countries in the world can accomplish. Wonder how much they paid NASA to get these technologies, and how they can do it at lower cost than NASA.
SpaceX said it will try again on Tuesday (May 22) a.m. after replacing a faulty valve in a center main engine (nine main engines are arranged in a tic-tac-toe configuration). A sensor had picked overpressure in the engine's combustion chamber. Stay tuned.
That in itself must have been pretty dramatic, practically everything running at full blast - getting an orderly shutdown from that point is just as hazardous as everything else up to that point - can't just lean back and say 'Whew!', everything has to be depressurised, cooled down or warmed up, emptied and made safe...
exciting stuff...plenty for the flight engineers to get intense about