USAF, Industry Anxious For Next SpaceX Launch

By Amy Svitak, Amy Butler
Source: Aviation Week & Space Technology
October 14, 2013

The U.S. Air Force needs it. So do commercial satellite operators and manufacturers developing new platforms with low-cost launch services in mind. But after the debut last month of the upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, the promise of an affordable new entrant to the commercial launch market is still just a promise.

Following liftoff Sept. 29 from a new launch pad at Vandenberg AFB, Calif., the Falcon 9 v1.1 sent a small Canadian science satellite and three experimental payloads to polar low Earth orbit. The mission demonstrated the rocket's nine new first-stage Merlin 1D engines in a new “Octaweb” configuration, plus significantly longer fuel tanks and a larger payload fairing. It also affirmed that SpaceX is equipped to meet the terms of a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to launch 20 metric tons of cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard its Dragon cargo vessel by the end of 2015.

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