The failure destroyed several payloads, including a $3.5 million Pentagon-supported satellite called Trailblazer and two NASA projects totalling $2.3 million. One, called PRESat, carried yeast for microgravity biology experiments. The other was NanoSail-D, a 9-square-metre solar sail that folded into a container the size of a loaf of bread. That rocket was also carrying the cremated remains of some 208 people, including Star Trek actor James Doohan and astronaut Gordon Cooper. This time, the Falcon 1 rocket carried a 165-kilogram mass simulator, meant to mimic the weight and heft of real payloads.
SpaceX launched its first liquid-fuel powered rocket into orbit Sunday. The firm hopes to drop the cost of space access (Image: SpaceX)
The firm paid for the launch out of pocket, Musk told New Scientist. The previous three flights were paid for by the US Defense department.
Some industry watchers were delighted by the development. "[The] flight can be a bright glint of the new dawn for the Space Age that's just over the horizon," says aerospace consultant Charles Lurio.
SpaceX is competing for a NASA cargo delivery contract, which would allow the firm to send supplies to the space station when the shuttle retires in 2010.
Such cargo would be lofted into space in a capsule atop the firm's Falcon 9 rocket. SpaceX aims to install the rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida, later this year and to launch it in mid-2009.
Private Company Launches Its Rocket Into Orbit
By JOHN SCHWARTZ
A privately financed company launched a rocket of its own design successfully into orbit on Sunday night, ushering in what the company’s founders hope will be a new era of spaceflight.
It was the fourth launching attempt by the company, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, which was founded by Elon Musk, an Internet entrepreneur born in South Africa.
“We’ve made orbit!” Mr. Musk exclaimed to his employees at the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., proclaiming the moment “awesome.”
“There were a lot of people who thought we couldn’t do it — a lot, actually,” he said after thanking his employees. “But, you know, the saying goes, fourth time’s the charm.”
Mr. Musk, 37, founded SpaceX in 2002 after selling the online payment company he helped found, PayPal, to eBay for $1.5 billion.
SpaceX, which has more than 500 employees, captured one of the most coveted prizes of the new space industry: a commercial orbital transportation services contract worth as much as $100 million. Known by its acronym, Cots, the program encourages private-sector alternatives to the space shuttle.
The company is developing a larger rocket, the Falcon 9, to provide cargo services to the International Space Station for NASA after the shuttle program winds down in 2010. The company also hopes to adapt its technology to carry people to the station, which could help bridge the gap until the debut of the next generation of NASA spacecraft, planned for 2015.
“This is just the first step in many,” Mr. Musk told his team.
His relief was obvious. The first three efforts by SpaceX had ended in failure. The first, in March 2006, failed about a minute into the ascent because of a fuel line leak. A second rocket, launched in March 2007, made it to space but was lost about five minutes after launching.
In the most recent flight, on Aug. 2, mission control lost contact with the craft shortly after the separation of the first stage. That third flight carried three small satellites for NASA and the Defense Department, as well as small amounts of the cremated remains of 200 people, including Gordon Cooper, one of the original seven Mercury astronauts, and James Doohan, who played the character Montgomery Scott on the original “Star Trek” television series.
Engineers identified the problem as a small amount of residual thrust from the first stage after the engine was cut off; the first stage rear-ended the second after separation. Mr. Musk said the company had fixed the problem by telling the rocket to wait a few more seconds after cut-off before jettisoning the first stage, a change that required rewriting a single line of computer code.
This time around, SpaceX took no chances with a customer’s payload and instead launched what it called a payload mass simulator — a 364-pound weight — from the Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean at 7:16 p.m., Eastern time.
Those at headquarters cheered lustily at the launching, and even more so when the first and second stages separated successfully on live video that was also shown on the company’s Web site, spacex.com. There was a long moment of concern as mission control lost contact with the craft as it neared orbital velocity, its engine nozzle glowing bright red. But the image reappeared, and the cheers resumed.
In a news conference after the launching, Mr. Musk told reporters, “It’s great to have this giant monkey off my back.”
Michael Griffin, the administrator of the NASA, said in an e-mail message in response to a request for comment on the launch, said "I am tremendously pleased for them." He added, "Practical commercial spaceflight remains a difficult goal, but one brought much closer with this step."
Nanotech and synbio: Americans don't know what's coming
Landmark poll shows little knowledge of emerging technologies
Washington, DC — A groundbreaking poll finds that almost half of U.S. adults have heard nothing about nanotechnology, and nearly nine in 10 Americans say they have heard just a little or nothing at all about the emerging field of synthetic biology, according to a new report released by the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies (PEN) and Peter D. Hart Research. Both technologies involve manipulating matter at an incredibly small scale to achieve something new.
This new insight into limited public awareness of emerging technologies comes as a major leadership change is about to take hold in the nation's capital. Public policy experts are concerned, regardless of party, that the federal government is behind the curve in engaging citizens on the potential benefits and risks posed by technologies that could have a significant impact on society.
"Early in the administration of the next president, scientists are expected to take the next major step toward the creation of synthetic forms of life. Yet the results from the first U.S. telephone poll about synthetic biology show that most adults have heard just a little or nothing at all about it," says PEN Director David Rejeski. The poll findings are contained a report published today, The American Public's Awareness Of And Perceptions About Potential Risks and Benefits of Nanotechnology & Synthetic Biology, and available at: www.nanotechproject.org/n/synbio_poll . This page is limited access until the embargo is lifted. Login: synbio Password: advance
Synthetic biology is the use of advanced science and engineering to construct or re-design living organisms–like bacteria–so that they can carry out specific functions. This emerging technology is likely to develop rapidly in the coming years, much as nanotechnology did in the last decade. In the near future the first synthetic biology "blockbuster" drug is anticipated to hit the market—an affordable treatment for the 500 million people in the world suffering from malaria.
The poll, which was conducted by the same firm that produces the well-known NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls, found that about two-thirds of adults say they have heard nothing at all about synthetic biology, and only 2 percent say they have heard "a lot" about the new technology. Even with this very low level of awareness, a solid two-thirds of adults are willing to express an initial opinion on the potential benefits versus risks tradeoff of synthetic biology.
This survey was informed by two focus groups conducted in August in suburban Baltimore. This is the first time—to the pollsters' knowledge—that synthetic biology has been the subject of a representative national telephone survey.
At the same time, the poll found that about half of adults say they have heard nothing at all about nanotechnology. About 50 percent of adults are too unsure about nanotechnology to make an initial judgment on the possible tradeoffs between benefits and risks. Of those people who are willing to make an initial judgment, they think benefits will outweigh risks by a three to one margin when compared to those who believe risks will outweigh benefits. The plurality of respondents, however, believes that risks and benefits will be about equal. A major industry forecasting firm determined that last year nanotech goods in the global marketplace totaled $147 billion. According to the poll, the level of U.S. public awareness about nanotechnology has not changed measurably since 2004 when Hart Research conducted the first poll on the topic on behalf of the PEN.
Nanotechnology is the ability to measure, see, manipulate and manufacture things usually between 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a meter; a human hair is roughly 100,000 nanometers wide. In 2007, the global market for goods incorporating nanotechnology totaled $147 billion. Lux Research projects that figure will grow to $3.1 trillion by 2015.