Tuesday, April 5, 2011

SpaceX plans world's most powerful rocket

California-based SpaceX has announced plans for a new rocket that it says will be the most powerful in the world.

Headed by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, SpaceX has already successfully flown two other rockets, the Falcon 1 and Falcon 9. It has a NASA contract to deliver cargo to the International Space Station using its existing Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon space capsule.

On Tuesday, Musk announced plans for a much more powerful rocket called the Falcon
in a press briefing in Washington DC.

It will be able to lift 53 tonnes to low-Earth orbit, more than any other rocket in existence. Only one other rocket in history has ever been able to lift more: The Saturn V rockets, used by NASA to send astronauts to the moon, could each lift 118 tonnes to low-Earth orbit.

"This opens a new world of capability for both government and commercial space missions," Musk said.
The company plans to launch the rocket for the first time in 2013 or 2014 on a test flight.

SpaceX plans to use the rocket to carry satellites to geosynchronous orbit and one day, perhaps to send astronauts to the moon or Mars (though multiple launches would be needed to loft all the necessary hardware for each mission).

In the nearer term, SpaceX hopes to win a NASA contract to carry astronauts to the space station on its smaller Falcon 9 rocket, which is powerful enough to lift a Dragon capsule containing seven people.

But the results of a study by the non-profit Aerospace Corporation, posted on Monday on the NASA Watch website, say seats on such commercial space taxis would likely cost two to three times as much as those on Russian Soyuz capsules. NASA plans initially to buy seats on Soyuz capsules for flights to the space station after the space shuttle fleet's planned retirement this year.

The Commercial Spaceflight Federation, a lobbying group for space companies, countered that the study was based on inaccurate information, including the assumption that space taxis could carry only four astronauts at a time.

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