Saturday morning marked a significant milestone in spaceflight: the successful maiden launch of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. For years, spaceflight has been ruled by governments and the military, but SpaceX is shaking things up by developing rockets on a purely commercial basis, and at a fraction of the price of competing offerings. SpaceX has had success in the past with its smaller Falcon 1 rocket, but the Falcon 9 is a much bigger machine: with around 20 times the payload capacity, it’s more than capable of launching crew and cargo to the ISS.
Testing new rockets is always risky — the history of rocketry is littered with spectacular failures — and with Obama’s moves to invest in commercial providers to replace the nearly-retired Shuttle in the near term, all eyes were on this flight. However, most of the components had already been tested on the Falcon 1, from the avionics and basic construction and design, through to the engines: as you can see in some of the launch photos, the Falcon 9’s first stage uses nine engines, which are identical to the single engine on the Falcon 1’s first stage.
The next flight for SpaceX will be the test launch of its Dragon spacecraft, which will be used to ferry cargo, and potentially crew, to the ISS. That flight should be just a few months away; the Falcon 9 for that launch is already built, and the Dragon capsule itself is nearly complete.
This test flight did bring out some real craziness, though — people across eastern Australia spotted a “UFO” early on Saturday morning. Based on the timing, and the behaviour, including a slow spinning motion that was also observed in the live webcast from the Falcon 9’s on-board cameras, it must’ve been the Falcon 9. That hasn’t stopped a tonne of idiots jumping online with wacky theories, stating that it “couldn’t possibly be a rocket” based on their ridiculously ill-informed ideas of what a rocket is meant to be. A lot of the media hasn’t even bothered researching its true nature, instead being quite happy to perpetuate the UFO story.
What exactly do you call an Unidentified Flying Object once it’s been identified?