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SpaceX Falcon 9

The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule are not being designed like other space tourism enterprises that will be taking passengers for a couple laps around the earth. The SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule is being built to carry 7 persons and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) and back.

SpaceX Dragon 9 Capsule

SpaceX already has a COTS (Commercial Orbital Transportation Services) contract with NASA for three cargo re-supply missions to the ISS.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 is based upon the SpaceX Falcon 1, which has had a couple of test launches and will be doing a commercial satellite launch in the latter part of 2007.

Whereas the Falcon 1 is powered by one Merlin engine, the SpaceX Falcon 9 will be powered by 9 of them, hence the name. The Merlin engine is fueled by a combination of liquid oxygen (LOX) and kerosene, housed by a single panel of copper and is reusable.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 is a two stage rocket (launch vehicle) made mostly from high strength aluminum to cut down on weight. Some smaller parts are made from stainless steel and carbon fiber where necessary.

One of the unique features of the SpaceX Falcon 9 is that one of the Merlin engines can malfunction during takeoff and the spacecraft will still be able to achieve its orbital objectives. The engines produce 101,900 lbs-feet at sea level and the Falcon 9 uses a hold-before-release system required by many airlines but rarely implemented on spacecraft.

The Dragon capsule is a pressurized spacecraft used for Low Earth Orbit (LEO) transportation of cargo and crew. The Dragon can hold 7 crew members in a two-story, four-above and three below seat configuration.

The Dragon uses a protective nosecone and high performance heat shield for ascent and decent, a universal docking mechanism compatible with the ISS for transportation of crew and cargo and has three parachutes for ocean landings.

When the SpaceX Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule are finished with the NASA contract, the spacecraft may be used for more traditional space tourism ventures as well.

On June 4, 2010 Space X made a successful test launch with the aid of NASA from Cape Canaveral, Florida. On December 8, the SpaceX Dragon was launched from Cape Kennedy, made a trip into low earth orbit and was recovered at sea 500 miles off the California coast. In a tribute to Monte Python a secret payload was put onboard which was a wheel of cheese.

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