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SpaceX announces plans for next Falcon 1 launch

Posted: March 17, 2009

Parts of SpaceX's next Falcon 1 rocket are en route to the booster's remote island launch site for the company's first commercial mission due for liftoff on April 20.

The first stage of the fifth Falcon 1 rocket as seen in the California factory. Credit: SpaceX
SpaceX shipped the rocket's first stage last week to Kwajalein Atoll in the central Pacific Ocean, according to an update posted on the company's Web site.

The empty stage was trucked from SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., to Long Beach harbor. The 3,000-pound structure was then loaded aboard a transport vessel for the 5,000-mile voyage to Kwajalein.

The Falcon 1's second stage will be shipped to Kwajalein on a cargo plane in the next few weeks, according to SpaceX.

Once at the Kwajalein, the hardware will be moved to Omelek Island, the seven-acre home of the Falcon 1 for the past three years.

Omelek houses an austere launch pad with propellant tanks, a processing hangar and workspace for engineers and technicians. The isle has hosted all four Falcon 1 launches to date.

Officials are targeting a launch date of April 20, U.S. time, the company said. The launch would occur on April 21 at Kwajalein.

RazakSAT, the primary payload for the upcoming mission, is scheduled to fly from Malaysia to Kwajalein this weekend. The 400-pound satellite has been delayed for two years, primarily due to the Falcon's string of early launch failures.

The six-sided, 3.9-foot-tall craft was supposed to fly aboard the Falcon 1's fourth mission last fall, but SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk pulled RazakSAT from the launch after the rocket fell short of orbit on its third flight.

"We always committed to them that we would demonstrate getting to orbit before we flew their vehicle, so we're sticking to that commitment," Musk said after the August failure.

RazakSAT includes a medium-sized aperture camera with black-and-white and color bands. The imager is designed to reach spatial resolutions of about 8.2 feet and 16.4 feet in black-and-white and color modes, respectively.

The images will be used for environmental and crop monitoring, mapping, transportation, and government applications, according to ATSB, the Malaysian small satellite company that built the satellite.

RazakSAT will circle Earth in a 425-mile-high orbit with an inclination of 9 degrees.

But engineers must first assemble the 70-foot-tall rocket and attach RazakSAT atop the booster inside the Falcon 1 integration building. The rocket will then be rolled out and lifted vertically on the launch pad for the countdown.

SpaceX officials would not say whether the launch team will conduct a brief on-pad engine test to cap off a customary countdown dress rehearsal. All previous Falcon 1 campaigns included such tests a few days before launch.

The Falcon 1 will also carry two small Malaysian secondary payloads bolted to an adapter ring during the ride into space.