It’s with no small sense of excitement that I report two important developments this past week. First, of course, is the successful inaugural flight of the Falcon 9 rocket I’ve been following for some time now (here, here, and here).
As the frontrunner corporate replacement for NASA’s retiring Space Shuttle, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has proven with this launch that they have the right stuff. Their proprietary Merlin-class engines, Falcon series rockets, and their Apollo-styled Dragon spacecraft are primed to keep the good ol’ USA in the space transportation game through the transition, lessening our reliance on Russia’s (Energia’s) Soyuz and Progress spacecraft. Details of the Falcon 9 launch include what SpaceX claims is an “orbital bulls-eye” -a near-perfect circular orbit at an altitude of 155 miles- and a wealth of aerodynamic data during ascent that they will use to refine future launches. If you haven’t seen it, check out a high-def video of the launch here.
Secondly, I’d like to applaud the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA‘s) recent successful full deployment of their IKAROS (Interplanetary Kite-craft Accelerated by the Radiation Of the Sun) spacecraft’s solar sail. (An illustration showing this process can be found here.) The breakthrough craft, which was launched in late May, employs a hybrid sail intended to use solar radiation as a passive means of propulsion as well as a source of electrical power.
IKAROS is now on its way toward our sister planet, Venus. During the next six months, JAXA researchers will step on the gas, orienting the sail for maximum acceleration to see how fast they can get IKAROS to go. Should the light weight and utterly practical technology prove successful, look for similar systems to begin showing up on future spacecraft.
In all, a very exciting time, with much more on deck. Stay tuned.