Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) has announced plans for a substantially larger version of its Falcon low-cost commercial launch vehicle, even though the first flight of its privately developed booster is not scheduled until March. Development of both vehicles is being funded by SpaceX, which was formed in June last year by internet entrepreneur Elon Musk.

The uprated Falcon V will have a first stage powered by five of the Merlin liquid-oxygen/kerosene rocket motors under development by SpaceX to power the single-engined first stage of the Falcon I. Both vehicles will use the same Kestrel second-stage engine. The Falcon I is designed to place a 450kg (1,000lb) payload into low-Earth orbit (LEO), but the Falcon V will have a 4,500kg LEO payload capacity and the ability to launch 1,100-1,400kg into geostationary transfer orbit, says vice-president Gwynne Shotwell.

Depending on the phase of flight, Falcon V will be capable of losing any three of the five engines and still complete its mission, says the El Segundo, California-based company. SpaceX abandoned its earlier Falcon Heavy design using strap-on boosters in favour of a Saturn V-type architecture, Shotwell says, because of safety concerns with booster separation. "There are two principal causes of launch failures: propulsion and separation. The Falcon V eliminates the separation event and has engine-out capability," she says.

SpaceX is offering firm contract pricing of $12 million a vehicle for the Falcon V, compared with $6 million for the Falcon I, leading to an all-up launch cost including range fees of around $14 million, says Shotwell. The $3,300/kg launch cost is substantially lower than that quoted for other launch vehicles. The company is also planning to develop a larger low-cost launcher in the Boeing Delta V/Lockheed Martin Atlas IV class, to be available by late 2006/early 2007, for which external funding will probably be required.

Development of the Falcon V is planned for completion in 2005. The first Falcon I booster is scheduled to be launched from Vandenberg AFB, California in March 2004, carrying the US Department of Defense's TacSat-1 micro-satellite. SpaceX is planning three launches next year and "five or six" in 2005 including the first Falcon V launches later that year, she says.

Source: Flight International