Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Falcon 9 testing doesn't happen (We think)

Moonrise behind the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as it stands vertical on its pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida.



It does not appear the Falcon 9 test firing scheduled for Tuesday afternoon happened as planned. In their live-feed of the event, Spaceflight Now reported that "Spectators report they heard a loud bang at the time of ignition, but no other prolonged sounds of the engine burning."

I say "it does not appear" the Falcon 9 test firing happened because as of Tuesday night we still weren't sure. One unforeseen consequence of relying on private companies to provide space transport means bending to the will of private corporations. Because Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, the company who designed and built the Falcon 9, does not receive public funding and is not a governmental entity, they can choose to talk about what is happening or they can choose not to.

More than four hours after what appeared to be an aborted attempt at firing their new rocket, SpaceX still had not released a statement. Or said anything at all about the incident, in fact.

"2236 GMT (5:36 p.m. EST)
Nearing four hours after the Falcon 9 static fire, SpaceX has not provided any update on the outcome of the engine test, its duration, whether it was aborted, or when they will try again."


NASA, on the other hand, has to be accountable to the public it serves. If they roll the shuttle out to the launch pad, then change their minds at the last minute and roll it back, we expect answers. And we'll get them in a reasonable amount of time. Even if the answer is, "we don't know."

In the not-to-distant past, Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and CEO of SpaceX (and more recently CEO of Tesla Motors, too) has been fairly upfront with reports of what's going on with his company's plan to launch spaceships. Lately, however, the information from SpaceX has slowed to a trickle. Even when things go wrong in full view of the public, the company is clearly reticent about providing an explanation.

True, rocket science is a tricky business, prone to a wide range of unexpected results. However, the public has grown accustomed to being kept up-to-date with what's going on, investing their heart and soul in the efforts of the scientists, engineers, astronauts and muckety-mucks who make the magic happen.
Ask anyone at NASA and they'll tell you how important public support is to what they do.

We can't help but wonder if the same will be true during the age of commercial spaceflight.

Without that free-flowing river of information it remains to be seen if people will continue to offer their unwavering support. Or will instead turn a blind eye to it all, unwilling to go where they are clearly not wanted.

(Within the last hour SpaceNews.com posted an "abort notice" concerning Falcon 9)

Aerospace CEO takes wheel at electric car firm: SpaceX's Elon Musk seeks to steer Tesla down profitable road.(AUTOMOTIVE)(Tesla Motors Inc. appointed Elon ... article from: Los Angeles Business Journal

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