SpaceX’s Falcon 1e Rocket Replaces Cheaper Falcon 1

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Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, Calif., will replace its Falcon 1 rocket by the end of 2010 with the more capable and more expensive Falcon 1e rocket, the company said Aug. 6.

The upgraded version of the rocket uses a more powerful engine than the one originally designed for Falcon 1 and will be able to put larger, heavier payloads into orbit. A Falcon 1e launch will cost “under $11 million,” Rob Peckham, SpaceX vice president of business development, said in an e-mailed response to questions. Originally marketed as a $6-million rocket, SpaceX more recently pegged a Falcon 1 launch at $8 million.

SpaceX has launched four Falcon 1 rockets, finally succeeding in putting a satellite into orbit July 13. The Falcon 1e is scheduled to make its inaugural launch in 2010 and launch a satellite for Swedish Space Corp. in 2011. SpaceX has no more Falcon 1 launches on its manifest.

Starting with the third Falcon 1 launch attempt, SpaceX upgraded the rocket’s main ablatively cooled Merlin engine to a regeneratively cooled Merlin engine that resulted in increased performance, Peckham said. SpaceX is upgrading the structural components and avionics of the Falcon 1 to take advantage of this increased performance. The Falcon 1e will be capable of putting a 900-kilogram payload into orbit compared to the 420 kilograms of its predecessor, according to the SpaceX Web site. It will also have a wider and taller fairing.