December 10, 2010
The first private company to both launch a spacecraft into orbit and then successfully recover it just completed that. And if we wondered whether the company was secretly run by Wallace and Gromit now we might have a clue. The payload for this flight was a wheel of cheese, homage to the Monty Python Cheese Shop sketch.
SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket, which is the launch vehicle for a NASA contract they won Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS, not to be confused with COTS commercial off the shelf) to provide a medium or heavy lift craft to bring stuff to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 is a two stage vehicle using liquid oxygen and kerosene along with nine rocket engines for the first stage and a single, vacuum capable rocket engine for the second stage. The first stage provides a whopping 5 meganewtons of thrust and it's capable of carrying from 4,600 kg up to 8,500 kg depending on the type of orbit desired with plans for a larger 15-29 kN rocket. That is a lot of cheese.