A lot has already been said about the Falcon 1 launch earlier this week, so rather than recap and reanalyze the launch from a technical standpoint, I’ll make this observation. It was initially a little surprising to hear that SpaceX people were celebrating, having champagne toasts, and, in general, calling the flight mostly a success. After all, their rocket had failed to reach orbit, the one factor that counts in a launch. In the most binary sense, this was a failed launch: being 90-95% successful is no consolation to the customer whose satellite failed to make orbit.
Of course, though, this wasn’t a satellite launch but rather a test flight, where that 90-95% success is actually meaningful, something I (and others) explained in a firstname.lastname@example.org article published today. It’s still a little odd to hear people celebrating a success even as the second stage lost roll control, but in any case the launch is a significant step forward in SpaceX’s long-term efforts to develop launch vehicles and spacecraft capable of eventually carrying people into orbit.