A 'great day' for the future of commercial space
It's a difficult business developing a rocket. If it were that easy, everyone would have one (even the UK!).
But the stats are clear - some two-thirds of the new vehicles introduced in the past 20 years experienced a failure on their first outing. And of that number, more than one-third tripped up on their second flight too.
The company, whose goal is to reduce the cost of access to space, had naturally tried to dampen expectations before lift-off.
CEO and chief designer Elon Musk had suggested it would be a "good day" if only the first-stage of the two-stage Falcon worked properly. Making orbit would be a "great day", he said. Friday turned out to be a "great day".
We got clear onboard video of the ascent over the Atlantic, almost to the point of the second stage shut-down, just under nine minutes after the Falcon left the Cape.
The last altitude call I heard was for 256km - a little more than the target injection orbit. The Falcon was equipped with over 100 sensors. We'll hear more about the key performance data in the days and weeks ahead.
But the evident success of the launch will reverberate around Capitol Hill in Washington DC.
Politicians whose states will miss out on Constellation's multi-billion-dollar contracts are up in arms, and they haven't exactly been saying nice things about SpaceX - the upstart that has suggested the commercial sector might be able to launch astronauts into space for a fraction of the cost of traditional government-run programmes.
When I spoke to Elon Musk on Thursday, I put it to him that he and his company had become something of a political football in recent months, kicked back and forth in the war of words between Congress and the White House.
SpaceX was a "punching bag, a whipping boy," he said:
"Our launch should not be a verdict on the viability of commercial space. Commercial space is the only way forward. If we go with super-expensive government developments, in the absence of some massive increase in the space budget we will never do anything interesting in space. And given the enormous federal deficits both in the US and obviously in Europe, that means there will not be an interesting future in space. It's not a path forward; it is the only path forward.
There is a long way to go before SpaceX will be allowed to launch astronauts to the space station on a Falcon 9.
Just because the first launch met its prime objectives doesn't mean everything is guaranteed to go swimmingly in future.
But the company will now push forward with its development programme.
It has a second Falcon 9 already assembled and sitting in Texas awaiting shipment to Cape Canaveral. The next flight will not have a dummy capsule atop its length like Friday's rocket; it will have a fully functional Dragon freighter.
Dragon is the centrepiece of SpaceX's plan to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).
The second flight will be the first of the so-called Cots test flights. Cots stands for Commercial Orbital Transportation Services. It is the seed programme Nasa established to bring the commercial sector into the business of restocking the ISS.
Whereas Friday's dummy capsule was thrown into a 250km-high orbit and abandoned, on the Cots test the Dragon capsule will be asked to perform a series of manoeuvres to demonstrate its capability.
It will then have to show it can return safely to Earth by passing intact through the heat of re-entry and landing softly in the ocean via parachute.
These are tall tasks, but SpaceX is confident that on the second Cots mission, perhaps by this time next year, it can actually take its unmanned Dragon all the way into the ISS and deliver supplies.
This is one flight ahead of the Cots schedule agreed with Nasa and the agency has yet to sanction the accelerated timetable. Nasa is mulling it over, but may just decide to go with it.
The retirement of the shuttle leaves a 60-tonne shortfall in the cargo manifest through to 2016 that must be filled by robotic freighters. Even if they all work, the margin will be tight.
So providing SpaceX can meet its milestones, Nasa could accede to the request to go to the station early because the platform really does need all the supplies it can get.
I'm interested to see if SpaceX manages to find and recover the first-stage from Friday's launch.
The plan eventually is to try to make the Falcon 9 totally reusable. That is, to get back everything that went up, reassemble it and put it back on the launch pad to go again.
This is all part of the drive to dramatically reduce the costs of spaceflight. Is it really feasible? I don't know.
But Friday's first-stage was equipped with a heat-resistant covering and a parachute. SpaceX will certainly go and look for it.
Elon Musk told me this week:
"Long term, it's critical that true reusability is achieved for orbital transport. In the absence of that I don't think we will ever extend life beyond Earth because the capital costs will be far too high. The shuttle of course is a partially reusable launch vehicle - the main tank is thrown away each time. But the bits that are reusable are so difficult to reuse that the shuttle actually costs more than an expendable rocket."
It's all interesting stuff. The second Falcon 9 launch should take place before the summer is out.
Watch this space.