SpaceX, likely the biggest name in the growing private space travel industry, successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket with a Robotic Dragon cargo capsule from the storied Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center – the very same platform used to send astronauts to the moon during the Apollo missions, and later the host to multiple space shuttle mission launches.
“Liftoff of the Falcon 9 to the space station on the first commercial launch from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Pad 39A!” said NASA commentator George Diller as the 230 foot tall, dual stage rocket took to the sky.
Sunday’s events marked the second successful launch for SpaceX since a Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launch pad on September 1st of last year. The rocket was destroyed during routine pre-launch checks and with it went a $200 million Amos-6 satellite.
The Falcon 9 is a dual stage rocket, but unlike previous rocket designs, the first stage booster actually returns to Earth after separating. This drastically reduces launch expense when compared to the traditional method of expelling spent boosters and allowing them to fall into the ocean, with SpaceX’s boosters landing vertically on drone ships in the ocean, or as in this most recent case, a landing site a few miles away from the Launchpad.
Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and other technology heavy companies like Tesla, posted on Instagram as the first stage of the rocket delicately touched down at its designated landing spot, “Baby came back.”
The rocket reached orbit in just under eleven minutes and deployed its solar arrays, but won’t make contact with the international space station until Wednesday, when it will transfer its payload of nearly 5500 pounds’ worth of scientific equipment and supplies.
“Consumable-wise, we’re in great shape; we’ve got well above our reserve levels for food and water, so we’ve really dedicated this Dragon mission to the research,” Dan Hartman, deputy manager for the International Space Station (ISS) program, said during a briefing Friday (Feb. 17). “It’s chock-full, and the crew’s really going to enjoy the science we’re getting ready to bring out.”
Once the Dragon capsule arrives, it will likely take the crew of the ISS as many as sixteen days to install the new equipment via robotic arms on the external body of the capsules. Other experiments arriving are said to be the products of 800 scientists from around the world, and include “tests of how ‘superbug’ MRSA bacteria adapt in space, an antibody crystallization project, a stem-cell-growing experiment, a mouse study investigating how wounds heal in space and many projects designed by students.”
“You can see that this particular SpaceX launch is going to keep our crew busy; it keeps us busy every day,” Tara Ruttley, associate scientist for the ISS program, said during the Friday briefing. “We’ve never seen such a platform like this enabled on orbit for science.”
SpaceX has signed a twenty-year contract with NASA, that includes the continued use of the historical launch pad in Complex 39A. Prior to Sunday’s flight, the launch pad hadn’t seen use since the final lift off of America’s space shuttle program on July 8th, 2011.
Image courtesy of SpaceX