CAPE CANAVERAL – Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) launched the first Falcon 9/Dragon demonstration flight for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. SpaceX attempted to launch at 9:06 a.m. EDT – however this was not to be – an abort was called. The old saying if first you don’t succeed, try, try again – worked well for the NewSpace firm, with a successful launch happening at 10:43 a.m. EDT. The Falcon 9 with its Dragon spacecraft payload lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 in Florida searing a path through the clear southern skies on this attempt.
UPDATE: SpaceX reports that the Dragon capsule has successfully made 2 orbits and has now splashed down. We’ll have more from a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
See more images and launch video below.
SpaceX launched its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop this new family of rocket. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth at speeds greater than 17,000 miles per hour, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, and land in the Pacific Ocean a little over three hours later. If successful, this will mark the first attempt by a commercial company to recover a spacecraft after it has returned to Earth from low-Earth-orbit (LEO). To date, only nations have accomplished this, no company has achieved this yet.
This marked the first flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract. This contract is worth an estimated $1.6 billion. The impetus behind this program is to provide supply services to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX has been contracted to conduct three demonstration flights and12 missions to carry cargo to and from the ISS as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract for NASA. This puts the Dragon a step above the Russian, European and Japanese resupply vehicles as all of them burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.
The Dragon spacecraft is expected to splashdown 500 miles west of Mexico in the Pacific Ocean at about 2 PM EST. We’ll provide updates on how the spacecraft survives re-entry as the news becomes available.
With the space shuttle slated to retire next year, NASA needs this contract to deliver supplies to the space station and may use the launch vehicle and Dragon to send astronauts to the orbiting outpost.
SpaceX had slated the Falcon 9 to launch on Tuesday; Dec. 7 – however this was delayed due to cracks discovered in the weld on the second stage’s rocket nozzle. SpaceX discovered the cause behind the two small cracks and engineers repaired the problem by trimming off the end where the cracks were located resolving the issue.