SpaceX Successfully Launches Dragon Into Orbit

by Nancy Atkinson on May 22, 2012

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Do you believe in Dragons? In a spectacular night launch, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket carrying the Dragon capsule is now heading for the first commercial rendezvous at the International Space Station. With an official launch time of 07:44:38 UTC/3:44:38 a.m. EDT, the Dragon capsule is now safely in orbit with its solar array wings deployed, and the mission begins for the COTS-2/3 cargo delivery demonstration mission.

“Falcon flew perfectly!! Dragon in orbit, comm locked and solar arrays active!! Feels like a giant weight just came off my back :),” Tweeted Elon Musk, SpaceX CEO.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, following the launch. “A private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time. And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to good start… This demonstrates the future of American space exploration, to have private industry provide for access to low Earth orbit while NASA goes off and does what it does best in exploring beyond in our solar system. It’s a great day for America, a great day for the world because there were people who thought that we were going away. We are not going away at all. The SpaceX/NASA team came through with flying colors.”

Screenshot from SpaceX webcast showing the Dragon capsule in orbit. (Thanks to Jason Major).


“The entire team at SpaceX and at NASA should be commended for their success on this third test flight of the Falcon 9 rocket,” said former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, who is now the President of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. “The preparations and precautions taken by SpaceX and NASA in months past have contributed to their exemplary performance today. After seeing the smooth launch SpaceX just executed, it is easy to forget that this is indeed rocket science.”

The Falcon 9 appeared to fly flawlessly, and after the crucial moment of solar array deploy, there were hugs and cheers all around in SpaceX’s mission control room.

The rendezvous at the ISS will happen on May 25, with the Canadarm2 grapple occurring at 12:06 GMT (8:06 a.m. EDT) on the 25th.

NASA has updated their Satellite Sightings page to include when the Dragon will be visible in the night skies.

The White House issued a statement from John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology: “Congratulations to the teams at SpaceX and NASA for this morning’s successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Every launch into space is a thrilling event, but this one is especially exciting because it represents the potential of a new era in American spaceflight. Partnering with U.S. companies such as SpaceX to provide cargo and eventually crew service to the International Space Station is a cornerstone of the President’s plan for maintaining America’s leadership in space. This expanded role for the private sector will free up more of NASA’s resources to do what NASA does best — tackle the most demanding technological challenges in space, including those of human space flight beyond low Earth orbit. I could not be more proud of our NASA and SpaceX scientists and engineers, and I look forward to following this and many more missions like it.”

We’ll have more details and images from Ken Kremer and our group of photographers, live from Kennedy Space Center.

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Zoutsteen from Holland May 22, 2012 at 9:03 AM

And thus a company did what only Nations could do before. Congrats!

TerryG May 22, 2012 at 9:49 AM

Yep. Now the hard part begins. It’s going to be a busy/nervy few days working through the COTS 2+ test flight plan (far-field demonstrations, approach abort simulations, flight day 3 flypast, LIDAR approach, R-Bar demonstration manoeuvres etc.) before the ISS crew get to grapple the Dragon.

Great work too from UT for all these updates. Thanks a bunch.

Bertie Seyffert May 22, 2012 at 11:26 AM

I honestly just air-punched when I read the title of this in my news feed… :D. For some reason this really feels like a turning point in human history, and that I should feel honoured to have witnessed it. Also, this feels almost like the kind of momentous event which would inspire passing Vulcans to come say: “Hi, welcome to the Galaxy” :D. I’m so gonna tell my kids about this one day…

Aerandir90 May 22, 2012 at 12:34 PM

Maybe now the House will take back their commercial-crew-cutting bill

Martin_Silenus May 22, 2012 at 1:32 PM

Congratulations SpaceX!

I’m actually curious what the exact relationship between is between SpaceX and NASA? It looks like SpaceX is having no (or at least very few) troubles developing and launching new rockets, while developing and building was a much more cumbersome activity in the past (few decades).

Is it because commercial firms have a different and more commercial and efficient approach than governments, e.g. leaving out the bureaucratic part, or is NASA actually helping with this bureaucratic part, or is it just because rocket technology is already developed and known these days so one can rely on the past and “just have to build it”?

Aerandir90 May 22, 2012 at 2:42 PM

Pretty much what you said.. rocket technology is well established and developed, any trained personnel can build one with the appropriate amount of funding and lab/testing facilities, all of which SpaceX is able to provide. SpaceX is breaking ground more in the operational realm than in the technical realm.

As far as efficiency is confirmed, others can give a more knowledgeable answer but my guess is just that these companies have a more streamlined team structure by keeping overhead at a minimum. They’re more focused on a shorter number of goals and are inclined to work faster/harder so as to reach that point in the company’s operations where they can see positive net income.

Don’t forget that NASA is only but one, albeit the biggest and most important, customer for SpaceX. Just take a look at their impressive back-log of contracts with other entities:
http://www.spacex.com/launch_manifest.php

wjwbudro May 22, 2012 at 5:42 PM

Not to mention the accrued knowledge and expertise of the ex NASA and military personnel now employed at these commercial firms.

Aerandir90 May 22, 2012 at 8:31 PM

Good point, I bet they were integral to SpaceX’s beginnings when they had all the connections and knew who to speak to and how to get things done.

Atanu Maulik May 22, 2012 at 7:37 PM

It is because companies like SpaceX were able to tap into the vast knowledge and technology base built up by NASA and others over the past few decades. Doing something for the first time is always difficult and costly, by the time it was done a few thousand times it becomes easy. Here’s what the CEO of SpaceX has to say about SpaceX – NASA realtionship “I would like to start off by saying what a tremendous honor it has been to work with NASA. And to acknowledge the fact that we could not have started SpaceX, nor could we have reached this point without the help of NASA… It’s really been an honor to work with such great people.”

delphinus100 May 22, 2012 at 10:27 PM

“It is because companies like SpaceX were able to tap into the vast knowledge and technology base built up by NASA and others over the past few decades.”

Which is one of NASA’s very reasons for being. This and numerous other aerospace developments. The system is working just as it should.

Aqua4U May 22, 2012 at 2:57 PM

This launch brought tears of joy to my eyes! GO Space X!

SJStar May 22, 2012 at 5:39 PM

Such uncontrolled unfettered or overacted melodrama for such a commonplace event. Haven’t seen such verbosity since the Chinese first launch of their rocket, whose nation has also, incidentally, launched more rockets in 2011-2012 than the Americans. I wonder when Shenzhou 9 is likely launched in June if their will be equal fanfare, aplomb and certainty as so openly alleged here?
At least the future of the Chinese is equally, if not even more incandescent, than the highly variable uncertainties of capitalistic stock market profits in downtown Wall Street.
When compared to the passion and glory of promoting someones aspiring patriotic country (replacing it with greedy profiteers), such endeavours like this inspire no one except the stockholders. SpaceX achievements are meaningless when national or humankind pride is so stabbed through its heart. [Scoreline: Corporation 1, Nation 0]
I, for one, are far more melancholy in this regards than joyful.
Don’t like it. Tough. That’s how I feel about this seemingly perpetual promoted UT story.
It is signal of death of humanity’s great endeavour undercut by the worst of human nature – money.
A very sad day indeed! :(

Ethan Walker May 22, 2012 at 6:17 PM

Somehow I fail to see how this stabs our “national pride” in the heart. You seem to perceive this as a zero-sum game, where either the government or companies win. I for one don’t see how cutting space station resupply costs by a factor of six hurts the government, let alone the nation. And don’t forget that even the shuttle was maintained and re-equipped by private contractors, the real difference ends up being the cost structure: these contractors primarily operated under a cost plus structure, where the more costs they incurred, the more they got paid, whereas SpaceX provides services under a fixed contract. If SpaceX had been really greedy, they would have worked on becoming a contractor servicing the upcoming SLS heavy lift vehicle.

Aerandir90 May 22, 2012 at 8:40 PM

So you would rather have American astronauts be launched into space by the Russians at far higher the cost and complexity?

delphinus100 May 22, 2012 at 10:22 PM

“I wonder when Shenzhou 9 is likely launched in June if their will be equal fanfare, aplomb and certainty as so openly alleged here?”

No, because it will not be as new and unique. And considering that something like two years passes between each manned Chinese launch, I’m astounded that some think they’re about to tun out and take over the solar system, now that we supposedly ‘have no space program’ Still, many in the ‘space community’ will notice, because…that’s what we do.

In time, SpaceX launches will become commonplace and barely noticed, as well (If going to the Moon quickly did, this will too) and that’s okay. Commonplace is a good thing. No parades for non-stop trams-Atlantic fliers anymore, either…

“At least the future of the Chinese is equally, if not even more incandescent, than the highly variable uncertainties of capitalistic stock market profits in downtown Wall Street.”

You want certainty of anything? You’re in the wrong Universe.

“It is signal of death of humanity’s great endeavour undercut by the worst of human nature – money. ”

Yeah, like I can trust governments (to whom I’m legally bound to give ‘money’ BTW…*nothing* happens for free) to ultimately make it possible for me to get out there…

SJStar May 23, 2012 at 9:25 AM

Only Ethan Walker has made a valid point of the connection between shared work between private enterprise and government. As for delphinus100 and Aerandir90, they make no sense at all.

The central point is the exploration of space is based on humanity’s future not the gains of stockholders. The US here is notably NOT a signatory in a legal international agreement to not seek national ownership of celestial bodies. Why? They want to be able to legally claim the resources for they own capitalist purposes rather than share it to the benefit of all humanity. It frankly stinks. and what worst with SpaceX is they expect a return for their investments. The launch of SpaceX now changes the ball game completely, and that is sad.

As quoted in the “Journal of Air Law and Commerce.” http://www.space-settlement-institute.org/Articles/jal73-1Wasser.pdf (Winter 2008) article “Space Settlements, Property Rights, and International Law: Could a Lunar Settlement Claim the Lunar Real Estate it Needs to Survive?

HUMANITY’S SURVIVAL depends on moving out into the cosmos while the window of opportunity for doing so still exists. Besides helping to ensure the survival of humankind, the settling of space—including the establishment of permanent human settlements on the Moon and Mars—will bring incalculable economic and social benefits to all nations. The settlement of space would benefit all of humanity. It would open a new frontier, provide resources and room for growth of the human race without despoiling the Earth, energize our society, and as Dr. Stephen Hawking has pointed out, create a lifeboat for humanity that could survive even a planet-wide catastrophe. But, as Dr. Lawrence Risley pointed out, “Exploration is not suicidal and it is usually not altruistic, rather it is a means to obtain wealth. There must be rewards for the risks being taken.

The US Government continues to openly avoid discussing or undermine this important issue because it has the agenda/goal of claiming parts of celestial objects for itself and its corporations. SpaceX is just the beginning of this newer direction in space exploration.

(It is just the same process that happened with the exploitation of that of finding oil in Pennsylvania in the 1860-80s, where John D. Rockefeller made a financial killing, forged a monopoly with his company ‘Standard Oil’. Some much for letting the rest of America have the benefit of sharing its resources. 2012, and nothing has changed. Pity. Lesson. Lo and behold the rest of humanity using the resources of rest of the Solar System for our collective benefit.)

Ethan Walker May 24, 2012 at 12:48 AM

When I find myself annoyed by a libertarian, it is usually because they are implicitly arguing that any private profit must inerrantly translate into public gain. As I read you it seems you are making the opposite assumption, that any private profit must ultimately end in public loss, and I find this an almost identical species of misconception. If you did not intend this implication, then I have trouble understanding where your criticism of SpaceX comes from. On the other hand if this is something that you do believe, you will need to argue that premise explicitly to have any hope of convincing anyone here.

DarkGnat May 22, 2012 at 5:44 PM

Way to go, Space X!! This really does take away from the sting of the Shuttle retirements.

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