It was history in the making that could have a huge bearing on the future of US spaceflight. The commercial space company SpaceX successfully launched their Falcon 9 rocket on Friday, with what seemed to be a picture-perfect lift-off and flight. The Falcon 9 rocket performed magnificently (at least from initial reports), hitting all the flight parameters precisely on time. The SpaceX team overcame delays for telemetry problems, a boat that unknowingly sailed into the restricted zone of the launch range, and one last-second launch abort on an earlier try. The team then successfully recycled the engines and sent the rocket off on a beautiful launch. Video from the rocket in flight was streamed online, showing the stage separation and engine cutoff, with a view of Earth in the background.
UPDATE: Spaceflightnow.com reports that SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage and dummy Dragon capsule achieved a nearly perfect orbit during today’s dramatic blastoff, hitting a bullseye of the orbital target. The apogee, or high point, was about 1 percent higher than planned and the perigee, or low point, was 0.2 percent off the target.
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The Falcon 9 blasted off at 2:45 p.m. EDT (1845 GMT) from launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The nine Merlin engines, fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene rocket fuel, provided a million pounds of thrust, sending the rocket to orbit in just over 9 minutes.
SpaceX was shooting for the Falcon 9 to reach a circular orbit 250 kilometers, or 155 miles, high and an inclination of 34.5 degrees.
On the video, it is evident the rocket experienced a slight roll, which was not expected.
Having a rocket succeed on its maiden voyage is quite unusual (it took the Atlas rocket 13 tries for success), so the SpaceX team has to be extremely pleased with not only the rocket’s performance, but the team’s ability to overcome problems and press on with a successful launch.
180-foot (55 meter)-high Falcon 9 carried a mock-up of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule. With this success, the next flight may be a flight to the International Space Station to practice docking techniques — it won’t actually dock, but practice approach. If that goes well, the next flight might actually dock and bring supplies to the ISS.
Congratulations to SpaceX!