Universe Today photographer Alan Walters was on hand for Friday’s spectacular and picture-perfect launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Enjoy a gallery of images, including this great shot of a Prandtl–Glauert singularity, or shock cone that formed around the rocket, which sometimes occurs when a sudden drop in air pressure occurs when rockets or aircraft are traveling at transonic speeds.
“This has really been a fantastic day,” said an exuberant Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, speaking with reporters after the flight. “It’s been one of the best days of my life. It’s certainly been one of the greatest days for the people of SpaceX.”
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.
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.
SpaceX just released the official word on what happened with Tuesday’s 3.5 second test-fire of the Falcon 9 rocket. The test aborted immediately after it started, and a a spin start system failure forced the early shutdown. The Falcon 9 sits on Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and from the Kennedy Space Center press site, (about 4 miles away) a muffled bang was heard at the time of ignition, 1:41 pm EST. “Today SpaceX performed our first Static Fire for the Falcon 9 launch vehicle,” said Emily Shankin from SpaceX in a press release. “We counted down to an T-2 seconds and aborted on Spin Start. Given that this was our first abort event on this pad, we decided to scrub for the day to get a good look at the rocket before trying again. Everything looks great at first glance.”
An online webcam on Spaceflightnow.com showed a brief flash and a small cloud of smoke, and then nothing. Other observers at the site said it appeared as if flight computers detected a problem and automatically shut down the engines before the test was completed. The test-firing is considered a major objective towards the first launch of the Falcon 9, now tentatively scheduled for March 22, but SpaceX officials say launch is more likely to occur in April.
Here’s the rest of SpaceX’s press release:
We completed pad preps on time and with good execution. The integrated countdown with the range included holdfire checks, S- band telemetry, C-band, and FTS simulated checks. We completed helium, liquid oxygen (LOX), and fuel loads to within tenths of a percent of T-zero conditions. Tanks pressed nominally and we passed all Terminal count, flight software, and ground software abort checks right down to T-2 seconds. We encountered a problem with the spin start system and aborted nominally.
As part of the abort, we close the pre-valves to isolate the engines from the propellant tank and purge the residual propellants. The brief flames seen on the video are burn off of LOX and kerosene on the pad. The engines did not ignite and there was no engine fire.
We detanked and safed the vehicle and launch pad. Preliminary review shows all other systems required to reach full ignition were within specification. All other pad systems worked nominally. Inspections will be complete tonight. Tomorrow will consist of data review and procedure updates. Commodities will be replenished tomorrow including TEA TEB load, LOX and helium deliveries.
We’ll look to do the next static fire attempt in three or four days.
The Falcon 9 rocket measures 47 meters long (154 feet) and 4 meters (12 feet) wide, and for the upcoming test launch the payload will be a dummy of the company’s Dragon capsule being developed to carry equipment to the International Space Station for NASA.
The nine Merlin 1C engines will produce about 825,000 pounds of total thrust, about four times the power of a 747 jumbo jet at full throttle. The engines consume about 3,200 pounds of kerosene and liquid oxygen propellants per second, according to SpaceX.
Is the future here? Over the weekend, SpaceX rolled their Falcon 9 launch vehicle out to the launchpad at Space Launch Complex 40, Cape Canaveral. If all systems check out, SpaceX looks to do an engine test sometime this week, which should provide some dramatic rumbling and shaking here in Florida. The rocket measures 47 meters long (154 feet) and 4 meters (12 feet) wide, and for the upcoming test launch (date currently not set), the payload will be a dummy of the company’s Dragon capsule being developed to carry equipment to the International Space Station for NASA.
The word around Cape Canaveral is that the range has been reserved for March 8, but SpaceX won’t provide any specific potential launch dates; instead giving a range of sometime between March and May. SpaceX founder Elon Musk has said the Range date is “just a placeholder for the earliest possible countdown attempt.” In an article in Spaceflightnow.com, Musk said the launch likely won’t occur until April at the earliest.
SpaceX said that Falcon 9 is now undergoing a checkout of the critical flight connections including fuel, liquid oxygen, and gas pressure systems. Once all system interfaces are verified, the launch team will execute a full tanking test of both first and second stages (wet dress) followed by a brief ~3.5 static fire of the first stage. “SpaceX has not set specific dates for wet dress or static fire as schedule will be driven by the satisfactory completion of all test objectives and a thorough review of the data,” the company said in a press release.
SpaceX announced Thursday that all flight hardware for the first launch of the Falcon 9 rocket has arrived at the SpaceX launch site, at Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40), in Cape Canaveral, Florida, which I was able to see earlier this week. The final delivery included the Falcon 9 second stage, which recently completed testing at SpaceX’s test facility in McGregor, Texas. SpaceX has now initiated full vehicle integration of the 47 meter (154 feet) tall, 3.6 meter (12 feet) diameter rocket. In an upcoming launch, possibly as early as March, SpaceX will test their the cargo- and crew-carrying ability, using a Dragon spacecraft qualification unit. Since SpaceX is poised to figure prominently in the future of human spaceflight, the upcoming test flight is crucial, both for SpaceX and NASA.
“We expect to launch in one to three months after completing full vehicle integration,” said Brian Mosdell, Director of Florida Launch Operations for SpaceX. “Our primary objective is a successful first launch and we are taking whatever time necessary to work through the data to our satisfaction before moving forward.”
Following full vehicle integration, SpaceX will conduct a static firing to demonstrate flight readiness and confirm operation of ground control systems in preparation for actual launch.
Though designed from the beginning to transport crew, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft will initially be used to transport cargo. Falcon 9 and Dragon were selected by NASA to resupply the International Space Station (ISS) once Shuttle retires. The $1.6B contract represents 12 flights for a minimum of 20 tons to and from the ISS with the first demonstration flights beginning in 2010.
While space shuttle Endeavour’s launch on Monday was scrubbed –again — due to weather, another launch took place later, which successfully launched the first commercial payload on board a rocket built by a commercial space company. SpaceX launched their Falcon 1 rocket from Omelek Island at Kwajalein Atoll to put a Malaysian RazakSAT satellite in a near equatorial orbit. SpaceX was able to overcome troubles with a helium system as well as bad weather, both of which caused delays. But eventually, the Falcon 1 launched flawlessly.
This was the second successful launch in five tries for the Falcon 1 rocket. Later this year. SpaceX hopes to launch its larger Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral
Meanwhile, for the second day in a row, thunderstorms near the Kennedy Space Center forced a scrub for Endeavour and her crew. It was the fifth delay for the STS-127 mission, going back to a hydrogen leak which delayed the launch in June.
NASA has decided to pass up a Tuesday launch opportunity, and try for a sixth launch attempt Wednesday July 15 at 6:03:10 p.m. EDT. The weather looks like it has a better chance of allowing a launch (60 percent chance of good weather as opposed to a 40 percent chance on Tuesday), plus the extra day will give .
engineers a chance to repair a rocket thruster rain cover came loose.
Delaying the shuttle launch may mean rescheduling when a Progress resupply ship can dock to the space station. If it launches as scheduled on July 24, it needs to dock by July 29.