SpaceX has successfully launched the Dragon CRS-10 (2) mission carrying a cargo ship for the International Space Station (ISS) following the postponement of take-off on February 18 because of technical problems.
Witnesses said the Dragon rocket was only briefly visible before making its way into the clouds.
The launch was made from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The rocket booster successfully landed on the ground nine minutes after taking off.
Image source Flickr
The touchdown is part of SpaceX’s strategy of returning rockets to earth so they can be reused rather than jettisoning them in the ocean after a single launch.
Moments after the rocket landed, the SpaceX Dragon supply ship successfully reached orbit, prompting cheers inside the SpaceX Mission Control room.
The Dragon is now making its way to the ISS, and is expected to arrive on February 22.
On January 14, SpaceX resumed flights by launching a Falcon 9 vehicle from the Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast.
It was the first mission by the private rocket company since one of its vehicles exploded on the launch pad in September.
The company founder, Elon Musk, wants SpaceX to be at the forefront of the race involving several companies to deploy satellite-based internet services over the next few years.
SpaceX also has a long queue of customers all waiting for a ride to orbit – including America’s civil space agency (NASA), the US military and multiple outfits in the commercial sector.
SpaceX has resumed flights, launching a new Falcon 9 rocket, Iridium-1 NEXT, from the Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast.
It is the first mission by SpaceX since one of its vehicles exploded on the launch pad in September 2016.
The return to operations sees SpaceX start to renew what was the original global handheld satellite phone network, run by Iridium.
Lift-off took place at 09:54 local time on January 14.
A few minutes later, the first stage of the rocket landed successfully on a platform in the Pacific Ocean. An hour and 15 minutes after launch, the mission was complete with the Iridium payload safely in orbit.
Image source Flickr
SpaceX must now follow through with a steady but rapid series of further flights.
It has a long queue of customers all waiting for a ride to orbit – including NASA, the nation’s military, and multiple outfits in the commercial sector.
Iridium has six further missions it wants to complete with SpaceX inside the next 18 months.
On this flight were 10 spacecraft for the Iridium satellite voice and data company. The batch represents the first phase in the roll-out of Iridium’s NEXT constellation.
A total of 81 satellites have been ordered from the European manufacturer Thales Alenia Space to completely overhaul the original but now ageing network.
Matt Desch, chief executive officer of Iridium, said: “Today Iridium launches a new era in the history of our company and a new era in space as we start to deliver the next-generation of satellite communications.
“We have been working endless hours for the last eight years to get to this day, and to finally be here with 10 Iridium NEXT satellites successfully launched into low-Earth orbit is a fulfilling moment.”
Iridium-1 is famous for being the very first commercial company to provide global, hand-held satphone coverage, and supplying voice connections to anywhere on the planet is still very much part of its business.
Its network has increasingly been used to feed data from remote systems, such as pipelines, ocean buoys, and mining equipment.
Iridium-1 has become a big player in what is termed M2M, or “machine to machine” services. And SpaceX is banking on that market getting ever bigger as more and more systems are linked together.
SpaceX has successfully landed an unmanned Falcon-9 rocket upright, after sending 11 satellites into orbit.
The Falcon-9 craft touched down on December 21, about 10km from its launch pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
It is not the first spacecraft to land a booster vertically; that feat was claimed by the much smaller New Shepard rocket in Texas last month.
Nonetheless the Falcon-9 flight, which also went twice as high as New Shepard, is a milestone towards reusing rockets.
SpaceX aims to slash the cost of private space operations with such reusable components – but the company has not launched a rocket since one exploded in June.
On that occasion an unmanned Falcon-9 broke apart in flames minutes after lifting off from Cape Canaveral, with debris tumbling out of the sky into the Atlantic Ocean.
The rocket, which had 18 straight successes prior to the fateful flight, was in the process of sending a cargo ship to the International Space Station (ISS).
SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA to send supplies to the ISS.
On Monday night, local time, the upgraded 23-storey-tall rocket took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with the main stage returning about 10 minutes later to a landing site about 6 miles south of the launch pad.
Near the peak of its flight, at an altitude of some 125 miles, it propelled the rocket’s first stage – laden with 11 communications satellites – into space.
The flawless launch on December 21 is a major success for privately-owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, the California-based company set up and run by high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.
Elon Musk has said the ability to return its rockets to Earth so they can be reused and re-flown would hugely reduce his company’s operational costs in the growing but highly competitive private space launch industry.
SpaceX employees broke out in celebration as they watched a live stream of the 156ft-tall white booster slowly descend to earth in the form of a glowing orange ball.
“Welcome back, baby!” Elon Musk said in a celebratory tweet.
SpaceX commentators described the launch and return – the first time an orbital rocket successfully achieved a controlled landing on Earth – as “incredibly exciting”.
“This was a first for us at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and I can’t even begin to describe the joy the team feels right now having been a part of this historic first-stage rocket landing,” the top officer at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Brig Gen Wayne Monteith, said in a statement.
SpaceX is aiming to revolutionize the rocket industry, which up until now has lost millions of dollars in discarded machinery and valuable rocket parts after each launch.
Several earlier attempts to land the Falcon 9’s first stage on an ocean platform have failed.
SpaceX says its experiment to bring part of its Falcon rocket down to a soft landing on a floating sea platform has failed.
The vehicle was launched on a mission to send a cargo capsule to the International Space Station (ISS).
Once the first-stage of the rocket completed its part of this task, it tried to make a controlled return.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the booster hit the platform hard.
“Close, but no cigar,” he added.
“Bodes well for the future tho’. Ship itself is fine. Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced.”
Elon Musk continued: “Didn’t get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and… actual pieces.”
SpaceX intends to keep trying. If this kind of capability can be proven, it promises to dramatically lower launch costs in the future.
It would mean that normally disposable rockets could be recovered, refurbished and re-used.
It might also point to new ways of bringing spacecraft back down to Earth in general.
Lift-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, for the Falcon 9 with its Dragon freighter occurred at 04:47 local time. The cargo ship was confirmed in orbit and en route to the ISS nine minutes later – at about the same time the first stage was expected at the drone ship. Dragon’s arrival at the station is set for January 12.
This is the first American re-supply mission to the orbiting platform since October’s spectacular explosion of a freighter system operated by competitor Orbital Sciences Corporation.
Traditionally, rockets have had an expendable architecture.
As they head skyward, they dump engines and empty propellant tanks to save the weight that allows their upper-stage, including the satellite payload, to make the jump to orbit.
Any discarded hardware simply tumbles back towards the planet and is torn apart.
This approach means every new mission needs an expensive new rocket.
SpaceX, on the other hand, believes it can recycle key elements of its rockets.
The company has been testing first-stage boosters that relight their engines to try to slow their fall through the atmosphere, attaching fins to help guide them downwards and legs to make a stable touchdown.
Until January 10, these were all mock landings, in which the stage was brought to a hovering position at the surface of the ocean, where, without a solid platform to set down, every booster was then subsequently lost into the water.
This latest experiment marked the first use of the drone platform.
SpaceX conceded that reaching this touchdown pad at the first attempt would be an immense challenge.
The barge is less than 100m wide, and all previous experiments had been working on a landing accuracy of some 10km.
Nonetheless, SpaceX will be encouraged that it got so close to the platform.
SpaceX has postponed an experiment to bring part of its Falcon 9 rocket down to a soft landing on a floating sea platform.
The space company has now rescheduled the Cape Canaveral demonstration for January 9.
Once the first stage of the rocket launches, and has finished its work, it will head back to Earth to try to touch down on a sea barge in the Atlantic.
If this kind of capability can be proven, it promises dramatically lower launch costs in the future.
All segments of a rocket are usually discarded after use and are destroyed as they fall back down.
SpaceX, however, has been practicing the controlled return of the first stage of its Falcon 9 vehicle.
The problem responsible for today’s scrub decision related to a technical issue detected in the steering mechanism of the rocket’s upper stage.
The next chance to send up the vehicle will be on January 9 at 05:09AM local Florida time.
SpaceX itself has been playing down expectations, rating the chances of success at no more than 50-50.
“I’m pretty sure this will be very exciting, but, as I said, it’s an experiment,” cautioned Hans Koenigsmann, vice president for mission assurance at SpaceX.
“There’s a certain likelihood that this will not work out all right, that something will go wrong. It’s the first time we have tried this – nobody has ever tried it as far as we know.”
The primary purpose of the flight is to send the Dragon cargo ship on a path to rendezvous with the International Space Station (ISS).
It will be the first American re-supply mission to the orbiting platform since October’s spectacular explosion of a freighter system operated by competitor Orbital Sciences Corporation.
However, it is the outcome of the SpaceX experiment that is likely to make the headlines.
SpaceX believes it can return, refurbish and re-use key elements of its rockets.
To this end, it has been testing first-stage boosters that relight their engines to try to slow their fall through the atmosphere, attaching fins to help guide them downwards, and legs to make a stable touchdown.
So far, there have only been mock landings, in which the stage is brought to a hovering position at the surface of the ocean, where, without a solid platform to set down, every booster has subsequently been lost in the water.
The experiment at the end of this week will be different in that SpaceX has sent a floating barge to the targeted return site some 200 miles northeast of Cape Canaveral, Florida.