SpaceX returns to flight and succeeds with historic landing

Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket at its landing pad here Monday evening in its first flight since its rocket exploded six months ago.

The historic landing, the first time a rocket launched a payload into orbit and then returned safely to Earth, was cheered as a sign that SpaceX, the darling of the commercial space industry, has its momentum back…

Monday’s flight, initially delayed because of technical concerns, was the second time in a month that a billionaire-backed venture launched a rocket to space and recovered it. And it represents yet another significant step forward in the quest to open up the cosmos to the masses.

In a call with reporters, Musk said that it appeared the stage landed “dead center on the landing pad. … We could not have asked for a better mission.” He called it a “revolutionary moment.”

Typically, rocket boosters are used once, burning up or crashing into the ocean after liftoff. But Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and Tesla, and Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com who has his own space company, have been working on creating reusable rockets that land vertically by using their engine thrust. If they are able to recover rockets and fly them again and again, it would dramatically lower the cost of space flight.

On Monday, SpaceX’s first flight since its Falcon 9 rocket blew up in June, Musk topped his fellow tech billionaire and space rival, by landing a larger, more powerful rocket designed to send payloads to orbit, and not just past the boundary of what’s considered space. It was a much more complicated feat that was celebrated as another leap forward for Musk and his merry band of rocketeers.

Catching up to Buck Rogers all the time.

SpaceX Dragon reaches International Space Station

A SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule overcame a potentially mission-ending technical problem to make a belated but welcome arrival at the International Space Station on Sunday.

Astronauts aboard the outpost used the station’s robotic arm to pluck the capsule from orbit at 5:31 a.m. EST as the ships sailed 250 miles over northern Ukraine.

Flight controllers at NASA’s Mission Control in Houston then stepped in to drive the capsule to its berthing port on the station’s Harmony connecting node…

The Dragon capsule, loaded with more than 2,300 pounds of science equipment, spare parts, food and supplies, blasted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Friday aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket for the second of 12 planned supply runs for NASA…

Dragon was to have arrived at the station on Saturday but a problem with its thruster rocket pods developed soon after reaching orbit. Engineers sent commands for Dragon to flip valves and clear any blockage in a pressurization line in an attempt to salvage the mission.

By Friday evening, Dragon had fired its thruster rockets to raise its altitude and begin steering itself to rendezvous with the station.

As they say, it’s not where you start but where you finish that counts. You guys really finished this one on the mark,” station commander Kevin Ford radioed to Dragon’s flight control team in Hawthorne, California, and NASA’s Mission Control in Houston…

Once the capsule is unloaded, the crew will begin refilling it with 3,000 pounds (1,361 kg) of unneeded and broken equipment and science samples for analysis on Earth.

Bravo.

Following events as they happened, one process that was clear is the growth and evolution of computing power has added depth and capability to control systems on devices like the Dragon. Thruster problems would have made a mission like this a dead end a decade ago. Now, backups and workarounds were a matter of enabling changes in the program.

Good news.

SpaceX Dragon splashdown return to Earth from ISS rendezvous


Photo provided by SpaceX – capsule in Pacific right after splashdown

SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft successfully returned to Earth Thursday, becoming the first privately-owned spacecraft to complete a mission to the International Space Station.

The pilotless Dragon left the ISS after a nine-day mission loaded with 1,455 pounds of cargo on early Thursday morning. After separating from the space station, Dragon fired a series of engine burns to slow itself down enough to drop from orbit. The craft encountered temperatures of up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit on the most intense part of the fall.

Dragon also fired a series of thruster bursts to keep itself on target for a splashdown a few hundred miles from southern California. At 45,000 feet above the Earth, the craft deployed two small parachutes that stabilized its flight path. Once those parachutes were fully deployed, three main brightly colored chutes were released, each with a diameter of 116 feet. Dragon’s altitude loss then slowed to about 17 feet per second, allowing it a comfortable aquatic arrival.

While Dragon descended from the heavens, a NASA aircraft watched via infrared camera and a pre-positioned group of ships owned by SpaceX sat ready to recover the 19-foot-long spacecraft. The craft touched down in the cloud-covered Pacific Ocean at 11:42 a.m. ET.

The ships’ crewmembers initially had trouble locating the spacecraft because of the heavy cloud coverage in the area, but the orange-and-white main parachutes caught their attention. SpaceX dive teams then disconnected the main parachutes and towed the craft to the barge, which used a heavy-lifting crane to take it on board…

Dragon launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida on May 22 after a series of delays. It docked with the ISS on May 25, becoming the first privately-owned spacecraft to do so. The spacecraft brought experimental equipment and other cargo to the ISS.

Bravo. Another milestone completed.

Scenes from SpaceX Dragon rendezvous with ISS

Today’s arrival of a cargo spaceship at the International Space Station wasn’t your typical outer-space delivery run: It was an emotional experience for many of the folks who watched NASA’s webcast of the SpaceX Dragon’s approach.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m a little choked up right now,” Discovery News’ Ian O’Neill wrote in a Twitter update. “But I suppose that happens when you watch history unfold.”

The event marked the first time since the space shuttle fleet’s retirement that a spaceship made in the USA linked up with the space station, and the first arrival of a private-sector ship at an orbital destination. If NASA has its way, this is what American spaceflight will look like for years to come. So take a good look at these pictures from the first Dragon flight to the space station. You’ll be seeing a lot more like them.

Bravo! A new generation of space exploration is off the start line.

Milestone: Launch of private rocket heralds new era


 
A new era in space exploration dawned Tuesday as a slender rocket shot into the dark Florida sky before sunrise, carrying the first private spacecraft bound for the International Space Station…

The unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 3:44 a.m., carrying 1,300 pounds of food, clothing and scientific experiments on a demonstration mission to gauge the company’s ability to safely and efficiently deliver supplies to astronauts staffing the orbiting station…

Tuesday’s launch marks the culmination of six years of preparation to bring commercial flights to the space station following the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle fleet last year. It’s backed by entrepreneur Elon Musk, the founder of PayPal…

The rocket launched without a hitch following a flawless countdown that came three days after a faulty valve on one of the rocket’s engines forced a last-second postponement.

At 180 feet tall and 12 feet around, the Falcon 9 rocket is tiny in comparison to the football-field-long Saturn V rockets that carried Apollo spacecraft into orbit. It carries the company’s Dragon cargo capsule capable of carrying 13,228 pounds of supplies into orbit…

The capsule is scheduled to perform a series of maneuvers that should bring it within reach of the space station’s robotic arm on Friday. If NASA gives the go-ahead, the crew will use the arm to attach the capsule to the station and begin unloading supplies, according to SpaceX.

It will remain attached to the station for two weeks before it plummets back into the atmosphere and splashes into the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.

Bravo!

Next-gen Iridium satellites to launch on SpaceX Falcon 9


Daylife/Reuters Pictures used by permission

The Iridium sat-phone company will use the Falcon 9 rocket to launch many of its replacement spacecraft.

The US firm recently announced a $2.9bn project to upgrade its network of 66 operational satellites from 2015. It has now contracted the fledgling SpaceX corporation and its brand new Falcon vehicle to put the Iridium Next constellation in orbit…

Wednesday’s deal is valued at $492m, making it one of the largest commercial launch contracts ever signed.

The Iridium Next project itself is probably the world’s biggest private space venture right now.

The Falcon could loft several satellites at once and a special mechanism to dispense multiple payloads would be developed for the task, an Iridium spokesperson told BBC News…

The Iridium constellation operates in a low-Earth orbit about 780km above the planet. The spacecraft are aligned in six planes and relay communications between themselves and ground stations to provide global coverage.

Rock on, SpaceX.

Rock on, Iridium.

Successful maiden flight for SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket


Daylife/AP Photo used by permission

Powered by 10 engines and the vision of an Internet entrepreneur, an untried Falcon 9 rocket blasted off Friday and successfully boosted a dummy payload into orbit on a maiden voyage intended to help pave the way for commercial missions to the International Space Station.
In a major milestone for the commercial launch industry, the two-stage Falcon 9’s nine first-stage Merlin engines, fueled by liquid oxygen and RP-1 kerosene rocket fuel, roared to life at 2:45 p.m. EDT.

After computer checks to verify engine performance, four hydraulic hold-down clamps pulled away and the 157-foot-tall Falcon 9, riding atop a torrent of orange flame, climbed away from launch complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station…

The initial stages of the ascent appeared normal as the rocket climbed straight up and then arced away to the northeast on a trajectory tilted 34.5 degrees to the equator…

By the time the second stage engine shut down, the roll was more rapid than is typically seen with large rockets. But in an evening teleconference with reporters, SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the second stage engine shut down on time, putting the rocket’s dummy payload, a structural test article representing the company’s planned Dragon space station cargo module, into its intended 155-mile-high orbit.

“When the rocket achieved orbit, there was tremendous relief and elation at SpaceX,” Musk said. “People have really put so much blood, sweat, and tears into Falcon 9 and bringing that to launch…Things were extremely tense here, everybody was glued to the monitors looking at the data streams and the video as I was. And then just a huge elation and relief that it reached orbit and we achieved 100 percent of the objectives on the mission…”

Musk said the success of the first Falcon 9 launch gave the company a “huge boost of confidence, really.”

“We’re really at the dawn of a new era,” he said. “You had the sort of Apollo era, the space shuttle era–and those were government eras. And the government will continue to play a significant role in the future. But I think what you’re really seeing is the rise of commercial as well, in many ways a partnership with government.

Good for you, folks. Always pleasing to see another geek succeed. A special treat to witness the result of a leaner sort of design and engineering project get off the ground.