Friday, June 04, 2010

SpaceX Launches Falcon 9 on Inaugural Flight

Falcon 9 successfully lifts-off on its inaugural flight. (SpaceX)

The inaugural flight of a rocket destined to carry cargo and supplies to the International Space Station successfully arrived in earth orbit this afternoon following a launch delay.

The 180-foot tall Falcon's nine Merlin 1C main engines came alive as it rose from launch complex 40 here at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 2:45 pm EDT and flew straight up before arcing out over the Atlantic waters.

"Tonight, we're gonna have a good time. Drink a few margaritas," Space Exploration and Technologies Corporation founder and chief Elon Musk stated following orbit insertion of the dummy Dragon module with the upper stage attached.

"Congratulations to SpaceX on today's launch of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle," NASA administrator Charles Bolden stated an hour following the launch." SpaceX's accomplishment is an important milestone in the commercial transportation effort and puts the company a step closer to providing cargo services to the International Space Station."

As the seconds ticked toward zero, the main engines ignited at T minus five seconds, followed by actual liftoff at T minus two seconds per the clock.

The white launcher darted straight up and through several cloud decks, setting off several grass fires including one near a shed.

Each Merlin 1C is fueled by a mixture of liquid oxygen and kerosene, and burned for nearly the first three minutes of ascent.

The first stage then separate and the second stage's single engine began it's five minute burn.

SpaceX reminded this reporter that both the first and second stages are reusable, and following splash down can be recovered for a future flight.

An hour earlier, the unflown rocket experienced an abort on the pad at about the T-1 second point, following a long hold in the countdown.

Today's 1:30 pm abort occurred two and one-half hours into the launch window.

Smoke began to rise up from the base of the rocket, however an issue arose and stopped the countdown from reaching zero.

The launch team then began safeing the rocket and looked at options during the final hour of the launch window.

On March 13, the launch team performed a successful test firing of it's nine main engines for nearly four seconds.

A Falcon 9 is rated to carry as much as 23,050 pounds into low earth orbit, and up to 10,000 pounds into geostationary orbit.

NASA was watching over the shoulder of SpaceX as the space agency looks at using private companies in launching their astronauts and supplies to the Space Station.

Currently NASA has a contract with the Russian Space Agency in which American astronauts will use their Soyuz to reach earth's orbital outpost. NASA's direction under the Obama administration is to privatize space flight so that American's can ride their own vehicle's into earth orbit in the next two years beginning with Falcon 9.

The NASA directed Constellation program was scaled back to a lighter version of the Orion crew module, and will likely begin flying no earlier than 2015 from Kennedy Space Center.

A second Falcon 9 launch is targeted for late this summer, and will carry a full operational Dragon C1 on a multi-day flight in earth orbit. It will perform several burns and perform a reentry.

The nearly ten-foot high Dragon is a capsule styled module designed to carry several tons of supplies to station; and according to the company's founder Elon Musk will begin carrying as many as seven astronauts into orbit by 2013.

Falcon 9 second stage engine burns at T+206 seconds. (SpaceX)

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