Sunday, October 07, 2012

Commercial cargo craft launches toward Space Station

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A commercial cargo craft loaded with fresh supplies and equipment lifted-off tonight on a voyage to resupply earth's orbital outpost in space.

This first operational resupply flight by a private company, Space Exploration Technologies Inc. (SpaceX), is designed to repeat the company's test flight last May which saw their Dragon unmanned craft approach the International Space Station to be grappled by the station's robotic arm for docking.

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket departed America's Space Coast on-time at 8:35:07 p.m. EDT, to begin a nearly three day voyage to catch up with the space station.

"We still have a lot of work to do, of course, as we guide Dragon's approach to the space station," Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, said from his company's control room in California following the craft's arrival on orbit. "The launch was an unqualified success."

The rocket's Merlin engines light up the night time Florida sky as it rose up and then darted out over the Atlantic waters as the space station soared 250 miles high above the southern Pacific Ocean.

Ten minutes after lift-off, the Dragon resupply spacecraft separated from the Falcon's upper stage to begin it's voyage to the space station.

"We are ready to grab Dragon!", NASA astronaut and station commander Suni Williams radioed down to mission control as Dragon arrived on orbit.

Dragon is loaded with nearly 900 pounds of food, oxygen, fuel and experiments which it will deliver following docking on Wednesday.

Dragon's launch is the first of twelve planned resupply flight's to the orbital outpost in a commercial agreement valued at over $1.5 billion with NASA over the next four years.

"Today's launch is a huge milestone for us; we have roughly 700 pounds of equipment coming home when Dragon returns," Julie Robinson, NASA program head with the space station program stated moments after launch. "It's a really important flight for us."

Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will maneuver the station's 58-foot robotic arm out to grapple the appraching supply craft on Wednesday at 7:22 a.m.

The craft will then be berthed by Williams two hours later to the American Harmony port which faces toward earth.

There it will stay for three weeks while the current space station crew of three unload the new supplies and later begin storing experiments, used equipment and garbage for the craft's return to earth.

Dragon is the only unmanned supply craft to have a heat shield and parachutes which allows NASA to return space flown hardware and real time science experiments back to earth safely.

Dragon is expected to make a splashdown off the United States Pacific coastline around October 29.

(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science & technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)

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