In about fourteen months SpaceX has accomplished eight successful ‘launch and retrieval’ of its Falcon9 rockets, three of them landing back on terra firma, with the first ever daytime return of the space vehicle witnessed on February 19, 2017.
However, the journey to the eighth winner, which started in December 2015, was not all smooth sailing for Elon Musk and SpaceX.
In September 2016, a Falcon9 rocket exploded at the company’s Launch Complex 40 at the Cape. The blast destroyed both rocket and payload including heavy damage to the pad, rendering it out of commission – hence, the decision to launch the ninth mission from the iconic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center, now, in use by SpaceX under a property agreement with NASA.
A couple of technical glitches caused the scheduled launch on February 18, to be aborted and rescheduled for the next day. Reportedly, one of them was an issue with the steering in the upper segment of the rocket.
Carrying the Dragon Capsule containing 5500 pounds of supplies and equipment for astronauts at the NASA International Space Center (ISS), the Falcon9 lifted off from the historic pad 39A at 9.39 a.m. EST (2.39 p.m. GMT) Sunday, watched by Elon Musk and his SpaceX team.
This happens to be the tenth commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station (CRS-10) undertaken by SpaceX for NASA.
In about ten minutes post-launch the first stage returned safely to “Landing Zone 1,” a SpaceX booster retrieval facility, at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex, built in February 2015 on land leased from the United States Air Force.
Elon Musk celebrates:
Before its return, Falcon9 successfully launched the Dragon payload into orbit expected to be retrieved by the robotic arm of the ISS when the capsule reaches it on Wednesday with essential supplies.
— NASA (@NASA) February 19, 2017
According to a NASA report, the contents of the Dragon capsule are:
“Major experiments that will look into a range of scientific disciplines from human health to atmospheric conditions on Earth.”
“Astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency) and Shane Kimbrough of NASA will use the space station’s robotic arm to capture Dragon when it arrives at the station. Live coverage of the rendezvous and capture will begin at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 22 on NASA TV and the agency’s website, with installation coverage set to begin at 8:30 a.m.” – NASA.
This was the first ever launch by SpaceX from launch pad 39A which was decommissioned in 2011 after hosting the last lift-off of NASA’s Space Shuttle orbiter Atlantis. The site, built for the Apollo missions and later modified for NASA’a space shuttle program, is resplendent in history, and Sunday’s launch has just added to its glorious past.
SpaceX leased 39A from NASA under a property agreement in 2014 and modified it to support its Falcon9 Dragon and future Falcon Heavy programs. The main focus of the refurbishment work was on the ground propellant systems which had to be upgraded to future missions’ specifications.
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