SpaceX Landing Experiment Works; NASA Slips Orb-2 Launch Date

SpaceX Landing Experiment Works; NASA Slips Orb-2 Launch Date

SpaceX founder and Chief Designer Elon Musk indicated in a tweet that the landing experiment on Friday’s Falcon 9 launch went well.  Meanwhile, as expected, NASA slipped the launch date for Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Orb-2 launch from May 6 to June 9.

SpaceX and Orbital are competitors in NASA’s commercial cargo program to take cargo to the International Space Station (ISS).   Launches from each company are staggered and a delay in one can result in the delay of the other.  SpaceX’s launch of its third operational mission to the ISS, SpaceX CRS-3, was delayed several times and finally launched on April 18.  NASA had indicated that if the SpaceX launch took place on April 18 that it would ask Orbital to delay its next ISS cargo  launch — Orb-2 — from May 6 to June 9.  NASA made that schedule adjustment today.

Friday’s SpaceX CRS-3 launch of its Dragon spacecraft to ISS using the Falcon 9 rocket included a test of a controlled landing of the rocket’s first stage into the ocean.  It is a step toward eventually returning Falcon 9 first stages to land so they can be reused.  The first stage of this Falcon 9 incorporated landing legs and the company tested not only deploying them, but restarting the first stage engine after it separated from the second stage and Dragon (sending them on their way to ISS).  The first stage made a controlled vertical descent to the ocean and deployed its landing legs as though it might be returning to land.  Heavy seas prevented a recovery ship from being close enough to view the event, but SpaceX obtained data from an aircraft that was tracking it.

At a post-launch press conference on Friday, Musk said that he knew the first stage’s roll rate was “close to zero” as it descended, a good sign, but needed to wait for more data from the airplane before knowing how the remainder of the test went.   He later tweeted that:


No further information has been posted on SpaceX’s website about the landing test, but Dragon successfully berthed to the ISS yesterday.


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