SpaceX Scores Second Success on Space Super Sunday

SpaceX Scores Second Success on Space Super Sunday

SpaceX succeeded in launching a new version of its Falcon 9 rocket today, its first launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA.   It was the second of three significant space events planned today — the successful berthing of Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Cygnus spacecraft this morning and the upcoming return-to-flight of Russia’s Proton-M rocket later this afternoon (all times Eastern Daylight Time).

The Falcon 9 v1.1 lifted off on time at 12:00 noon EDT (9:00 am Pacific) placing the Canadian Space Agency’s Cassiope scientific satellite and five smaller satellites into orbit.  The launch had been delayed from ealrier in the month to allow additional engine tests.  This was a first for the company in many respects — the first launch from the west coast, the first launch for a customer other than NASA, the first launch of this version of the Falcon 9 (which has a fairing), and the first time a Falcon 9 first stage engine was reignited in flight (after separating from the rest of the rocket).  The last task was part of a test related to SpaceX’s long term goal of developing a reusable rocket. 

SpaceX gained fame as the first successful “commercial cargo” company, developing the Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft to take cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.  Under COTS, NASA has been providing most, but not all, of the funding for two  companies to develop their own space transportation systems using Space Act Agreements instead of traditional government contracts.  The idea is that in the long run, competition and the atypical procurement approach will mean lower costs to NASA and other customers for launch services.  COTS began in 2006 under the George W. Bush Administration while Mike Griffin was NASA Administrator and was embraced by the Obama Administration.

SpaceX’s COTS competitor, Orbital Sciences Corporation, scored its own first this morning with its Cygnus spacecraft successfully being berthed to the ISS.  The Cygnus berthing is part of Orbital’s demonstration mission for the COTS program.   Cygnus will remain attached to ISS until the end of October and then will make a destructive reentry.   Orbital is expected to launch its first operational cargo mission to ISS later this year.

Meanwhile, today has one more significant space event on tap.  The return-to-flight of Russia’s Proton-M rocket, scheduled for 5:38 pm EDT.


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