CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A privately built rocket lit up the night sky over Florida Sunday (Oct. 7) to kick off the first-ever cargo delivery trip to the International Space Station by a robotic, American-made spacecraft.
The unmanned Dragon space capsule, built by the commercial spaceflight firm SpaceX, roared into space atop the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from a launch pad here at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, beginning a three-day flight to the space station. Liftoff occurred at 8:35 p.m. EDT (0035 Monday GMT). This is just the first mission, but you could say it’s the most important one, because it’s the first time the craft has been used to deliver cargo to the orbiting science platform. Each flight costs NASA a bit under $1.6 billion. This flight, being the first mission, is dubbed SpaceX CRS-1 and is expected to arrive at the orbiting lab on Wednesday morning (Oct. 10). The CRS in the flight designation stands for “Commercial Resupply Services”, essentially identifying it as a cargo ship.
NASA space station program manager Mike Suffredini said Dragon’s ability to launch supplies to the station and return cargo back to Earth is a cornerstone of boosting scientific research on the orbiting laboratory, as well as its day-to-day maintenance. “Not to be overdramatic, but it’s critical to the International Space Station,” Suffredini said during the countdown to launch.
Sunday night’s launch was nearly flawless. One of the Falcon 9 rocket nine engines apparently shut down unexpectedly during the ascent – in this video you might see bits of something in the rocket flare, an indication that something didn’t go quite right – but the booster’s eight other engines compensated for the glitch and delivered the Dragon spacecraft into its intended orbit. It’s designed to do exactly that, so distributing the responsibility for safe delivery across several engines was all part of the plan.