CAPE CANAVERAL – Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) launched the first Falcon 9/Dragon demonstration flight for NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. SpaceX attempted to launch at 9:06 a.m. EDT – however this was not to be – an abort was called. The old saying if first you don’t succeed, try, try again – worked well for the NewSpace firm, with a successful launch happening at 10:43 a.m. EDT. The Falcon 9 with its Dragon spacecraft payload lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40 in Florida searing a path through the clear southern skies on this attempt.
“While rocket launches from the Cape are considered a common occurrence, the historic significance of today’s achievement by SpaceX should not be lost,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “This is the first in a new generation of commercial launch systems that will help provide vital support to the International Space Station and may one day carry astronauts into orbit. This successful demonstration flight is an important milestone in meeting the objectives outlined by President Obama and Congress, and shows how government and industry can leverage expertise and resources to foster a new and vibrant space economy.”
SpaceX launched its Dragon spacecraft into low-Earth orbit atop this relatively new launch vehicle. The Dragon capsule is expected to orbit the Earth, reenter the Earth’s atmosphere, and off the coast of California a few hours later. This marked the first attempt by a commercial company to recover a spacecraft after it has returned to Earth from low-Earth-orbit (LEO). This makes SpaceX the first company to do what only nations have done previously. This marked the first flight under NASA’s Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) contract. This contract is worth an estimated $1.6 billion. The impetus behind this program is to provide supply services to the International Space Station (ISS). SpaceX has been contracted to conduct three demonstration flights and12 missions to carry cargo to and from the ISS as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract for NASA. This puts the Dragon a step above the Russian, European and Japanese resupply vehicles as all of them burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.With the space shuttle slated to retire next year, NASA needs this contract to deliver supplies to the space station and may use the launch vehicle and Dragon to send astronauts to the orbiting outpost.
SpaceX had slated the Falcon 9 to launch on Tuesday; Dec. 7 – however this was delayed due to cracks discovered in the weld on the second stage’s rocket nozzle. SpaceX discovered the cause behind the two small cracks and engineers repaired the problem by trimming off the end where the cracks were at.