SpaceX sent its Falcon 9 rocket and unmanned Dragon capsule soaring off a Cape Canaveral launch pad early today, heading for what could be an historic rendezvous with the International Space Station.
The rocket lifted off into dark skies above the Space Coast at 3:44 a.m. – three days after a last-second scrub kept it bolted to the launch pad even as the countdown clock ticked toward zero.
Some 11 minutes after launch, the solar arrays deployed on the Dragon, prompting cheers and high-fives among SpaceX employees in the Hawthorne, Calif. mission control center. The solar array deployment had been considered the first big post-launch test.
“Falcon flew perfectly!!,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted from California. “Dragon in orbit …Feels like a giant weight just came off my back.”
At a post-launch news conference, Musk described the moment as a major adrenaline rush, and “obviously an extremely intense moment.”
“For us, it’s like winning the Super Bowl,” he said.
Tuesday’s liftoff came on the second attempt to launch SpaceX’s demonstration mission for NASA. If all goes well during the series of maneuvers and tests SpaceX will put the Dragon through, the cargo vehicle on Friday could become the first non-government ship to berth at the space station.
“Every launch into space is a thrilling event, but this one is especially exciting because it represents the potential of a new era in American spaceflight,” said John Holdren, assistant to President Barack Obama for Science and Technology.
SpaceX officials and NASA cautioned that much work lies ahead, but Musk said “everything is looking really good.” He added: “I would really count today a success no matter what happens with the rest of the mission.”
If SpaceX successfully docks at the space station, it could prove the company’s readiness to start delivering cargo under a $1.6 billion contract. The other company with a NASA cargo contract is Orbital Sciences Corp., which is set to test launch its rocket this summer.
“Today marks the beginning of a new era of exploration, a future in space that will create good paying jobs here on the Florida coast as well as throughout the United States of America,” said NASA chief Charles Bolden, speaking at Kennedy Space Center. “The significance of this day cannot be overstated. A private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time. And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we’re certainly off to a good start and I hope you all would agree on that.”
SpaceX had initially planned to launch the Falcon 9 early Saturday but trouble with one of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines forced a last-second abort. A valve on the engine was replaced, and the rocket was cleared to go. NASA officials said they were impressed with the professionalism of the SpaceX team in getting to this point.
“There is something special about a rocket launch. Everybody smiles. Everybody high-fives each other. That’s universal,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for human exploration and operations for NASA.
If all continues to go well and Dragon is cleared to berth at the station, the station’s six-person crew will unload about 1,200-pounds of cargo from the Dragon, such as food and clothing.
The spacecraft would return to Earth on May 31.
Solar arrays are now being deployed.
Falcon 9 and Dragon are now in orbit.
Liftoff! SpaceX Falcon 9 on way to ISS.
T-minus 5 minutes to the launch of Falcon 9 to the International Space Station. Autosequence under way.
10 minutes to launch.
Polling complete. Falcon 9 GO for launch!
No weather or technical issues as we hit T-minus 15 minutes to launch.
Less than 20 minutes to launch.
Did you know? The Dragon is the first U.S. vehicle launching to the space station since the final space shuttle mission last July (Atlantis’s STS-135 mission).
T-minus 40 minutes…..
Rocket is fueled for second launch attempt at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 40. Weather is 90 percent “go.”
Looking for text message launch updates? Text FLASPACE to 44636
T-minus one hour to 3:44 a.m. launch.
From NASA: Meteorologists at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station are calling for an 80 percent chance of acceptable weather for this morning’s launch.
NASA Tweet: “The strongback for Falcon 9 has been lowered and the rocket is in the launch position.”
At last check, the precise liftoff time planned for today was 3:44:38 a.m.
The most recent forecast published by the Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron anticipates an 80 percent chance of favorable weather for launch.
NASA just confirmed via Twitter that the rocket “has been fully fueled and is awaiting launch. Weather in Florida is warm and clear.”
We’re T minus TWO HOURS from SpaceX’s second attempt to launch an unmanned Dragon capsule on its way to the International Space Station.
We’ve had scant information provided about the countdown so far from SpaceX or NASA, but that appears to be a good sign that everything is on track for a 3:44 a.m. EDT blastoff fo a Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon.
The two-stage, liquid-fueled Falcon 9 should be fully fueled with rocket-grade kerosene, or RP-1, and liquid oxygen.
There’s now an 80 percent chance of favorable weather conditions for the 3:44 a.m. EDT liftoff of a Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft from Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Check here all morning for live updates.