|The Falcon 9 launching from Cape Canaveral (courtesy SpaceX).|
On Tuesday, May 22, at 3:44 a.m. EDT (0744 GMT) SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida. This third flight of the independently designed and operated rocket system carries along with it the Dragon capsule for its second flight. While the first two launches of the Falcon 9 and the previous launch with the Dragon were for test purposes, this flight has a different mission. It is to be the first commercial resupply of the International Space Station (ISS).
Based out of Hawthorne, California, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, or SpaceX, won a $278 million contract with NASA to develop their Falcon rocket systems for eventual resupply mission to ISS. Since the retirement of NASA's Space Shuttle program, the space station has not had a single American spacecraft dock and all resupply missions have been carried out by other ISS member nations. Currently SpaceX has a contract with NASA that runs until 2015 and includes 12 resupply visits to ISS.
This launch is actually the second attempt for the Falcon 9 to deliver the Dragon to ISS. The first attempt, on May 19, was canceled when an on-board computer detected an error with one of the engine's check valves. After repairs were made to the Merlin 1C engine, the launch was rescheduled for the early morning of May 22, making for the first night launch of the Falcon 9.
The Dragon capsule (PDF) is set to deliver its payload to ISS on May 25. While the CRS version of the Dragon that was launched is unmanned, other capsules are being built that will be capable of carrying up to nine individuals. The CRS Dragon is composed of two storage sections. The main pressurized section which can carry 7,300 lbs (2,210 kg) and a unpressurized section known as the trunk which can carry 7,300 lbs (3,310 kg). The Dragon was named after the 1963 song by Peter, Paul and Mary "Puff, the Magic Dragon".
|Computer Model of the Dragon approaching ISS (courtesy NASA).|
The Falcon 9, named after the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars, is a two stage, medium-lift rocket system. It utilizes nine of SpaceX's Merlin 1C rockets to power the first stage and a tenth Merlin engine that has been modified for use in a vacuum. The Falcon 9 is capable of carrying 23,00 lbs (10,450 kg) to low Earth orbit and 9,800 lbs (4,450 kg) to a geostationary transfer orbit (this carries payloads through a specific trajectory to safely insert it into a geostationary orbit).