Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dragon Blasts Off to ISS!

Falcon 9 rocket blasts off with Dragon spacecraft from pad LC-40.

In a remarkable first for space exploration, a private corporation has sent a spacecraft carrying supplies to the International Space Station. After the launch abort on May 19th, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) engineers replaced a faulty check valve on engine number 5 (dubbed "Merlin") and prepared for a new countdown. Early this morning at 3:44 am EDT, the engines ignited perfectly and the Falcon 9 rocket made a smooth and flawless flight into space. The Dragon capsule separated without error and entered low Earth orbit. On schedule, the Dragon deployed its twin solar panels, a first for SpaceX and the Dragon design. The next step was to "open the pod bay door"(a reference to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey, if you haven't seen it, you're not a space fan...). The navigation bay pod door has to open in order to deploy several experiments and reveal the docking latch, that will be used by the ISS robotic arm to grapple the Dragon prior to docking. Engineers breathed a sigh of relief as the door successfully opened (SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that it was a better result than that on 2001).

Dragon is on course to pass by the ISS on DAY 4 of its mission, should all orbital tests be completed. After that, the Dragon will approach the station again for a rendezvous with the CanadArm for docking. A lot of hope rides on this mission, and should it be completed successfully, it will end the test phase of the COTS2 program for SpaceX and the company will begin regular supply missions to the ISS, a great leap for commercial space applications.

No comments: