SpaceX Launch Successful, Dragon Orbiting Earth
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rockets ignite during launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Tuesday morning, May 22, 2012. (Photo courtesy: SpaceX)
May 22, 2012 - Early this morning, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched a Dragon spacecraft to orbit in the first-ever commercial attempt to send a spacecraft to the International Space Station. The unmanned launch took place at 3:44 a.m. EDT from SpaceX's launch pad at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Falcon's first stage performed nominally before separating from the second stage, according to a statement from SpaceX, and the second stage successfully delivered the Dragon spacecraft into its intended orbit.
As Dragon heads toward the International Space Station, a series of tests will determine if it's ready to dock at the station. These tests include maneuvers and systems checks in which the vehicle comes within 1.5 miles of the station.
"We obviously have to go through a number of steps to berth with the space station, but everything is looking really good and I think I would count today as a success no matter what happens with the rest of the mission," said SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk, who likened the launch to the company "winning the Super Bowl."
According to SpaceX's mission schedule, on Friday, May 25, NASA will determine whether or not Dragon will be allowed to attempt berthing with the ISS. If so, Dragon will approach and be captured by station's robotic arm and attach to the station in an extremely precise maneuver. ISS astronauts will open Dragon's hatch, unload supplies, and fill Dragon with return cargo. The mission is scheduled to conclude on May 31 when Dragon detaches from the ISS, returns to Earth, and lands in the Pacific several hundred miles west of Southern California.
Musk thanked NASA for its important role in making the launch possible. "We could not have started SpaceX, nor could we have reached this point without the help of NASA. It's really been an honor to work with such great people," he said.