CAPE CANAVERAL, FLORIDA (BNO NEWS) -- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) on Tuesday morning successfully launched its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS), a launch hailed as the beginning of a new era in space exploration.
The Falcon 9 rocket took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 3:44 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, becoming the first commercially developed and built spacecraft to launch to the ISS. It is an accomplishment which had only been achieved by a handful of governments in the past.
After the launch, the vehicle's first stage performed nominally before separating from the second stage. The second stage successfully delivered the Dragon spacecraft into its intended orbit. This marks the third consecutive successful Falcon 9 launch and the fifth straight launch success for SpaceX.
The Dragon capsule will conduct a series of checkout procedures to test and prove its systems, including the capability to rendezvous and berth with the ISS. The spacecraft is scheduled to perform a flyby of the space station at a distance of about 1.5 mile (2.4 kilometers) on Thursday to validate the operation of sensors and flight systems necessary for a safe rendezvous and approach.
"We had most of the company gathered around SpaceX Mission Control. They are seeing the fruits of their labor and wondering if it is going to work," SpaceX CEO and Chief Designer Elon Musk said at a press conference after the launch. "There is so much hope riding on that rocket. When it worked, and Dragon worked, and the solar arrays deployed, people saw their handiwork in space operating as it should. There was tremendous elation. For us it is like winning the Super Bowl."
Meanwhile, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden saluted the agency's team for the successful launch of Falcon 9. "Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time," he said.
Following analysis of the flyby by NASA and SpaceX managers, the Dragon capsule will be cleared to rendezvous and berth with the space station on Friday, marking the first time a commercial company has attempted this feat. The Expedition 31 crew, which is on board the ISS, will use the orbiting complex's robotic arm to capture Dragon and install it on the bottom side of the Harmony node.
"This mission heralds the dawn of a new era of space exploration, one in which there is a significant commercial space element," Musk added. "It is like the advent of the Internet in the mid-1990s when commercial companies entered what was originally a government endeavor. That move dramatically accelerated the pace of advancement and made the Internet accessible to the mass market. I think we’re at a similar inflection point for space. I hope and I believe that this mission will be historic in marking that turning point towards a rapid advancement in space transportation technology."
The mission is SpaceX's second demonstration flight under a 2006 Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) agreement with NASA to develop the capability to carry cargo to and from the ISS. Under COTS, which provides investments to stimulate the commercial space industry in America, SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have been working to successfully complete their test flights, hoping to begin delivering regular cargo shipments to the station.
If all goes according to plan, Dragon should leave the ISS on May 31 and return to Earth.
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