SpaceX blasts off for International Space Station

22 May 2012

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket soars into space from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying the Dragon capsule. Image by NASA/Alan Ault

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft have successfully blasted off from Cape Canaveral in Florida to carry out an unmanned test flight to the International Space Station. Today’s lift-off followed an aborted attempt by SpaceX last Saturday due to a faulty check valve on one of its engines.

The lift-off happened at 3.44am (EDT) today, just as the International Space Station (ISS) was crossing 400 kilometres above the North Atlantic, according to NASA.

“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 NASA’s John P Holdren in a statement today.

SpaceX itself was set up by PayPal and Tesla Motors co-founder Elon Musk, with the aim of coming up with the future commercialisation of space flight travel.

“Every bit of adrenaline in my body released at that moment,” said Musk today, referring to the lift-off of the spacecraft. “People were really giving it their all. For us, it was like winning the Super Bowl.”

The unmanned Dragon spacecraft is carrying around 1,200 pounds of supplies, mainly food and clothes, for the crew of the ISS, as well as experiments designed by students.

While the spacecraft has the capacity to carry 7,300 pounds of material, NASA said that because this was a test flight, the load was limited to important but not critical materials.

Dragon capsule from SpaceX

Dragon capsule

Dragon is now set to rendez-vous with the ISS in three days.

NASA said the spacecraft will have to carry out a series of navigation and other tests in space before the capsule can move close enough to the station so that astronauts can grab it with a robot arm and berth it.

If everything goes to plan, Dragon will remain connected to the ISS for about three weeks. The astronauts aboard the ISS will remove the supplies from Dragon before loading it with used scientific equipment before the spacecraft de-orbits for Earth.

NASA said the spacecraft will then return to Earth under parachutes, coming down in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic