SpaceX launches DSCOVR into orbit, but fails to return rocket

12 Feb 2015

SpaceX's Falcon 9 launch with its DSCOVR payload on board. Image via Space X

After a number of aborted takeoffs, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket blasted into space with its payload on board in its first deep-space mission, but had to scrap plans to land the rocket on a floating platform.

Launching as the sun set over Florida on Wednesday, the company’s latest craft was carrying some rather expensive payload in the form of the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite as part of its agreement to supply space agencies with contract work to launch payloads into space.

This DSCOVR satellite was part of a deal between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), NASA and the US Air Force and will be used to observe and provide advanced warning of extreme solar flares which can affect power grids, communications systems, and satellites close to Earth.

According to SpaceX’s report on the launch, everything went according to plan for the launch with Falcon 9’s nine Merlin engines successfully completed its first and second stage burns before deploying the DSCOVR.


The DSCOVR satellite successfully deploys. Image via SpaceX

Almost perfect launch

When the satellite finally reaches its starting point of operations, it will be positioned at the Sun-Earth L1 Lagrangian point, which is 1.5m km (930,000m) from Earth which is at a distance equivalent of our moon to the Earth four times, but will take 110 days to do so.

This was its third attempt at a launch in the space of four days with reasons ranging from extreme weather to a glitch in the US Air Force’s radar, but Elon Musk and his team of engineers were finally able to give the green light for its launch.

However, it didn’t go completely without a hitch however as its second attempt at trying to land its rocket engine saw the rolling out of the sea-based landing platform abandoned just three hours prior to launch because of weather concerns, but SpaceX was able to see that the first stage of the rocket landed softly just 10m from its landing point.


Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic