This morning, at 3:44AM EST, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket into orbit, marking the third flight of the Falcon 9, and the first commercial flight ever to the International Space Station. The initial launch was scheduled for early Saturday morning, but it was automatically aborted on by the flight computer because of a faulty valve in the Merlin engines.
The flight this morning went off without a hitch, with the Falcon 9, named after the Millennium Falcon, performing beautifully to launch the Dragon capsule into orbit. Once in orbit, the Dragon, taking its name from the song “Puff, the Magic Dragon”, deployed it’s solar arrays with no problems. The Dragon capsule is loaded with 460 kg (1,014 lbs) of cargo, made up of 306 kg of food and supplies, as well as fifteen student-designed science experiments, and a laptop computer. The cremated remains of 308 people were included in the second stage of the rocket, to be launched into space as a burial.
At 7:45AM EST, Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX, tweeted “Dragon spaceship opens the navigation pod bay door without hesitation. So much nicer than HAL9000.” The opening of the Guidance, Navigation and Control Bay doors allow for the Dragon to fix on stars so it can guide itself to the ISS, and once close enough, visually maneuver into a docking position.
Getting the Dragon into orbit is only the first hurdle that SpaceX must cross before they will be allowed to dock with the ISS. Over the next few days, the Dragon will have to demonstrate that it can maneuver using small, built in thrusters, as well as the ability to safely perform an abort using the Draco thrusters. If the Dragon can demonstrate this to NASA, then it will be allowed to approach the ISS, after which it will spend a day moving to dock, after which it will spend several days being loaded and unloaded by the six cosmonauts and astronauts aboard, totaling about a week of time spent at the station.
Watch the launch here: SpaceX – Falcon 9 Launch