Skip to main content

On Friday, SpaceX conducted the fifth consecutive successful launch of its Falcon 9 rocket, delivering the Dragon cargo spacecraft into orbit on its way to the International Space Station.  Although the rocket performed flawlessly, there was a glitch with the Dragon thrusters that delayed planned maneuvers, but the glitch was fixed within a few hours and Dragon is now scheduled to arrive at the station about a day later than originally planned.  This will have no ill effect on station operations, and also demonstrates the robustness and resiliency of both the Dragon technology and the team managing it.  There is also an additional, important significance to the launch that I explain below.  

But first, here are some cool screencaps of the launch as well as the 10 minute+ video they're from, which includes some things I don't believe I've seen before in a Falcon 9 launch video.  The liftoff went as normal (there is a "normal" now that they're on the fifth F9 launch), and visually is the same as most kinds of space launches:

Still2 (0.16)

One thing I love about videos of Falcon 9 launches is how the engines look in flight - just beautiful and science-fictiony awesome, although you can't see much through the downward-facing cam as the rocket passes through clouds:

Still4 (0.45)

Still5 (0.54)

The cloud layer below soon recedes into a pillowy carpet visible by the downward-facing cam:

Still6 (2.00)

Then the first-stage engines cut off - an event known as MECO (Main Engine Cut-Off) - and the first stage is dropped off the rocket before the second stage ignites.  In the next sequences of captures, the panel on the left is downward-facing cam on the second stage engine, and the panel on the right is from inside the top of the first stage as it separates and falls (which I don't recall seeing in previous F9 videos) - note when it sees the second stage ignite and begins tumbling back to Earth:

Still7 (3.30 - MECO, Separation)

Still8 (3.40 - MECO, Separation2)

Still9 (3.49 - MECO, Separation3)

Still10 (3.54 - MECO, Separation4)

Still11 (4.05 - MECO, Separation5)

Still12 (9.40 - SECO)

Then the second-stage engine cuts off (SECO) and the right panel switches to a different view:

Still13 (9.47 - SECO2)

Still14 (9.57 - SECO3)

Then the Dragon separates from the second stage, and the left panel switches to a view from Dragon looking down as the second stage departs:

Still15 (10.29 - F9 Separation1)

Still16 (10.37 - F9 Separation 2)

Still17 (10.44 - F9 Separation 3)

The separation of the second stage in the final two minutes of the video is beautiful and dreamlike, and I recommend watching it in the video even if you skip the rest, though the first stage separation (beggining at 3:01) is also highly worth it (I also recommend going HD and full-screen):

The broader significance of this launch is that it's the last launch of version 1.0 of the Falcon 9, so this particular configuration is now retired.  The next rocket SpaceX launches will be the Falcon 9 v.1.1, which is considerably different in appearance, engine configuration, and with hugely improved performance and lifting capacity:

Falcon 9 v.1.0 vs. 1.1

First, the first-stage fuel tanks will be extended in v. 1.1 considerably, allowing for more fuel in a single launch.  Then, the current engines - Merlin 1C - will be replaced with Merlin 1D, which is far more capable than its predecessor, making F9 v. 1.1 the most advanced rocket ever made (though not the most powerful).  And thirdly, the first-stage engines will be reconfigured from a 3x3 square matrix into an octagon with a single engine in the center.  I've heard SpaceX people explain this as being structurally simpler than the square matrix, since the forces of a rocket engine are supported by the outer wall of the rocket, so it's more efficient to have them arranged closer to the shape of the wall.

The v.1.0 was first launched in June 2010, and v.1.1 is targeted for launch this June, so that's three years for a vehicle iteration with significant structural changes and huge performance improvements - something totally unheard-of in commercial rocketry.  But SpaceX has a habit of doing things big and fast.  Moreover, provided the Dragon completes its mission and returns safely to Earth (knock on wood), not only will they be able to examine the glitch that had delayed it in orbit, but will get a NASA paycheck for the cargo delivery and return service that will further fund SpaceX's other projects - the Grasshopper reusable test rocket, the Falcon Heavy that will enable commercial Moon and Mars launches (such as that envisioned by Dennis Tito for 2018), the DragonRider crewed version of Dragon for travel to low Earth orbit, and the Red Dragon planetary lander version of Dragon.  

The scheduled launch of the Falcon 9 v. 1.1 this upcoming June will be from Vandenberg launch range in California, and would be a commercial satellite launch rather than anything involving NASA.  SpaceX has announced they are within a month of completing construction of their facilities at Vandenberg.  Here's a beautiful (but somewhat older) view of the site - a worthy place from which to launch the future:


Sun Mar 03, 2013 at 4:13 AM PT: Dragon has arrived at ISS, and has been captured by the robotic arm.

Sun Mar 03, 2013 at 5:48 AM PT: Dragon is berthed to ISS.

Originally posted to Troubadour on Sat Mar 02, 2013 at 09:27 AM PST.

Also republished by SciTech, Astro Kos, and Community Spotlight.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site