The first commercial cargo flight to the International Space Station (ISS) is now in orbit. Despite some concerns about the weather, SpaceX (News - Alert) successfully hit its instant launch window at 8:35 PM ET on October 7. The CRS-1 (Commercial Resupply Services) Falcon 9 vehicle took off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, putting a Dragon spacecraft into orbit for a rendezvous and berthing with the space station on Wednesday, October 10 at around 9:40 a.m. Eastern Time.
CRS-1 appeared to have a problem with one of the Falcon 9's first stage nine engines, an "anomaly" that SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell expected to get more details from the company's engineers. Otherwise, the flight to put the Dragon into orbit appeared to take place without issue, along with the deployment of the secondary payload, a prototype ORBCOMM (News - Alert) OG-2 satellite weighing in at 165 kilograms.
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Onboard the SpaceX Dragon are roughly 1,000 pounds of cargo, including materials for experiments, clothing, batteries, hardware, a GLACIER freezer to transport experiments to and from the space station and "bonus food," including Blue Bonnet vanilla ice cream with chocolate swirl.
On the return trip back to earth, Dragon will bring home around 2,000 pounds of cargo. Items to be brought back include frozen experimental results via GLACIER and surplus hardware. The ability of Dragon to return large items continues to be highlighted by NASA officials, as it allows engineers to examine broken hardware and do a detailed diagnosis to find and fix things. With the retirement of the Space Shuttle program, Dragon is the only vehicle servicing the space station that can return large objects back to earth.
Today's launch marks the fourth flight of the Falcon 9 rocket and the third launch of a Dragon spacecraft. It also marks the first time SpaceX has successfully hit a manifested launch date without significant delays -- a very important point since the company has to deliver at least 20 metric tons of cargo to ISS under its contract with NASA.
Dragon now is currently in a "chase" orbit to pull up next to the space station. During its approach to the station, the spacecraft will have to pass five go/no-go points as it slowly moves from about 2.5 kilometers away to within 10 meters below the station where it will be grabbed and berthed to a port.
Once berthed, Dragon will spend around two weeks attached to ISS as its cargo is unloaded, experiments are conducted, and results are loaded back into the vehicle. Expected return to Earth is on October 28, with a splashdown off the coast of southern California. Dragon's trip back once released from the space station will only take around six hours.
Edited by Brooke Neuman