CAPE CANAVERAL (FLORIDA): A private cargo rocket headed to the International Space Station blasted off early on Tuesday morning.
Built by Space Exploration Technologies Corp of Hawthorne , California – commonly known as SpaceX – this rocket is carrying only about 1,000 pounds of cargo, and nothing of great value. The importance is instead technical and symbolic.
If the cargo capsule makes it all the way to the space station, it would be the first commercial, rather than government-operated , spacecraft to dock at the space station, and it would mark an important step in Nasa’s efforts to turn over basic transportation to low-Earth orbit to the private sector.
With success of this flight, SpaceX would begin a $1.6 billion contract to fly 12 cargo missions to the space station.
This SpaceX launching followed the same pattern of two earlier ones where a last-minute glitch halted the countdown on the first try and then the rocket went off without a hitch on the second try.
In an aborted liftoff on Saturday morning, the nine engines of the 157-foot tall Falcon 9 rocket had already ignited before computers shut them down because of high pressure in the combustion chamber of the center engine.
SpaceX had to wait until Tuesday at 3.44am for the space station’s orbit to line up with the launching pad, enabling the capsule to be launched on a trajectory trailing the station.
This time as the countdown clock hit zero, the engines remained ignited and the Falcon 9 arced upward into the night sky. Less than 10 minutes later, the cargo capsule , known as the Dragon, was in orbit. The hard part of this mission is still to come. First, the Dragon will perform test maneuvers.
Then it has to catch up to the International Space Station , which circles the Earth at 17,000 miles per hour. On Thursday, it is to fly about 1.5 miles underneath the space station to demonstrate its communication and navigation systems.