The first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket descended from a cloudy sky on Sunday morning after a brief trip to space. With a lick of flame and a cloud of smoke, it came to rest on the LZ-1 landing pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, a little more than eight minutes after it lifted off from the historic LC-39A launchpad at nearby Kennedy Space Center.
This mission, designated CRS-10, is SpaceX’s 10th of up to 20 such missions under the company’s commercial resupply contract with NASA. The Falcon 9 rocket-propelled a Dragon capsule into low-Earth orbit, where the capsule will carry supplies to the International Space Station.
This Falcon 9 landing is the third one that SpaceX has completed at LZ-1, but the first one in the daytime. Both the others, in December 2015 and July 2016, were successful. While maybe not as exciting as a droneship landing, the terrestrial landings still preserve the first stage for reuse, a critical component to making space exploration cheaper and more frequent.
All went well with Sunday’s launch, despite a couple problems in the days leading up to it.
On Saturday, the SpaceX launch team aborted the launch with seconds to go, citing problems with the thrust vector control system on the rocket’s second stage. Technicians replaced and tested the TVC actuator on Saturday. Musk posted this further detail Saturday morning:
Before that, on Friday, Elon Musk reported a small leak. Musk later announced that technicians had programmed an abort trigger into the helium spin start system on the rocket, just in case it malfunctioned. This system, which spins up the turbopump in the rocket engine, is where Friday’s leak was located. If this system doesn’t have enough pressure, it will fail to feed the rocket the fuel it needs to work properly.
The Launch Complex 39 launchpad from which Sunday’s flight lifted off is the same one from which Apollo 11 took off to complete the first mission to Earth’s moon. SpaceX signed the lease for LC-39A in 2014, but this is the company’s first launch from the pad and the first time a non-NASA spacecraft has launched from the pad. The site has required significant upgrades to accommodate Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy rockets, but maintains its familiar appearance, complete with the fixed service structure and rotating service structure. One obvious change is the long, low warehouse on the site that reads “SpaceX” along its outside wall.
After Sunday’s successful launch, the first stage and second stage of the rocket separated, and the Dragon capsule began orbiting the Earth. We saw the dreamy deployment of solar arrays, of course. Dragon will continue its orbit for three days, and on Wednesday, it will meet up with the ISS to deliver around 5,000 pounds of supplies.
This payload includes food and exercise equipment, as well as new instruments and experiments — including 1.2 million tomato seeds. Two of the most noteworthy payload items — noted for their presence on the mission patch — are the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment (SAGE) III instrument and the Microgravity Growth of Crystalline Monoclonal Antibodies for Pharmaceutical Applications experiment. The former, SAGE III, will help scientists monitor Earth’s ozone layer. The latter experiment, involving a monoclonal antibody developed by Merck Research Labs, could help scientists better understand proteins and improve drug delivery. Dragon will also hand over the Raven module, an addition to the ISS that will help detect spacecrafts and enable autonomous satellite repair in the future.
You can watch the SpaceX livestream, or just the launch and landing here:
Musk also shared this image on Instagram, with the caption “Baby came back.”
Take a guess as to what Elon’s slow-jamming this Sunday morning.