SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launched the Dragon spacecraft on Sunday to deliver cargo to the International Space Station for NASA, its 10th mission and this time it has chosen the historic NASA Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center is historic as its roots date back to the early 1960s for Moon Missions. Built for Moon Exploration mission Apollo program, the LC 39A supported the first Saturn V launch (Apollo 4), and the following Apollo missions, including th historic Apollo 11 that landed Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 20, 1969, first humans on the Moon.
Subsequent launch operations for the Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs were carried out from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39, which is managed by Kennedy Space Center and located on the east coast of Florida, adjacent to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). The two entities worked closely sharing resources and facilities on each other’s property.
Towards the late 1970s, LC-39A was refurbished to launch bigger and re-usable space shuttle launches, hosting the first and last shuttle missions to orbit in 1981 and 2011, respectively. Since 2010, the center has been turned into a multi-user spaceport through industry partnerships, even adding a new launch pad (LC-39C) in 2015.
In 2014, SpaceX entered into a 20-year lease partnership with NASA in 2014 to use the historic Launch Complex 39A and it has upgraded the facility and the ground systems, especially for the launch of both the Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles. The facility is serving as a launch pad for SpaceX to undertake crew rotation missions to and from the International Space Station for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
Otherwise, the liftoff on Sunday, February 19, 2017 at 9:38 a.m. EST took place as scheduled and the Dragon separated from Falcon 9’s second stage about 10 minutes after liftoff and began its travel to the station where it was scheduled to have a rendezvous with ISS on Tuesday. Significantly, Falcon 9 attempted after the first stage to separate and land at SpaceX’s Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, which it could accomplish successfully.
SpaceX CEO Elan Musk tweeted,"Provided Dragon 2 demo missions go well, SpaceX is highly confident of being able to fly US astronauts in 2018," in an apparent rebuttal of media reports that the private space agency may not fly US astronauts in the near future.
Dragon was carrying a payload of more than 5,000 pounds of supplies, to accry out more than 250 science experiments including the potential to help fight human disease, monitor climate data, and improve autonomous spacecraft docking with the orbiting laboratory.
SpaceX CRS-10 contract with NASA was renewed in January 2016 and its Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft were selected to resupply the space station through 2024 as part of the second Commercial Resupply Services contract award. Under the CRS contracts, SpaceX has restored an American capability to deliver and return of cargo, including live plants and animals. Currently, a variant of the Dragon spacecraft, called Crew Dragon, is being developed for US-based crew transport to and from the International Space Station (ISS).
Tomorrow, February 21, 2017, ISS crew members will use the station’s 57.7-foot robotic arm to capture the Dragon spacecraft and attach it to the station. After a month’s stay attached to ISS, Dragon will return to Earth. It will detach and conduct its deorbit burn for 10 minutes and in 30 minutes reenters the Earth’s atmosphere and splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, in the third week of March 2017.