WASHINGTON — A Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched a cargo spacecraft to the international space station early Sept. 21, demonstrating a rapid turnaround between launches that the company expects to become more routine in the future.
The Falcon 9 v1.1 lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 1:52 am EDT Sept. 21, placing the Dragon cargo spacecraft into orbit. SpaceX scrubbed a previous launch attempt early Sept. 20 because of poor weather at the launch site.
“At first glance, everything was really perfect: a very good orbit insertion and a very nice flight,” Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of mission assurance for SpaceX, said at a post-launch briefing at the Kennedy Space Center.
The Dragon spacecraft launched by the Falcon 9 is flying the fourth of twelve Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) missions under SpaceX’s current contract with NASA. Dragon is carrying more than 2,200 kilograms of cargo, including crew supplies, hardware, and experiments. It is also carrying the ISS-RapidScat earth sciences experiment that will be mounted on the station’s exterior.
Dragon is scheduled to arrive at the ISS early Sept. 23 and will remain berthed to the station for about four weeks. Dragon will then return to Earth with nearly 1,500 kilograms of experiments and other hardware from the station.
The launch took place two weeks after the previous Falcon 9 mission on Sept. 7, which launched the AsiaSat 6 satellite. That is eight days faster than the previous record for shortest turnaround time, between the Orbcomm OG2 launch July 14 and the AsiaSat 8 launch Aug. 5. After performing only two launches in the first half of 2014, SpaceX has done four Falcon 9 launches in a little more than two months.
Koenigsmann said that shorter gaps between launches should become more routine for SpaceX. “In the future, I anticipate this will be the norm,” he said at a pre-launch briefing Sept. 20, crediting parallel processing at the launch site for enabling the fast turnaround. “We’re ramping up for that launch rate and even more than that.”
After the launch, Koenigsmann suggested even shorter turnarounds between launches were possible. “We can do this faster, in a week,” he said.
Koenigsmann said at the post-launch briefing that the Falcon 9’s first stage successfully performed engine burns after stage separation, part of the company’s effort to develop a reusable first stage. Unlike some previous tests, though, the stage was not equipped with landing legs, and Koenigsmann said he did not expect the stage would be recovered from the ocean.
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