- Launch was delayed last week after ‘computer problems’ on board commercial rocket
- Trip is first time private firm have sent flight to International Space Station
By Eddie Wrenn
PUBLISHED: 02:51 EST, 22 May 2012 | UPDATED: 12:19 EST, 22 May 2012
After one false start, the final frontier has finally become open territory for the commercial world, after the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket successfully launched from Cape Canaveral this morning.
The private space cargo firm’s historic launch to the International Space Station blasted off at 8.44BST, carrying with it a capsule loaded with 1,000lbs of space station provisions.
Also on-board are the ashes of Star Trek legend James ‘Scotty’ Doohan, fulfilling his final wish to spend eternity resting in space.
Scroll down for video:
The mission is the first by a private company to the $100billion orbital outpost, a project of 15 countries.
NASA is investing in SpaceX, as well as four other companies, to fly cargo and eventually astronauts to the station following the retirement of the space shuttles last summer.
The first attempt on Saturday stalled, as the countdown reached all the way to practically zero before there was an automatic shutdown by on-board computers.
So instead of blasting off from Cape Canaveral on a delivery mission to the International Space Station, the rocket remained on its launch pad amid a cloud of engine exhaust.
The engine ignition sequence had started up, but there was an automatic shutdown by on-board computers.
The unfortunate delay caught even NASA’s most seasoned launch commentator off guard.
‘… 3-2-1, zero, and liftoff,’ announced commentator George Diller, his voice trailing as the rocket failed to budge. ‘We’ve had a cutoff. Liftoff did not occur.’
Billionaire rocket designer Elon Musk attributed the problem to slightly high combustion chamber pressure on engine No. 5. ‘Will adjust limits for countdown in a few days,’ he wrote via Twitter.
Standing tall: Falcon 9 and Dragon spacecraft, pictured a day before its first launch, are in the final stages of preparation for their historic flight
LAUNCH FAILURE ALSO DISAPPOINTS FAMILY OF STAR TREK’S ‘SCOTTY’
Along with ISS supplies, SpaceX has one additional payload – sending James ‘Scotty from Star Trek’ Doohan and 307 other people’s ashes into orbit.
Having failed to launch the Star Trek acting legend’s remains into orbit in August 2008 when Space X’s Falcon 1 exploded after take-off, this is the second attempt to put a seven gram capsule of his ashes into space.
But friends and relatives of Doohan, who died in 2005 aged 85, who gathered at Cape Canaveral will have to wait until Tuesday for the next attempt after Falcon 9 stalled on lift-off.
Paying a minimum of $2,995 to Celestis, Doohan and 307 other people’s capsules will be launched from the Falcon 9 rocket nine minutes into the flight.
Once there Doohans capsule will begin a decaying orbit of the Earth that will last between 10 to 240 years, ‘until it reenters the atmosphere, harmlessly vapourising like a shooting star.’
Only governments have completed such a feat to date, with the SpaceX voyage the first time such a voyage has been completed by a private firm.
Ferrying the Dragon capsule into space, the mission to the ISS will be to deliver 1,000 pounds of non-essential cargo after passing a series of test maneuvers over the course of three days.
If successful in its first-of-a kind mission, the company behind the venture SpaceX would collect the remaining payments on the $396 million contract it has with NASA and then enter into a $1.6 billion agreement for 11 more flights to the ISS.
The first step in the commercialisation of space to non-governmental firms, SpaceX is hoping one day to deliver up to seven passengers to the ISS and other destinations in low-Earth orbit.
The Falcon 9 rocket suffers from an ‘instantaneous launch window’ which means that if they don’t take off at the exact scheduled moment they will have to wait till 3.44 a.m on Tuesday for the pad and the ISS to line up again.
This will be the Falcon’s third flight as SpaceX have already sent the projectile into space on two previous occasions.
But this will be the first time it will dock with the ISS – signalling the first time a commercial enterprise has ever hooked up with the orbiting space station.
However, this mission from a private contractor is not without risk and could very well end in failure, something which SpaceX have been upfront and honest about.
‘Demonstration launches are conducted to determine potential issues so that they might be addressed and – by their very nature – carry a significant risk,’ said a statement by the private space firm according to the Guardian.
‘All spaceflight is incredibly complicated, and this flight introduces a series of new challenges – it is only the third flight of the Falcon 9 rocket, the second of the Dragon capsule, and the first for a number of all-new components necessary to berth with the International Space Station.
‘If any aspect of the mission is not successful, SpaceX will learn from the experience and try again.’
If all goes well though on the next launch, Falcon 9 will carry the Dragon capsule into space and match orbits with the ISS.
The full flight-ready Falcon 9 (left and right) with Dragon capsule onboard stands on the launch pad at SLC-40, Cape Canaveral, Florida
There it will go through a series of tests and will pass around one and a half miles below the station to see if its controls are testing properly.
If that checks out OK, the ISS will allow the Dragon capsule to within 10 feet and pull it in for docking all the while traveling at 17,500 mph.
Staying on board the space station for a week and a half, it will then be re-loaded and sent back to Earth where it will land in the Pacific and be retrieved.
The launch and subsequent mission will be nerve-wracking for SpaceX and Elon Musk, the PayPal entrepreneur who founded the space exploration firm.
‘We have to allow for the fact that this is an extremely complex and tough flight. It’s a test flight, not a standard milk run,’ said Alan Stern, a U.S aerospace consultant and former associate administrator in charge of science at Nasa according to the New York Times.
‘Elon Musk and SpaceX have a tremendous track record, and when Falcon 1 failed, they stuck with it and made it work.
‘They will have a failure again, because everyone does, but a test flight is a learning experience.
SpaceX tested the Dragon capsules ability to parachute safely (left) and to splash down in the Pacific (right)
‘Regardless of how successful the flight is, whether it’s complete or partial, it’s a big step forward. This is a sea change.’
Originally, the plan was for SpaceX and their capsule to have docked with the ISS by 2009.
‘Certainly, we would have hoped to have been further ahead,’ said Elon Musk, founder of SpaceX to the New York Times.
‘But I wouldn’t have expected that with great confidence.’