Reusable rocket test and firsts
Sunday's launch marked the sixth Falcon 9 rocket launch for (short for Space Exploration Technologies), which was founded in 2002 by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. But it was SpaceX's first flight to include major upgrades to the 22-story rocket, which is designed to launch the planned crew-carrying Dragon space capsule.
One of those upgrades included an innovative addition to the Falcon 9's first stage, which SpaceX designed to restart after separating from the second stage to see if it could perform maneuvers during re-entry as part of a reusability test. SpaceX officials said the plan called for two first-stage engine maneuvers before the booster splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, but success was not guaranteed.
"It is important to note that this is not a priority for this flight and SpaceX does not expect success with this first test, " SpaceX spokeswoman Hannah Post told SPACE.com.
Artist's concept of the Cascade Smallsat and Ionospheric Polar Explorer (CASSIOPE) satellite.
Credit: MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd.
Sunday's launch was also the first time SpaceX launched a satellite into orbit instead of the company's Dragon space capsule. During the launch webcast, the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage appeared to separate smoothly from the second stage and fall away as planned. The second stage then ignited on schedule as the huge satellite payload fairing, which is large enough to house a school bus, separated to expose Canada's CASSIOPE space weather-tracking satellite.
Built by the Canadian Space Agency, the 1, 060-pound (481 kilograms) satellite will study how solar particles from the sun interact with Earth's atmosphere during space weather events. It includes special cameras to observe the auroras at the Earth's pole created by this interaction, CSA officials have said.
SpaceX's new, improved Falcon 9 rocket
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket is a two-stage launch vehicle that stands 224.4 feet (68.4 meters) tall and is powered by nine Merlin engines also developed by the company. The booster is designed to launch satellites into orbit, as well as manned and unmanned versions of SpaceX's Dragon space capsule.
An upgraded SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket stands poised to launch from Space Launch Complex 4 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California in September 2013. Liftoff set for Sept. 29, 2013.
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