SpaceX recently performed a scheduled launch to deliver much needed supplies to the International Space Station (ISS), but the second half of the mission may not turn out too well. SpaceX is pioneering a new way to reuse rockets, where they fly into space and land when they come back down. This innovative strategy could change space travel for the future immeasurably.
The Dragon ship was successfully launched in the early hours carrying over 5,000 pounds of supplies, and a batch of post-Christmas gifts for the six-person crew working dutifully at the ISS. The glee was short-lived as the rocket soon plummeted back down and crashed into the makeshift landing pad of a ship. However, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), will be using Dragon in the future while their usual commercial cargo servicers, Orbital Sciences, recovers from the failed launch from last October.
Orbital Sciences Corp.’s Antares rocket detonated almost immediately after liftoff, ruining the supplies on board and wrecking the Virginia launch complex. The Antares rocket is out of commission until some point in 2016. That will impact the contract that Orbital Sciences has with NASA on making eight resupply missions to the ISS.
SpaceX’s next attempt involved the Falcon 9 rocket, but with a few improvements. The new design was outfitted with fins to help with the precision of the landing. The rocket’s descent hit record speeds of one mile per hour. These new results are extremely more advantageous for what NASA desires in a commercial cargo rocket.
If a soft landing can be achieved through this experiment, it spells a momentous breakthrough toward being able to recycle rockets for multiple flights. While the Falcon 9 mission was more successful than that of Dragon, the space launch still half a failure. But with the momentum on their side, the launching complex could perform another mission before their satellite launch on Jan. 29.
The NASA Administrator, Charlie Bolden, said in response to the mission that he’s delighted to kick off the 2015 year with a successful commercial launch. Cape Canaveral was the spot where the launch occurred, and it was the first from there. However, they will get more publicity as they have a launch of a Navy satellite scheduled for Jan. 20, and they will be using a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, operating on behalf of Orbital Sciences.
NASA also has other arrangements globally, paying Russia for each US astronaut they allow aboard their Soyuz rockets. And like their contract with Orbital Sciences, they have a 12 flight resupply deal with SpaceX, but those missions involve returning certain pieces of equipment as they can somewhat land back on earth. NASA has also requested that the rocket scientists develop more advanced Dragon ships for astronauts to ride up to the ISS.
And while SpaceX continues to pick up the slack, they recently had a successful launch on Saturday of cargo that includes the Cloud-Aerosol Transport System, which is used to measure and monitor the distribution of specific particles in the atmosphere.
The cargo also comes with two passengers, fruit flies and flatworms. Both species have been well-documented on Earth, but scientists are hoping to observe how their biology change in zero gravity. Also included are the student experiments that were lost in the Orbital Sciences’ unfortunate accident.
After a month at the ISS, the capsule will return to Earth, containing equipment and experiments. With any luck, this next mission will conclude with it being the opposite of the previously half failed space launches.
By Matthew Austin Bowers
Photo by SpaceX – Flickr License