A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted a Dragon cargo ship into orbit Tuesday evening, carrying 6,300 pounds of research gear, crew supplies, spare parts and other hardware on a two-day flight to the International Space Station.
The Falcon 9’s first-stage booster, making its seventh flight, roared to life at 8:30 p.m. EDT and raced to 1.7 million pounds of thrust from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Pad 39A in Florida, with burning exhaust visible for nearly a score of miles.
Launching directly into the space station’s orbital plane, the booster sped away from Florida and accelerated out of the lower atmosphere on a northeast course parallel to the East Coast of the United States, fading like an ember-like speck.
Two and a half minutes after launch, the first stage’s nine Marlin engines shut down, the stage fell, and flight continued on the power of the second stage’s single engine.
Five minutes later, the first stage descended on an offshore landing barge. A minute later, the second stage moved into its planned orbit. The Dragon freighter was then left to fly away on its own.
It was SpaceX’s 17th launch Until this year and the 27th overall under contract with NASA to deliver supplies and equipment to the space station.
“Dragon is carrying just under 6,300 pounds of cargo, including crew supplies, science probes, spacewalk equipment and vehicle hardware,” said Phil Dempsey, space station transportation integration manager at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“Also, the crew requested some fresh fruit and refrigerated cheese,” Dempsey added. “So the ship has apples, blueberries, grapefruit, oranges, cherry tomatoes, as well as a few different cheeses.”
But the primary goal of the mission is to continue research at the outpost, Dempsey said, and “we look forward to the crew on board the space station having new science and research probes available to work on.”
Approaching the lab complex from behind and below, Dragon is expected to arrive at the space station early Thursday, looping to a point directly in front of the outpost before heading for docking at the port in front of the lab.
The SpaceX crew Dragon ferry ship — Endurance — will linkup just five days later Undocked from the same port and carried two NASA astronauts, a Japanese astronaut and a Russian astronaut, back to Earth to complete the 157-day mission.
SpaceX plans to launch two Falcon 9s on Friday, keeping pace with launches; One from California to put another batch of Starlink Internet satellites into orbit and the other from Cape Canaveral to send two SES communications satellites into space. If all goes well, the company could launch 100 Falcon-family rockets this year.
More William Harwood