Wednesday, December 8, 2010

COTS-1 Launch Successful

Okay, I couldn't let this go by without a comment. SpaceX's COTS-1 mission is pretty much an unqualified success. Following up on their successful first launch in June, the Falcon 9 vehicle worked perfectly and inserted Dragon to the destination orbit even despite an issue with the niobium nozzle extension that mandated cutting off four feet of the nozzle just yesterday. A video of the launch and ascent can be seen below.

Following that (as can be seen on the video at about 10 minutes in) the Dragon separated from the second stage leaving the trunk section attached to the second stage. It then maneuvered on its Draco thrusters for several orbits, satisfying the FAA's requirements to clear the capsule for entry and testing on-board systems. At the same time, the first stage has been reported as sending telemetry from the water, where the best stage recovery team in the business (namely the Space Shuttle SRB Retrieval ships) is going after them. While Dragon was maneuvering, the second stage also deployed several nano-satellite payloads (reported as two National Reconnaissance Office cubesats, two more from Las alamos National Labs, and one Army SMDC-ONE cubesat) which are now communicating well with the ground.

At this time, the last reports I heard had Dragon in the water awaiting recovery. There's going to be a post-flight press conference on NASA TV at 3:30 EST, and it should be good. Personally, I think that after the post-flight analysis of this spacecraft, it should go to the Smithsonian and be placed in the milestones of flight display in the main hall, like SpaceShipOne and the Apollo 11 command module. It is, after all, the first private and commercially-operated spacecraft to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere. If that's not historic, I don't know what is.

UPDATE: SpaceX now reports that splashdown was on target and the recovery team already has floats onto Dragon.

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