Putting on a spectacular show, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket boosted 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 away from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop 1.7 million pounds of thrust, and a torrent of fiery exhaust visible for scores of miles around.
Launching directly into the plane of the space station’s orbit, the booster shot off on a northeasterly trajectory paralleling the East Coast of the United States, dimming to an ember-like speck, as it accelerated away from Florida and out of the lower atmosphere.
Two-and-a-half minutes after launch, the first stage’s nine Merlin engines shut down, the stage fell away and the flight continued on the power of the second stage’s single engine.
Five minutes later, the first stage touched down on an offshore landing barge. A minute after that, the second stage slipped into its planned orbit. The Dragon cargo ship was then released to fly on its own.
It was SpaceX’s 17th launch so far this year and the 27th overall under contract to NASA for delivering supplies and equipment to the space station.
“Dragon is carrying just under 6,300 pounds of cargo, which includes crew supplies, science investigations, spacewalk equipment and vehicle hardware,” said Phil Dempsey, space station transportation integration manager at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
“In addition, the crew’s requested some fresh fruit and refrigerated cheeses,” Dempsey added. “So onboard are apples, blueberries, grapefruit, oranges, cherry tomatoes, as well as a few different cheeses.”
But the primary goal of the mission is enable continued research aboard the outpost, Dempsey said, and “we’re looking forward to the crew on board space station having new science and research investigations available to work on.”
Approaching the lab complex from behind and below, the Dragon is expected to catch up with the space station early Thursday, looping up to a point directly in front of the outpost before moving in for docking at the lab’s forward port.
The linkup will come just five days after a SpaceX Crew Dragon ferry ship — Endurance — undocked from that same port and carried two NASA astronauts, a Japanese flier and a Russian cosmonaut back to Earth to wrap up a 157-day mission.
Keeping up a blistering launch pace, SpaceX plans two Falcon 9 launches Friday; one from California to put another batch of Starlink internet satellites into orbit, and the other from Cape Canaveral to boost two SES communications satellites into space. If all goes well, the company could launch as many as 100 Falcon-family rockets this year.