After a delay from a 4-14 launch date, SpaceX successfully sent its new Falcon 9 off to the I.S.S. with another Dragon Capsule payload on 4-18. The Dragon Capsule has docked with the I.S.S. (Video here) Even better, the initial tests to bring the first stage back down to earth in a controlled fashion with landing legs deployed apparently went very well.
SpaceX engineers had preprogrammed the spent first stage to relight several Merlin 1 D engines after completing the boost phase and stage seperation to stabilize it, reduce its roll rate and then gradually lower its altitude back down to the Atlantic Ocean’s surface for a soft landing attempt and later possible recovery by retrieval ships.The eventual goal is to be able to guide the first stage to a soft landing on land so the booster can be recovered and reused. If so, that will be a huge step forward for SpaceX and space transport in general. The Dragon Capsule is designed to re-enter the atmosphere and be recovered as well. Again, re-use is an eventual goal.
All these critical steps seemed to go fairly well in initial reports that are subject to change.
SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk reported at a post launch briefing and later tweeted further updates that the Falcon 9 first stage actually made a good water landing despite rough seas, with waves swelling at least six feet.
The BBC has more coverage of the launch here.
Meanwhile, in addition to delivering two tons of supplies and experiments to the I.S.S. and testing technology to recover the Falcon 9 first stage, SpaceX had an additional mission. 104 saltine-sized micro satellites were carried aloft for release in orbit.
...The satellites, called Sprites, are only about the size of saltine crackers. But they can still transmit basic measurements of the space environment back to the surface.A proof of concept test, the satellites were funded via Kickstarter. They are only intended to remain in orbit a short time before falling back into the atmosphere, but they could be harbingers of an entirely new avenue for space research. NASA has a press release here detailing all of the payloads riding on this launch and the mission profile - it's quite a list.
Each one contains a tiny single-chip computer with a magnetometer, a gyroscope, an antenna and a solar panel. They’re made from the type of basic consumer electronics inside smart phones.
One-hundred-four Sprites are ready to fly on this demonstration mission. “It has the potential to really open up access to space to an entirely new demographic.” That’s Zach Manchester, the Cornell University aerospace engineering graduate student who founded the project.
I hadn't seen much in the news about this, and could find little at Kos, so I thought it worth writing up. While the media is obsessing over the Ukraine, missing airliners and sunken ferrys, it's useful to know that there are also things going right in the world, things that could actually make a difference. For example, Sentinel 1a has reached orbit and is already sending back data. It's part of the Copernicus system of Earth-monitoring tools that will give us a better picture of what is happening to our planet.
We have the tools, the resources, and the wealth needed to make this world a far better place - all we are lacking is wisdom among those with the means to make it so - when they aren't trying to make things even worse. Kevin Drum has the dirt, here and here.
That's why it's important to keep an eye on things going right, if only to demonstrate that it's possible.