Four astronauts strapped into their SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, undocked from the International Space Station and plunged to a fiery pre-dawn splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday, closing out the first operational flight of SpaceX’s futuristic touch-screen ferry ship.
Crew-1 commander Michael Hopkins, along with NASA astronauts Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, disconnected from the space-facing port of the station’s forward Harmony module at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday.
That set up only the second piloted water landing for NASA’s post-shuttle commercial crew program and just the third night splashdown in space history — the first in nearly 45 years.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX launched a clandestine U.S. spy satellite into space for the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) Saturday (Dec. 19) , marking its 26th rocket of the year.
The mysterious payload, called NROL-108, lifted off from Pad 39A here at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center at 9 a.m. (1400 GMT) , during a planned three hour launch window.
A used two-stage Falcon 9 rocket carried the spy satellite aloft, as part of a government mission called NROL-108, marking SpaceX’s 26th launch of 2020, a new record for the company. Approximately nine minutes after liftoff, the booster’s first stage produced some dramatic sonic booms as it made its way back to terra firma, touching down at SpaceX’s Landing Zone-1 (LZ-1) at the nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
- SpaceX launched its latest Starship prototype on a flight to about 40,000 feet altitude on Wednesday.
- The test was successful until the very last moment, when the Starship rocket exploded on impact as it attempted to land.
- Despite the explosive ending, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk quickly shared his enthusiasm for the overall results of the flight test: “Successful ascent, switchover to header tanks & precise flap control to landing point!”
Hawthorne-based Space Exploration Technologies Corp. successfully completed its second mission on behalf of the U.S. Space Force, deploying a Lockheed Martin-designed GPS III satellite into orbit on Nov. 5
The satellite was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla., by SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket at 6:24 p.m. EST. After separating from the rest of the spacecraft, the rocket’s first stage landed safely aboard an unmanned drone ship positioned in the Atlantic Ocean.
Just under 90 minutes after liftoff, the rocket deployed its payload, placing the satellite into orbit.
SpaceX deployed its first Space Force satellite in June and has a contract with Space Force to launch more GPS satellites over the next five years aboard rockets equipped with previously used first-stage boosters.
The company’s ability to recover and reuse boosters and other parts of its rockets is a key element of its plan to cut down on the cost of future launches.
The satellite deployed Nov. 5 will bolster an existing constellation of more than 30 spacecraft that provide navigational and communications support to the U.S. military.
According to Lockheed Martin, the GPS III satellites are more accurate than prior models and feature “improved anti-jamming capabilities.”
SpaceX celebrated its 100th successful flight last month and has picked up the pace of launches since delaying deployment of its first Space Force flight due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Less than nine minutes later, the rocket’s first stage booster fell from the sky and executed a pinpoint propulsive landing just offshore, setting the stage for another resupply mission for NASA using the same rocket this summer using the same vehicle.
The 213-foot-tall (65-meter) rocket lifted off with a flash from its nine Merlin 1D main engines at 2:48:58 a.m. EDT (0648:58 GMT), roughly the moment Cape Canaveral rotated under space station’s orbital plane.
The Falcon 9 tilted toward the northeast to align with the space station’s flight path, riding 1.7 million pounds of thrust as roared into a starry sky. Less than two-and-a-half minutes later, the rocket’s first stage booster shut down and separated to begin a descent back to Earth, targeting SpaceX’s drone ship “Of Course I Still Love You” parked around 14 miles (22 kilometers) east of Cape Canaveral in the Atlantic Ocean.
The first stage lit three of its engines to begin a boost-back burn to reverse course and head back toward Florida’s Space Coast, while the Falcon 9’s upper stage continued with the primary objective of Saturday’s mission — the delivery into orbit of a Dragon cargo craft packed with 5,472 pounds (2,482 kilograms) of supplies, provisions and experiments for the station and its six-person crew.
The interaction exhaust plumes from the Falcon 9’s first and second stage Merlin engines produced a spectacular lighting effect, giving the appearance of a cosmic nebula high above the Florida spaceport.