LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) – Hawthorne-based SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket for the first time Saturday morning since a fireball engulfed a similar rocket on a Florida launch pad more than four months ago.
The two-stage rocket, which is carrying 10 satellites for Iridium Communications, launched at 9:54 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base north of Lompoc. About nine minutes after the rocket blasted off, to cheers from the control room, its jettisoned first stage landed upright on a so-called droneship in the Pacific Ocean south of Vandenberg — part of Spacex’s effort to make boosters reusable. The company has succeeded six times previously with landings on a barge or ashore.
The satellites were deployed about an hour after launch, which was approved by the FAA Friday, according to a news release from Vandenberg.
A camera aboard the first stage gave viewers a you-are-there experience as it returned to Earth, flared landing rockets and made a perfect vertical touchdown on the floating pad.
In addition to commercial launches, SpaceX ferries supplies to the International Space Station and is developing a Falcon capable of carrying astronauts to the station. The return to flight is an important step for SpaceX, Elon Musk’s company that has about 70 launches in line, worth more than $10 billion.
On Sept. 1, 2016, the Falcon 9 rocket exploded at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida while it was being fueled ahead of a standard pre-launch test. SpaceX said the explosion occurred around the upper-stage oxygen tank.
According to CBS News, the rocket and satellite it was carrying at the time were valued at $262 million. SpaceX determined the explosion was caused by the rocket’s helium tank, CBS News reported. The investigation into the explosion involved the Air Force, NASA, the National Transportation Safety Board and the Federal Aviation Administration.
The September accident was the second time a Falcon 9 was destroyed. In June 2015, a Falcon loaded with space station supplies disintegrated shortly after liftoff. SpaceX determined that a support strut broke.
Iridium plans six more Falcon 9 launches, each carrying 10 satellites, as part of a technology upgrade expected to be completed in 2018.
SpaceX’s effort to recover Falcon first stages is intended to reduce costs by recycling a major piece of the launch system.
The first stage contains tanks for liquid oxygen and kerosene as well as nine engines that power the rocket and payload into space, then separates 2½ minutes into flight as the single-engine second stage ignites and continues on to place payloads in the proper orbit.
The first Falcon booster to safely land back on Earth now stands outside the company’s headquarters.
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