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SpaceX’s Dragon Reaches Orbit Despite Rocket Glitch

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SpaceX’s Dragon resupply craft is continuing toward its rendezvous with the International Space Station following a rocket shutdown shortly after launch

SpaceX’s CRS-1 cargo resupply spacecraft, loaded with fresh materials for astronauts in the International Space Station high above Earth, got off to a successful start on 7 October as the vehicle launched from Florida and headed for a 10 October rendezvous with its destination.

“We are right where we need to be at this stage in the mission,” Elon Musk, chief executive and Chief Technical Officer of the privately-held company, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), said in a statement. “We still have a lot of work to do, of course, as we guide Dragon’s approach to the space station. But we are thrilled that Dragon was launched successfully into its intended orbit.”

Engine shutdown

One of nine booster engines that propelled the craft into space did shut down unexpectedly about a minute and 19 seconds into the launch, but the glitch didn’t cause any other problems for the mission, according to SpaceX.

“Approximately one minute and 19 seconds into last night’s launch, the Falcon 9 rocket detected an anomaly on one first stage engine,” the company said in a statement. “Initial data suggests that one of the rocket’s nine Merlin engines, Engine 1, lost pressure suddenly and an engine shutdown command was issued. We know the engine did not explode, because we continued to receive data from it.”

The Dragon spacecraft, essentially a large cargo carrier which was launched atop SpaceX’s massive Falcon 9 rocket booster, heralds the official start of the latest process to get needed supplies to the 12-year-old International Space Station (ISS). Previously, NASA and its partner nations used America’s fleet of Space Shuttles as the primary means of getting astronauts and cargo to the ISS, but that changed with the retirement of the Shuttle fleet in 2011.

The last Shuttle mission flew in July 2011.

After the Shuttle programme, NASA announced that it would use commercial space ventures to haul freight into space. SpaceX was selected in 2009 as the Shuttle programme’s successor.

First of 12 missions

The spacecraft launched on schedule at 8:35 p.m. ET on 7 October from NASA’s Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, as the first of what is expected to be at least 12 such resupply missions, according to SpaceX.

Spokespeople for NASA and for SpaceX could not be reached for comment on 8 October.

This was the first official resupply mission by SpaceX, which followed two previous demonstration missions. The Dragon spacecraft is carrying materials to support in-space experiments and other work being planned for the station’s Expedition 33 crew, as well as crew supplies and space station hardware, according to SpaceX.

After the spacecraft catches up with the ISS in Earth orbit on 10 October, one of the ISS crew members will assist it with the docking process so that its cargo can be unloaded. The Dragon will remain docked with the ISS for about two weeks before returning to Earth on 28 October for reuse on another cargo mission.

Musk is the co-founder of Paypal, which was purchased by eBay in 2002 for $1.5 billion (£936m). Musk then started SpaceX, with the goal of taking private enterprise into space. The company was awarded a $1.6 billion NASA contract to design, build and operate a resupply programme to the ISS.

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Originally published on eWeek.