Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The SpaceX Dragon in Orbit

Courtesy NASA via Twitter. That was an amazing launch! No delays or upsets. Very uneventful. I caught the broadcast from Spacex.com (broadcast from their Hawthorn, California facility) starting at about T minus 8 minutes (somewhere around 12:30AM PST/3:30AM EST). As the clock counted down to zero, the Falcon 9 lifted effortlessly off the launch pad in Florida and zoomed up into the night. What followed was about 11 minutes of holding my breath as Dragon climbed up into orbit. There was decent video footage from the rocket most of the way through the flight. Highlights for me were the main engine cutoff and stage jettison (which was sooner than I expected), the second stage burn in the dark, and finally the deployment of the Dragon's solar panels which occured as Dragon reached orbit. It's impressive how much acceleration the second stage provides in the short amount of time the second stage is operating. It accelerated the Dragon from about 2 or 3 km/sec to 7.4 km/sec. at burnout, and it's engine glowed such a cheery shade of orange too (intentionally, and very nice since the engine provided the only light for the camera to see anything)! As Dragon reached orbit, and as the broadcast showed the solar panels deploying into the sunlight, a thunderous roar erupted from the apparently huge crowd at SpaceX's Hawthorn California plant. It's really cool when the company turns out to watch a launch in the middle of the night! Congratulations SpaceX!

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