Third Time Lucky: SpaceX Succeeds In Launching DSCOVR Space Weather Satellite But No Barge Landing
After two scrubbed attempts at launching an unmanned rocket carrying a space weather satellite, SpaceX finally had its successful liftoff on its third try.
The space transport services company's first attempt at launch had been called off on Sunday because of technical issues with a rocket-tracking system. Wednesday's launch was likewise cancelled because of high winds.
Under perfect weather conditions, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 6:03 p.m. ET on Wednesday carrying the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), which will travel towards the sun and take measurement of solar storms and magnetic condition that could potentially impact satellites and power grids on Earth.
"DSCOVR will typically be able to provide 15 to 60 minute warning time before the surge of particles and magnetic field, known as a coronal mass ejection (or CME), associated with a geomagnetic storm reaches Earth," wrote the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which will take control of DSCOVR once it gets into the further reaches of space. "Our national security and economic well-being, which depend on advanced technologies, are at risk without these advanced warnings."
Although the launch had been pushed through and DSCOVR is already heading towards the sun, the mission was not in essence perfect because it also involved plans to recover the first stage of the rocket that was placed underneath the satellite.
The plan was to have this land on a sea platform but SpaceX has warned ahead of time that it is not expecting to recover the rocket because of the weather that caused the delays and the presence of big waves near the landing platform.
"We are experiencing just such weather in the Atlantic with waves reaching up to three stories in height crashing over the decks," SpaceX said. "The rocket will still attempt a soft landing in the water through the storm, producing valuable landing data, but survival is highly unlikely."
After DSCOVR's launch, the rocket came back to Earth and landed in the ocean within 10 meters of its target point. SpaceX founder Elon Musk, however, remains optimistic saying that the landing may have worked out as intended had the weather been fine.
Rocket soft landed in the ocean within 10m of target & nicely vertical! High probability of good droneship landing in non-stormy weather.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) Feb. 11, 2015
Musk and his company's efforts to start recovering and reusing rockets could be a game changer given that this could lower cost of space launches. Once reusable rockets become the norms, millions of dollars can be saved with spaceflights.