27 October 2016
The SpaceX rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on its way to another milestone. Photo Reuters
The SpaceX rocket lifts off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on its way to another milestone. Photo Reuters

SpaceX rocket marks new milestone

An unmanned SpaceX rocket blasted off from Florida on Tuesday to deliver a payload to the the International Space Station, then turned around and landed on a platform in the ocean.

The launch was years in the making and marked another step in the company’s quest to develop rockets that can be refurbished and reflown, potentially slashing launch costs, Reuters reported Wednesday.

“This might change completely how we approach transportation to space,” SpaceX vice president Hans Koenigsman said during a pre-launch press conference.

The primary purpose of the launch was to deliver more than 4,300 pounds of food, clothing, equipment — including an Italian-made espresso machine – and science experiments to the station, a US$100 billion research laboratory about 418 kilometers above Earth.

The 63-meter Falcon 9 rocket, carrying a Dragon capsule, thundered off its seaside launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 4:10 p.m.

After sending the capsule on its way to orbit, the rocket’s first stage flipped around, fired engines to guide its descent, deployed steering fins and landing legs and touched down on a customized barge stationed about 200 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida.

“Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival,” SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk posted on Twitter.

A launch attempt on Monday was delayed by poor weather.

During a previous landing attempt in January, the rocket ran out of hydraulic fluid for its steering fins, causing it to crash into the platform.

A second attempt in February was called off because of high seas, but the rocket successfully ran through its pre-programmed landing sequence and hovered vertically above the waves before splashing down and breaking apart.

SpaceX is one of two companies hired by NASA to fly cargo to the station following the retirement of the space shuttles.

In addition to a recently extended 15-flight NASA cargo delivery contract, worth more than US$2 billion, SpaceX is working on a passenger version of the Dragon capsule and has dozens of contracts to deliver commercial communications satellites into orbit.

It hopes to be certified to fly US military payloads by June.

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