Private space firms Orbital Sciences Corporation and SpaceX had a big weekend as both successfully delivered high profile payloads to orbit.
Orbital Sciences Corporation, who just a few weeks ago successfully launched an unmanned spacecraft to the moon for NASA, berthed their Cygnus cargo craft to the International Space Station.
The mission was not without some troubleshooting, as some computer bugs delayed the cargo ship’s arrival to the station by a number of days. After a software patch was loaded into the spacecraft NASA cleared it to approach the station for berthing.
The cargo ship launched from a NASA facility in Wallops, Virginia aboard Orbital’s Antares rocket.
“A tremendous amount of hard work has gone into this five-year effort from our launch vehicle and spacecraft teams, and we are all exceptionally proud of their accomplishments. We look forward to moving ahead with regularly scheduled ISS cargo delivery missions for NASA as early as the end of the year,” said David W. Thompson, Orbital’s President and Chief Executive Officer said in a press release.
The cargo ship was jointly developed by Orbital and NASA to replace cargo delivery capabilities once provided by the Space Shuttle program. Another firm, SpaceX, has now made three deliveries to the orbiting outpost in their Dragon cargo spacecraft that also has the capability to return to Earth (Cygnus is burned up in the atmosphere after use). NASA now has two very different platforms to launch from should one provider experience technical issues and need to delay operations.
SpaceX made some news of their own this weekend as their new and more powerful Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California Sunday morning. This was SpaceX’s first flight servicing paying customers other than NASA, and the company’s rocket successfully delivered a Canadian weather satellite and several micro-satellites for research institutions.
Watch the SpaceX Launch:
A second component of the SpaceX mission was to begin experimenting with ways to recover and reuse the Falcon 9 rocket and its engines after launch. Currently all rockets used to launch people and hardware into space are expendable, with various rocket stages falling into the ocean once discarded.
SpaceX was able to relight the engines on the first stage in an attempt to slow the first stage down, but a second engine burn destabilized the descent and resulted in the engines shutting down too early.
A second experiment, which called for relighting the second stage engine in space, also failed. This capability is more critical, as a major customer of SpaceX, SES, will require the engine to be reignited to boost its satellite to the proper orbit when it launches later this fall.
SpaceX, Boeing, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation are continuing their work on next generation human-capable spacecraft to transport crews to the Space Station.