On April 18, NASA sent cargo to the International Space Station onboard of SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft launched by a Falcon 9 rocket. This launch had been repeatedly pushed back due to technical difficulties, but finally took off at 3:25 pm EDT from Cape Canaveral.
The Dragon spacecraft is set to rendezvous with the ISS on Sunday. It contains over 2,200 kg (5,000 lbs) of cargo (double the load from the previous launch), including food, repair supplies, new cameras, a vegetable garden prototype, and a new communications system. This is the third of twelve scheduled cargo deliveries that NASA has contracted SpaceX to do. The next cargo launch is tentatively scheduled for June 6.
If you missed out on the launch, you can view it here:
After the Falcon 9 rocket brought the Dragon to orbit and detached, it still had a job to do. SpaceX is attempting to develop a rocket that can land in a controlled manner, which will allow the rocket to be reused and will drive down costs. While they have been using small-scale tests, Friday’s launch was the first time the landing gear has been tested in a real-world scenario.
The rocket was destined to land in the Atlantic, though they wanted to extend the landing legs and control its landing to hit the water as softly as possible. The probability of the test being successful were very low at only 30-40%, but everything appeared to go well. When the rocket hit the rough seas, its roll rate was nearly zero and the legs did extend as planned. The landing provided plenty of useful information to build on for future trials.