SpaceX Successfully Launches Upgraded Falcon 9 Rocket on Maiden Flight (Updated)

©SpaceX

SpaceX Falcon 9 v1.1 launch.

SpaceX successfully launched its upgraded Falcon 9 v1.1 rocket today on its maiden flight from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in what appeared to be a picture perfect launch.

The rocket was carrying the Canadian CASSIOPE satellite as its main payload along with three small nanosats.

While similar to the original Falcon 9 the new upgraded version sports the more powerful Merlin 1D engines which had yet to fly, a much longer fuselage, a new larger fairing and a number of other upgrades to the rocket including its software.

The launch window opened up at 12:00 p.m. ET and SpaceX had three hours to launch the rocket today. However with weather conditions almost perfect the rocket lifted off right as the launch window opened.

The launch to orbit looked particularly smooth with no apparent issue. All the satellites deployed as expected. This was the first launch for SpaceX at its new Vandenberg Air Force Base launch facilities.

SpaceX which has been at the forefront of innovation in the rocket industry since its inception 10 years ago was trying to recover the 1st stage. It was doing so by restarting the 1st stage engines as the stage came back down for a controlled slow splash down in the ocean.

SpaceX will provide an update later today.

3:00 p.m. ET Update: On a conference call with reporters SpaceX's Elon Musk said that the 1st and 2nd stage engines performed "slightly better than expected".

As part of the demonstration mission SpaceX attempted a slow controlled splash down of the 1st stage. However the 1st stage engine shut down early as there was excess roll on reentry but parts of the 1st stage were recovered.

There was also an issue with the attempted relight of the second stage after the satellites had been deployed. Musk said they understand the issue and will fix it before the next flight.

Musk also said that they will next attempt a recovery of the 1st stage on the 4th Falcon 9 v1.1 launch on the 3rd Commercial Resupply Mission for NASA. That vehicle may also have landing legs. That launch is expected in February 2014. There will not be an attempt to recover the 1st stage on the next two Falcon 9 launches to maximize performance of those launches for the respective customers.

SpaceX is attempting to become the first rocket company to fully recover the 1st stage of a rocket for refurbishment and reuse. This is part of their strategy to reduce the overall cost of launching payloads to space.


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