After the original April 14th launch attempt was delayed, the SpaceX launch of Falcon 9 waited out ominous weather and made it into orbit this afternoon. Although successful, this is the first launch I've seen with a complete dearth of beautiful photographs.
Everything ended up where they expected it to, so... Success! Another launch made it off the pad and into space with nothing exploding that wasn't supposed to! Yay! ...but I'm still disappointed that I didn't get to add any new gorgeous images to my rocket collection. I may be a wee bit obsessed with beautiful launch and re-entry photographs.
Falcon 9's original launch date was scheduled for April 14th, but was delayed by a helium leak. Today's launch initially looked iffy, with overcast skies threatening unfavourable weather. Luckily, the rain held off, and the launch proceeded as scheduled. Both stages fired as expected, bringing Dragon and a handful of ten-inch square nanosatellites into orbit.
The upgraded Falcon 9 is a two stage launch vehicle. Although it's heavier than the initial version, the latest iteration has increased performance through a redesigned first-stage, upgraded Merlin engines, and upgraded avionics and software. Each stage drops off after it completes its boost, finally leaving the Dragon capsule alone in space. The capsule spread dual solar panels less than 15 minutes after launch, allowing it to recharges its batteries on its solitary journey to the space station.
Dragon is a commercial resupply mission, so Commander Wakata and the rest of Expedition 39 will be celebrating Easter with fresh fruit when the capsule is grappled by the International Space Station on Sunday. The craft will stay attached to the Harmony node for roughly one month, with a scheduled splashdown near Baja California on May 18th. The rocket is carrying 4,969 pounds of cargo to the station, and will bring 3,578 pounds back to Earth.
For the most up-to-date launch coverage, check NASA's SpaceX launch blog and SpaceX's webcast. All images credit NASA. Despite my general dissatisfaction with the photographs, this is a pretty neat gif of the launch sequence, and the footage from the test flight for the reusable rocket was pretty cool. Sooth my need for beautiful launch photos by sharing yours! Update: a sketch of the launch is far prettier! The soft landing for stage one was almost-successful — the rocket performed an 8-second hover, but seas were too rough for a boat to meet it.