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The Falcon has taken off

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This time, it worked: the SpaceX Falcon 9 has lifted off without incident, and is on the way to the International Space Station.

After the weekend’s launch was aborted due to a valve error causing excessively high pressures in chamber number 5, SpaceX spokespeople correctly stated that there was no “failure”: the software functioned correctly in the presence of a malfunction, and the rocket was preserved intact.

Those old enough to remember the days of “light the blue touch paper and retire” are probably sympathetic with the feeling: you know you lit the fuse, but the rocket just didn’t lift. The problem had been caused by a failed check-valve.

Kevin Brogan, propulsion engineer for SpaceX, said ahead of today’s launch: “we take the engines up to full power … the computer aborted the launch and put the vehicle into safe mode, which is exactly what was designed to happen. I couldn’t be happier ... that’s the way we designed our system.”

Falcon 9 at lift-off (source: SpaceX webcast)

The Dragon capsule boosts 1,000 pounds (a little over 453 kg) of provisions to astronauts aboard the International Space Station (who must surely be tapping their watches impatiently and wondering if there was a delivery guarantee on their pizza). The spacecraft is now in the process of “catching up” with the ISS.

The successful launch marks the first time a private venture has successfully sent a mission to the ISS – and opens the era of private space travel. Falcon 9 achieved orbit on time, and the successful deployment of its solar arrays at around 13 minutes after lift-off was greeted with cheers. ®

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