SpaceX successfully launched its Falcon 9 version 1.1 rocket into space from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California this morning. The upgraded rocket took off on time at 9 a.m. PDT, sending the Canadian CASSIOPE spacecraft and five nano-sats into orbit.
The SpaceX webcast of the launch ended with the Falcon 9 second stage in orbit and the payloads still attached. There is no word as yet as to whether the spacecraft have separated successfully. We will update this as we get more information.
UPDATE NO. 1: CASSIOPE separation confirmed and spacecraft is healthy!
UPDATE NO. 2: All five secondary payloads have separated successfully.
Engines on the first stage re-fired in an attempt to bring the lower part of the rocket in for a controlled descent to the ocean. Three of the engines were set to fire at high altitude, and then one engine would fire just prior to reaching the Pacific Ocean. There is no word on how this experiment went. The goal is to eventually fly the Falcon 9 first stage back to a landing at the launch site.
UPDATE NO. 3: Musk says the first burn of three engines worked well and the first stage re-entered safely. However, the second single-engine burn did not work as planned. The stage began to roll and the engine shut down. SpaceX has fished out debris from the first stage from the ocean.
In addition, there was an anomaly in the restart of the second stage that Musk said would be addressed before the next launch of the upgraded Falcon 9 launcher.
Musk said the next attempt to recovery the Falcon 9 first stage will be on the fourth flight of the upgraded rocket. This would be third commercial Dragon cargo flight to ISS, which is scheduled for next year. That stage might have landing legs.
Musk says that if things go super well, SpaceX would be able to fly a reused Falcon 9 first stage by the end of 2014. He describes this as the company’s “aspiration”