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SpaceX Falcon Rocket Success Clears Way For Jan. 17 Launch At Vandenberg AFB

Jason-3 ocean-monitoring spacecraft for NASA scheduled to blastoff next month after delays

A double streak shows the launch and landing of the SpaceX Falcon rocket on Monday in Florida, with firm’s founder and CEO tweeting, ‘There and back again.’
A double streak shows the launch and landing of the SpaceX Falcon rocket on Monday in Florida, with firm’s founder and CEO tweeting, ‘There and back again.’ (SpaceX photo)

A successful flight Monday for a Falcon 9 rocket from Florida following a failure six months ago removes another hurdle for the delayed departure next month of a NASA ocean-monitoring satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The rocket built by Space Exploration Technologies Corp. blasted off just after 5 p.m. PST Monday from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying 11 small communication satellites for the Orbcomm constellation.

The return-to-flight mission comes six months after a Falcon rocket experienced a failure shortly after blastoff in Florida, destroying NASA cargo to be delivered to the International Space Station.

That failure forced NASA and the National Oceanic and Space Administration to postpone the Jason-3 launch that had been planned for August aboard a Falcon 9 rocket scheduled to blast off from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base.

While Monday’s rocket is a different model than the booster that will carry Jason-3, the vehicles sported enough similarities that any problems could have interfered with the ocean-monitoring satellite’s planned liftoff. 

“I think we’re pleased and encouraged that flight went well,” said George Diller, spokesman for NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

NASA officials likely will review appropriate data, as allowed by SpaceX, from Monday’s launch to help give the space agency confidence any previous problem had been addressed prior to the Jason-3 flight, Diller said.

A Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage sits on its landing zone in Florida following a successful launch and return Monday night. In addition to proving its landing capability, the rocket successfully carried 11 Orbcomm communication satellites to space. Click to view larger
A Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage sits on its landing zone in Florida following a successful launch and return Monday night. In addition to proving its landing capability, the rocket successfully carried 11 Orbcomm communication satellites to space. (SpaceX photo)

Jason-3’s blastoff is now planned for 10:42 a.m. Jan. 17 from Space Launch Complex-4 on South Base.

In case of a one-day delay, the launch time would be 10:31 a.m. Jan. 18. Launch times are determined by where the satellite needs to be placed in space.

In addition to delivering its cargo  the unmanned Falcon also set history by returning its first-stage to touch down successfully near its landing site, prompting SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk to declare on Twitter, “Welcome back, baby!

As the Falcon rocket continued to hit its milestones Monday night, cheers and applause could be heard from employees and supporters gathered at SpaceX 

“You can hear everyone is phenomenally excited here,” a SpaceX employee said on the company’s webcast.

SpaceX reportedly plans to conduct a landing attempt following an upcoming Vandenberg launch, but officials didn't respond to a request for comment whether the attempt will occur after the Jason-3 rocket lifts off.

By returning the first stage to Earth and reusing it, SpaceX hopes to reduce the price of launches and the cost of getting satellites — and humans —into space.

“If one can figure out how to effectively re-use rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred,” said Musk, who also created and leads electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors and co-founded the electronic payment system, PayPal. “A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.”

The firm had previously attempted to land the rocket on an ocean-based barge following Florida launches but encountered problems.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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