SpaceX’s Dragon 9 spacecraft has been in orbit for 30 minutes following a successful inaugural launch from Kennedy Space Center at 2.45 EDT. Stage separation was achieved at T+3.06, with second stage ignition occurring at T+3.34. Second stage shut down was at T+8.50. The vehicle achieved Earth orbit at T+9.04, with everyone at SpaceX and many at NASA breathing a big sigh of relief. Images of the launch are due to be made available any moment now.
The Planetary Society have meanwhile become one of the first bodies to congratulate SpaceX’s achievement. In a statement, the society says “it’s hard not to launch into hyperbole at the success of the first Falcon 9 test flight. It is a tremendous achievement. Hats off to our Planetary Society Board member, Elon Musk, and his SpaceX team. In advancing commercial spaceflight, today's flight of Falcon 9 could be the first small step towards relieving NASA launchers of the burden of low-Earth orbit, thus freeing the U.S. space agency to reach new worlds.
With this success for the commercial spaceflight industry, the United States is better positioned to ramp up its ambitions for exploring the solar system. The proposal to refocus NASA's human spaceflight program beyond low-Earth orbit now looks more achievable, as this flight demonstrated that commercial rockets may soon be ready to carry supplies and, we hope, astronauts to the International Space Station.
Rocketry really is “rocket science.” To paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we chose to do these things because they are hard. Putting together a complex and dangerous piece of machinery like a multi-stage rocket and making it fly to orbit is an immensely challenging thing to do. Elon Musk and his team have done the hard thing and truly deserve our congratulations.