After a few scrubbed launches, SpaceX‘s first deep space mission finally took off this afternoon from Cape Canaveral. The Falcon 9 rocket carrying the DSCOVR satellite blasted out of our atmosphere beautifully.
According to SpaceX’s latest update, the satellite has successfully detached and is on its way into orbit. DSCOVR is headed towards Lagrangian point L1 between the Sun and Earth — a region of space where the gravity between the two bodies is “stable.” From there, the satellite can maintain its orbit with gravity alone.
1,500,000 kilometers (930,000 miles) above Earth, the DSCOVR satellite will “beam back imagery of Earth, observe space weather, and provide advanced warning of extreme emissions from the sun which can affect power grids, communications systems, and satellites close to Earth,” according to SpaceX.
But the second part of the SpaceX launch — recapturing the Falcon 9 rocket after use — was not another first for the company. With only three of four working engines and 30-foot waves crashing over the deck, SpaceX’s drone barge was unable to operate in today’s extreme weather, and was called back to shore.
Even so, when the Falcon 9 booster does return to Earth, it will still attempt a “soft landing” — basically a controlled crash in the ocean. Even this is a learning opportunity. According to Elon Musk on Twitter, if the barge could have braved the weather, there would have been a good chance for success:
Rocket soft landed in the ocean within 10m of target & nicely vertical! High probability of good droneship landing in non-stormy weather.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 11, 2015
And of course, like the last SpaceX launch, the inside of the rocket’s fuel tank when it hit microgravity looked awesome: