With rocket launch, SpaceX to be first private firm to travel beyond low-Earth orbit

SpaceX is on its way to delivering NASA’s DISCOVR satellite to orbit after a succesfull rocket launch today, a feat that will make it the first private company to travel beyond the inner ring of Earth’s orbit. The satellite will travel 1 million miles to a location between the Earth and the Sun, where it will spot solar flares up to an hour before they hit Earth and take daily images of the planet.

SpaceX will not attempt rocket landing due to rough seas

SpaceX has decided against attempting to land its Falcon 9 rocket today, though the launch is still a go. The rocket launch is currently planned for 3:03 p.m. PT, when SpaceX will deliver NASA’s DISCOVR satellite to orbit. The rocket will then fall back to Earth and crash into the ocean, as is the common practice, instead of trying to land on a ship off the coast of Florida, where three-story waves have created dangerous conditions. Today was the last possible day to pair the DISCOVR launch with the Falcon 9 landing, as pushing the launch another day would require alterations to DISCOVR’s path. SpaceX attempted a Falcon 9 landing in January, but failed.

SpaceX aborts launch after radar goes down

SpaceX aborted the launch of its Falcon 9 rocket today due to problems with an Air Force radar tracker. The mission is designed to carry NASA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory, a space weather satellite, to space. It is also SpaceX’s second attempt to land its rocket back on Earth, which would be a major step in creating reusable rockets to bring down the cost of spaceflight.

After passing a big test, what’s next for Orion on the way to Mars?

NASA’s Orion space capsule splashed down into the Pacific Ocean this morning after spending 4.5 hours doing two loops around Earth. This was only the first spaceflight test of many that will eventually enable Orion to carry astronauts to an asteroid and then Mars.

The asteroid trip will not happen until the 2020s. A visit to Mars and its moons is scheduled for the 2030s. In the meantime, NASA will crunch the data collected by the 1,200 sensors attached to this initial Orion craft.

“We’re already working on the next capsule,” Lockheed Martin’s Orion program manager Mike Hawes said in a blog post. “We’ll learn a tremendous amount from what we did today.”

The Orion spacecraft after splashdown.

The Orion spacecraft after splashdown.

The U.S. Navy, NASA and Lockheed Martin got to work this morning fishing the Orion capsule out of the ocean. But NASA has already logged one thing that went wrong with the flight: Only three of its five airbags deployed during the splashdown. That was more than enough to keep it safe, however, so overall the flight went very well.

The sensor data will provide more information in the coming weeks, such as how Orion dealt with the increase in temperature while reentering Earth’s atmosphere and if it was damaged by radiation. Oh, and they’ll note if cute trinkets on board like a Captain Kirk action figure made it back safely.

The next Orion spaceflight will take place in 2018, when Orion is scheduled to fly around the moon. It will return to the moon in 2021 with astronauts on board, at which point nearly 50 years will have passed since the last manned lunar flight.

These companies will test NASA cargo on suborbital flights before it heads to space

Before a new machine or good heads into space, it’s helpful to test it on a suborbital flight where a specialized plane flies in arcs to simulate weightlessness. NASA announced today that Masten Space Systems, Paragon Space Development Corp., Up Aerospace Inc. and Virgin Galactic are the newest commercial space companies that will will fly its suborbital flights. Each extendable three-year contract is worth at least $100,000.