Following on from the Cygnus berthing to the space station this morning SpaceX successfully launched its modified Falcon 9 rocket this afternoon in the process achieving several firsts for the company.
The launch which came exactly five years after their first successful Falcon 1 launch was the first from their Vandenburg launch pad, the first of the longer v1.1 rocket, the first to use the Merlin 1D engines, the first to have a satellite fairing and the first Falcon 9 not dedicated to Dragon.
The rocket carried six satellite’s to orbit and from initial reports all were successfully deployed as expected and the rocket performed exceptionally well.
In addition to the above firsts, SpaceX were also hoping to re-ignite three of the first stage engine’s as it descended back to earth to slow the impact of the stage as it lands in the Pacific Ocean. If successful the plan is to retrieve the stage and potentially use it again for another mission. These are early steps in SpaceX’s plan to have fully re-usable rockets in the future.
With the successful completion of this launch SpaceX will now be ramping up the launch rate to meet the large launch manifest pending, with several more this year and starting in 2014 almost one a month through end of 2015 already booked.
The following images were captured from the SpaceX Web Cast and show the rocket during countdown, launch and after first stage separation.