SpaceX Launches First ISS Resupply MissionYesterday SpaceX successfully launched the first commercial resupply mission to the ISS ever. As we speak, the Dragon capsule is on its way to the space station, bringing critical supplies to the world's one true space colony.
It wasn't all smooth sailing, however. On the way up, one of the 9 Merlin engines that power the first stage of the rocket lit up brightly, threw off several chunks of something, and was then promptly shut off by the computer. It didn't impact the flight, however, since the Falcon 9 can fly with two engines down and recomputed its trajectory on the fly to compensate. In the end, the Dragon Module ended up in the exact same orbit it would have had all the engines functioned properly. You can bet that SpaceX engineers will be pouring over the data, however.
A more serious problem is that the second stage may have malfunctioned, too, leaving an Orbcomm satellite in the wrong orbit. There is no confirmation of this, however, so we'll have to wait for the final announcement from SpaceX to be sure.
This is hardly an auspicious start to SpaceX's tenure as a certified cargo hauler for NASA, but at least everything still seems to be functioning properly. The dragon module is on an intercept course with the International Space Station, and should dock with it soon.
Failures on rockets aren't uncommon. Famously, Saturn 6 suffered a whole slew of failures, including multiple engines. Russia's Proton line of rockets routinely fail, taking many expensive satellite with it. The fact that the Falcon 9 failed so gracefully is actually a testament to it.
Still, SpaceX is going to have to solve the problem before they move on to manned testing of the Dragon space capsule, eventually set to ferry astronauts to the ISS.