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CAPE CANAVERAL (CBSMiami) – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket flashed to life and streaked away through a deep overnight sky Thursday, boosting an EchoStar communications satellite into orbit.

The launch was the California rocket builder’s third successful flight in a row, its second from historic launch complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.

Running two days late because of high winds that scrubbed a launch try Tuesday, the nine Merlin 1D engines in the rocket’s first stage ignited with a rush of fiery exhaust at 2 a.m., quickly pushing the 229-foot-tall rocket away from the pad.

Two minutes and 43 seconds after liftoff, the first stage engines shut down, the stage fell away and the mission continued under the power of a single engine in the Falcon 9’s second stage. Thirty-four minutes after launch, the EchoStar 23 satellite was released to fly on its own.

Unlike recent SpaceX flights, there were no landing legs or steering fins on the Falcon 9’s first stage. Because of the weight of the satellite and the requirements of its initial orbit, the rocket did not have enough propellant left over to attempt a landing on an off-shore drone ship. Instead, the stage fell back into the atmosphere and broke up, the traditional fate of a fully expendable rocket.

This was the third launch of a Falcon 9 since a spectacular explosion Sept. 1 at the nearby Cape Canaveral Air Force Station that destroyed another booster and its $200 million satellite payload, heavily damaging launch complex 40.

The mishap was blamed on a ruptured high-pressure helium tank inside the rocket’s second stage liquid oxygen tank. Corrective actions were implemented and SpaceX returned to flight January 14th, successfully launching 10 Iridium NEXT satellite telephone relay stations from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.

The company then launched a space station cargo ship from pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 19, the first flight from the historic complex since the shuttle Atlantis took off on the program’s final mission in July 2011.

If all goes well, SpaceX hopes to launch an SES communications satellite around March 27th, the first flight of a “used” Falcon 9 first stage. Two more flights are expected in April.

  1. Karl Davis says:

    Even this seemingly mundane flight is novel. It was the first flight with an on board computer to decide if a self-destruct is needed, rather than 150 people watching from the ground. I’m sure that saves money.

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