Monday 24 October 2016

Space coffee mission has lift-off

Published 14/04/2015 | 22:21

The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket stands ready for launch at Cape Canaveral (AP/John Raoux)
The Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket stands ready for launch at Cape Canaveral (AP/John Raoux)

SpaceX has launched a shipment of groceries to the International Space Station, including the first espresso maker bound for orbit.

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Within minutes of lift-off at Florida's Cape Canaveral, the California company led by billionaire Elon Musk was making its third attempt to land the leftover booster on an ocean platform.

Dragon, the SpaceX supply ship, holds more than 4,000lbs (1,810 kilos) of food, science experiments and equipment for the six space station astronauts. At lift-off time, the orbiting lab was soaring over Australia. The delivery should arrive on Friday.

The specially designed espresso machine is for Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti, who has been stuck with American instant coffee since the autumnl. The Italians in charge of the project hope to revolutionise coffee-drinking in space.

SpaceX, meanwhile, hopes to transform the rocket business by landing the first-stage booster on a platform floating a few hundred miles off Florida's north-eastern coast, near Jacksonville.

Musk wants to reuse his booster rockets rather than discard them as is the custom around the world, to reduce launch costs.

The booster was programmed, following separation two and a half minutes after lift-off, to flip around and fly to the platform dubbed "Just Read the Instructions."

The goal, a vertical touchdown, eluded Musk in January and February. The steering system ran out of hydraulic fluid on the first try, and the booster slammed into the platform and exploded. Rough seas scrapped the second shot. Improvements to both the booster and platform followed.

This was the second launch attempt for this mission, SpaceX's seventh supply run for Nasa. Storm clouds halted Monday's countdown.

The Dragon - the only supply ship capable of returning items intact - will remain at the space station until around May 21.

Nasa is eager to get the Dragon's contents to the space station. The agency still has a month-or-two backlog for food and equipment in the wake of the October loss of an Orbital Sciences Corp cargo carrier. The unmanned rocket exploded at lift-off.

The espresso maker was among the items delayed by the accident. It should have arrived in January, two months after Ms Cristoforetti moved into the space station. With her departure coming up in just one month, she won't have much time to waste unpacking the Dragon and cranking out the espresso. Twenty coffee packets are included.

Press Association

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