SpaceX launches its first recycled rocket in historic leap

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from Kennedy Space Center in Titusville, Florida on Thursday. (Craig Bailey/Florida Today via AP)
Updated 31 March 2017
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SpaceX launches its first recycled rocket in historic leap

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida: SpaceX successfully launched and then retrieved its first recycled rocket Thursday, the biggest leap yet in its bid to drive down costs and speed up flights.
The Falcon 9 blasted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, hoisting a broadcasting satellite into the clear early evening sky on the historic rocket reflight.
It was the first time SpaceX founder Elon Musk tried to fly a booster that soared before on an orbital mission. He was at a loss for words after the booster landed on the bull’s-eye of the ocean platform following liftoff, just off the east Florida coast.
Musk called it an “incredible milestone in the history of space” after the booster touchdown.
He added: “This is going to be a huge revolution in spaceflight.”
This particular first stage landed on an ocean platform almost exactly a year ago after a space station launch for NASA. SpaceX refurbished and tested the 15-foot booster, still sporting its nine original engines. It nailed another vertical landing at sea Thursday once it was finished boosting the satellite for the SES company of Luxembourg. SpaceX employees jammed outside Mission Control at the Hawthorne, California, company headquarters cheered loudly every step of the way — and again when the satellite reached its proper orbit.
Longtime customer SES got a discount for agreeing to use a salvaged rocket, but wouldn’t say how much. It’s not just about the savings, said chief technology officer Martin Halliwell.
Halliwell called it “a big step for everybody — something that’s never, ever been done before.”
SpaceX granted SES insight into the entire process of getting the booster ready to fly again, Halliwell said, providing confidence everything would go well. SES, in fact, is considering more launches later this year on reused Falcon boosters.
“Someone has to go first,” Halliwell said at a news conference earlier in the week.
Boosters — the most expensive part of the rocket, according to Musk — typically are discarded following liftoff, sinking into the Atlantic. SpaceX began flying back the Falcon’s first-stage, kerosene-fueled boosters in 2015; it’s since landed eight boosters, three at Cape Canaveral and five on ocean platforms — actually, six times at sea counting Thursday’s redo. The company is working on a plan to recycle even more Falcon parts, like the satellite enclosure. For now, the second stage used to get the satellite into the proper, high orbit is abandoned.
Blue Origin, an aerospace company started by another tech billionaire, Jeff Bezos, already has reflown a rocket. One of his New Shepard rockets, in fact, has soared five times from Texas. These flights, however, were suborbital; in other words, nothing went into orbit.
NASA also has shared the quest for rocket reusability. During the space shuttle program, the twin booster rockets dropped away two minutes into flight and parachuted into the Atlantic for recovery. The booster segments were mixed and matched for each flight.
As for this SpaceX reused booster, Halliwell said engineers went through it with a fine-toothed comb following its liftoff in April 2016. He wasn’t so sure, though, about the cleaning job.
“It’s a bit sooty,” he said with a smile.
SES has a long history with SpaceX. A SES satellite was on board for SpaceX’s first commercial launch in 2013.
SpaceX — which aims to launch up to six reused boosters this year — is familiar with uncharted territory.
Besides becoming the first commercial cargo hauler to the International Space Station, SpaceX is building a capsule to launch NASA astronauts as soon as next year. It’s also working to fly two paying customers to the moon next year, and is developing the Red Dragon, a robotic spacecraft intended to launch to Mars in 2020 and land. Musk’s ultimate goal is to establish a human settlement on Mars.
Key to all of this, according to Musk, is the rapid, repeating turnaround of rockets — and employees. SpaceX posted a help wanted ad on its webcast following the launch.
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Online:
SpaceX: http://www.spacex.com/


Judge acquits 3 Chicago officers of Laquan McDonald cover-up

Updated 18 January 2019
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Judge acquits 3 Chicago officers of Laquan McDonald cover-up

  • The black teenager’s shooting death in 2014 led to massive protests in the US
  • Last October, jurors convicted officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and aggravated battery

CHICAGO: A judge on Thursday acquitted three Chicago officers of trying to cover up the 2014 shooting of Laquan McDonald, dismissing as just one perspective the shocking dashcam video of the black teenager’s death that led to protests, a federal investigation of the police department and the rare murder conviction of an officer.
In casting off the prosecution’s entire case, Judge Domenica Stephenson seemed to accept many of the same defense arguments that were rejected in October by jurors who convicted officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder and aggravated battery. He is scheduled to be sentenced Friday.
The judge said the video showed only one viewpoint of the confrontation and that there was no indication the officers tried to hide evidence.
“The evidence shows just the opposite,” she said. She singled out how they preserved the graphic video at the heart of the case.
McDonald’s family questioned how the two cases could produce such different decisions. His great uncle, the Rev. Marvin Hunter, told reporters that the verdict means “that if you are a police officer you can lie, cheat and steal.”
“To say that these men are not guilty is to say that Jason Van Dyke is not guilty.” He added: “It is a sad day for America.”
Prosecutor Ron Safer tried to put a positive spin on the verdict.
“This case was a case where the code of silence was on trial,” he said, referring to the long tradition that officers don’t report wrongdoing by their colleagues. “The next officer is going to think twice about filing a false police report. Do they want to go through this?“
Special prosecutor Patricia Brown Holmes said she hoped the verdict would not make officers reluctant to come forward when they see misconduct. Her key witness, officer Dora Fontaine, described how she had become a pariah in the department and was called a “rat” by fellow officers.
The shooting has provoked periodic street protests since 2015, when the video came to light, and the acquittals could renew that movement.
“We will be down here tomorrow by the hundreds, and we will cry out for justice for Laquan,” activist Eric Russell said.
The trial was watched closely by law enforcement and critics of the department, which has long had a reputation for condoning police brutality.
Officer Joseph Walsh, officer Thomas Gaffney and detective David March were accused of conspiracy, official misconduct and obstruction of justice. All but Gaffney have since left the department. They asked the judge, rather than a jury, to hear the evidence.
After the verdict, Walsh would say only that the ordeal of being charged and tried was “heart-breaking for my family, a year and a half.”
In her ruling , the judge rejected prosecution arguments that the video demonstrated officers were lying when they described McDonald as moving and posing a threat even after he was shot.
“An officer could have reasonably believed an attack was imminent,” she said. “It was borne out in the video that McDonald continued to move after he fell to the ground” and refused to relinquish a knife.
The video appeared to show the teen collapsing in a heap after the first few shots and moving in large part because bullets kept striking his body for 10 more seconds.
The judge said it’s not unusual for two witnesses to describe events in starkly different ways. “It does not necessarily mean that one is lying,” she said.
The judge also noted several times that the vantage points of various officers who witnessed the shooting were “completely different.” That could explain why their accounts did not sync with what millions of people saw in the video.
Both Van Dyke’s trial and that of the three other officers hinged on the video, which showed Van Dyke opening fire within seconds of getting out of his police SUV and continuing to shoot the 17-year-old while he was lying on the street. Police were responding to a report of a male who was breaking into trucks and stealing radios on the city’s South Side.
Prosecutors alleged that Gaffney, March and Walsh, who was Van Dyke’s partner, submitted false reports about what happened to try to prevent or shape any criminal investigation of the shooting. Among other things, they said the officers falsely claimed that Van Dyke shot McDonald after McDonald aggressively swung the knife at the officers and that he kept shooting the teen because McDonald was trying to get up still armed with the knife.
McDonald had used the knife to puncture a tire on Gaffney’s police vehicle, but the video shows that he did not swing it at the officers before Van Dyke shot him and that he appeared to be incapacitated after falling to the ground.
Attorneys for Gaffney, Walsh and March used the same strategy that the defense used at Van Dyke’s trial by placing all the blame on McDonald.
It was McDonald’s refusal to drop his knife and other threatening actions that “caused these officers to see what they saw,” March’s attorney, James McKay, told the court. “This is a case about law and order (and) about Laquan McDonald not following any laws that night.”
The lawyers ridiculed the decision to charge the three officers, saying they merely wrote what they observed or, in March’s case, what the other officers told him they saw. And they said there was no evidence that the officers conspired to get their stories straight.
“The state wants you to criminalize police reports,” McKay bellowed at one point.
City Hall released the video to the public in November 2015 — 13 months after the shooting — and acted only because a judge ordered it to do so. The charges against Van Dyke were not announced until the day of the video’s release.
The case cost the police superintendent his job and was widely seen as the reason the county’s top prosecutor was voted out of office a few months later. It was also thought to be a major factor in Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s decision not to seek a third term.
The accusations triggered a federal investigation, resulting in a blistering report that found Chicago officers routinely used excessive force and violated the rights of residents, particularly minorities. The city implemented a new policy that requires video of fatal police shootings to be released within 60 days, accelerated a program to equip all officers with body cameras and adopted other reforms to change the way police shootings are investigated.