Clouds filled the sky over Cape Canaveral on Sunday morning, but the weather failed to obscure views of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage descending onto LZ-1. Sunday’s launch, designated CRS-10, was SpaceX’s 10th resupply mission for the International Space Station. This successful landing marked the third time SpaceX has landed a rocket at LZ-1, but the first time the company did so during daylight hours. And despite the weather, viewers around the world were treated to a fiery launch and graceful landing via the company’s webcast.
Sunday’s launch propelled a Dragon capsule into low-Earth orbit, where it will rendezvous with the ISS on February 22 to deliver routine equipment — food, exercise equipment, and the like — as well as scientific instruments. These include the Stratospheric Aerosol Gas Experiment III, SAGE III for short, which monitors Earth’s ozone layer, and the Raven module, which will be attached to the ISS and will eventually enable autonomous satellite repairs.
Almost as important as successfully delivering the payload to the space station, a top goal for SpaceX is safely returning the rocket’s first stage to Earth. In the long-term, the company hopes that by reusing the rockets instead of jettisoning them into the ocean, as has been the custom since the dawn of spaceflight, rocket launches can become cheaper and therefore more frequent.
In the video that SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk posted on Instagram, viewers can see the Falcon 9’s descent straighten out from its angled reentry path to a vertical posture. Having shed much of its speed on its way down through Earth’s atmosphere, the Falcon 9’s grid fins help maintain course. Its thrusters shoot a tongue of flame towards the ground, and the rocket’s legs smoothly unfold to embrace the landing pad. As it touches down, the Falcon 9 first stage is surrounded by a bowl of smoke shaped like an upside-down mushroom. For all the exacting engineering such a reentry requires, and all the tension surely felt by the crew on the ground, it’s a surprisingly peaceful sight.
Here’s the video Musk posted on Instagram:
SpaceX also shared this video, which was shot by a camera mounted on an aerial drone:
In this video, taken from a camera mounted on the side of the rocket, you can see the landing burn slowing the Falcon 9’s descent and the grid fins adjusting the rocket’s attitude as it comes down to Earth.