On Friday afternoon, SpaceX re-flew a Falcon 9 rocket for the second time in its history and pulled off a hot, fast, high-velocity landing on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean, likely to the surprise of CEO Elon Musk, who predicted before the launch on his Twitter account that it might not go as well.
“Falcon 9 will experience its highest ever reentry force and heat in today’s launch. Good chance rocket booster doesn’t make it back,” Musk commented before the 3:10 p.m. launch. Afterward, Musk commented, “Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good.”
The primary objective for the mission was to put a satellite in orbit, but the thrill usually comes from seeing a rocket descend out of the sky, not shoot into it.
Everything went off as planned, almost. The live feed from video cameras mounted on the rocket cut out briefly, as did the live feed from a video camera on the drone ship — due to force of the approaching rocket — but when the picture returned, there stood the charred Falcon 9, tilting slightly.
The Falcon 9 was first used during a successful January mission.
“While this is still a secondary objective, this landing is going to prove to be extra challenging for us,” said SpaceX engineer John Federspiel during the launch pre-show. “If we are successful, this will be our first rocket to land both on our East and West coast drone ships.” It was a three-engine landing burn, the “most difficult to date,” he commented once the first stage of the rocket booster was back on Earth.
Friday’s mission was to put the BulgariaSat-1 satellite — the first geostationary communications satellite in Bulgaria’s history — into orbit. The launch and payload separation went off without a hitch.
Pre-launch here was the drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, off the coast of Florida:
And here’s a zoomed-in view of the fairing — the nose cone — that houses the satellite:
Now, this Falcon 9 has landed on each of SpaceX’s drone ships on either side of the country. Drone ships are needed instead of landing pads because their position relative to the position of where the rocket separates from the nose cone is closer than a terrestrial landing pad, so the rocket doesn’t need as much fuel, and is lighter and cheaper as a result.
While SpaceX doesn’t have video of Friday’s landing — because the feed cut out — you’ll have to just deal with this sped-up GIF of the same Falcon 9 landing on a drone ship off the coast of California back in January.
Being able to re-launch and re-use the first stage boosters is important for SpaceX and its customers. The company aims to reduce spaceflight costs as much as possible: A Falcon 9 costs $60 million, according to Musk, plus an extra $200,000 to fuel. That’s a $60 million savings per trip.
SpaceX’s next launch happens in record time. Sunday, at 1:25 p.m. Pacific, another Falcon 9 will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California, sending up ten Iridium cell phone satellites.
Here’s the full webcast of Friday’s mission: