SpaceX’s Falcon 9 has aided the completion of one of the largest tech upgrades in history. The company’s Iridium-8 launch, completed on Sunday, was both the first mission of 2019 and the last mission of a two-year project to upgrade a satellite constellation. After the event, CEO Elon Musk shared images of the rocket after successfully landing back on Earth.
The rocket lifted 10 satellites into orbit from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 10:32 a.m. Eastern time. Minutes after launch, the first stage booster successfully landed on the drone ship Just Read the Instructions stationed in the Pacific Ocean. The moment marked the completion of the eighth Iridium mission, which sent 75 satellites into orbit for global communications and replaced the original Iridium constellation.
“Iridium NEXT is one of the largest ‘tech upgrades’ in space history,” SpaceX declared in press materials for the Iridium-7 launch in July 2018. “The process of replacing the satellites one by one in a constellation of this size and scale has never been completed before.”
Following the landing, Musk shared some photos of the successful rocket:
SpaceX also shared some images of its own on the official company account, showing the rocket coming into landing:
This was followed by a shot of the rocket on the pad:
As the sun set it cast a thin sliver of light on the rocket’s left side:
By the evening it cut an impressive silhouette onto the background:
The landings are a key aspect of SpaceX’s mission to bring costs down involved in space travel. The booster makes up around $46.5 million of the total $62 million cost of making a Falcon 9, with refueling only costing around $300,000. That means every time SpaceX saves a booster, it has a chance of recuperating that money and spending more on research and other areas.
This technology will prove vital for some of SpaceX’s upcoming missions. The company plans to send its first manned Mars mission sometime in the next decade, with Musk suggesting in 2017 that a flight could occur in 2024. The Starship designed for this mission uses liquid oxygen and methane for fuel, meaning a crew could set up a propellant plant on Mars and refuel to come home. Rocket reusability will play a key role in these launches.
The Starship is scheduled to complete its first “hop tests” in the next three weeks at the Boca Chica testing facility in Texas. The technology behind the Falcon 9 above, perched on the drone ship, could pave the way for some of SpaceX’s biggest missions.
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