SpaceX landing Falcon 9 rockets on drone ships in the ocean is old hat by now, a feat first achieved more than three years ago. But a new video of the familiar descent put it in a new light on Saturday morning.
Under the cover of darkness, it’s impossible to see the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket return from space and land on Of Course I Still Love You, the drone ship off the coast of Florida, but infrared cameras captured the landing during a mission livestream, making it visible in monochrome. (A clip of the landing is isolated in the video above.)
Even better for rocket enthusiasts is that the Falcon 9 landing on the deck of the drone ship is actually crystal clear. During most missions that involve a drone ship landing, the SpaceX video feed glitches and cuts out as the rocket approaches the deck of the ship, denying viewers the sight of a rocket landing on a floating deck in the ocean. But that wasn’t the case on Saturday. In HD, you can see the landing legs extend, and the blue-green water splash around the drone ship, from the point of view of a video camera mounted on the first stage of the rocket.
“That looks awesome,” commented Jessica Anderson, a manufacturing engineer at SpaceX, who hosted the overnight webcast as Falcon 9 dropped to Earth a few minutes before 3 a.m. Eastern.
This latest SpaceX launch was for CRS-17, a Commercial Resupply Service mission to the International Space Station, which saw, among other projects, chips of human organs sent to space for research and a radiation-tolerant supercomputer built by students from the University of Pittsburgh. The Dragon cargo capsule, with more than 5,000 pounds of supplies and science, will arrive at the ISS on Monday.
What’s next for SpaceX: Elon Musk’s aerospace company appears next set to launch Starlink internet satellites, for which it just received FCC approval, sometime in mid-May.
The Falcon 9 booster used on Saturday will be used again for two more missions to the ISS — CRS 18 and 19. Kenny Todd, ISS Mission Operations Integration manager for NASA, said as much.
“Quite frankly we have a vested interest in this booster,” Todd said during the post-launch press conference, reported Ars Technica. “The intent is for us to use it for 18, for sure, and potentially 19. From our standpoint it made a difference.”
Watch the full video of the CRS-17 mission here.