SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket once again has successfully landed on a drone ship called “Of Course I Still Love You”. This time, the reusable rocket performed Friday night a perfect landing 422 miles off the coast of Florida after delivering the Orbital ATK’s 6,669 pounds Thaicom 8 communications satellite, which was designed to serve Thailand, India, and some African countries.
Viewers were able to watch Falcon 9’s launch and landing as the company streamed video on its website last night. The rocket carried the satellite about 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface, Christian Science Monitor reported.
The company had previously said that the odds of success were slim, explaining that a successful landing would be challenging because the rocket’s first stage was about to experience extremely high velocities and “re-entry heating”, as reported by the Chicago Tribune.
This marked SpaceX’s third perfect sea landing on the drone ship this year. Founder Elon Musk said the latest flight happened with very similar conditions to the previous one, given that the Falcon 9 rocket also entered the atmosphere quickly on May 6, at 3,915 miles per hour.
However, that successful landing left the rocket a bit crippled. Still, even though Musk said the rocket “took max damage”, engineer Lauren Lyons declared that the landing served to prove that extreme velocity landings were possible.
Reducing costs and paving the way for a Mars landing
“I think it’s another step toward the stars,” said Musk in a press release after the first successful rocket landing. “In order for us to really open up access to space, we’ve got to achieve full and rapid reusability. And to be able to do that for the primary rocket booster is going to [have] a huge impact on cost.”
Being able to reuse the first stage of the rocket can dramatically reduce costs by a factor of 100, Musk has said. According to SpaceX Chief Operating Officer Gwynne Shotwell, that means that the company could reduce costs by tens of millions of dollars.
The Christian Science Monitor reported in April that rockets can cost $60 million, but refueling does not cost more than $300,000. SpaceX says it could change the way space travel is conceived.
Another benefit of reusable rockets has to do with Musk’s and NASA’s goal to land on Mars. Because there are no runways on the Red Planet and its thin atmosphere represents a challenge for landings of large masses, the technology SpaceX is testing could mark the difference. In fact, the company has announced its plans to land an unmanned Dragon capsule there in 2018.
Innovation has been key for SpaceX success
Based in Hawthorne, California, SpaceX started as a company often considered as too dreamy for its goal of landing rockets on ships to ultimately provide a more affordable spaceflight service.
It now has 4,000 employees, multibillion-dollar contracts with the National Space Agency to fly cargo to the International Space Station and a bunch of orders to launch more commercial satellites.
The first stage of the Falcon 9 rockets can end up being burned up in the Earth’s atmosphere, lost at sea or recovered. Should the last fate be accomplished, the company will be widely recognized as the one that made it possible to significantly reduce spaceflight for the benefit of future generations.
Source: Christian Science Monitor