Elon Musk is going to need a bigger rocket hangar. SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket stuck its second at-sea drone ship landing early this morning after launching at 1:21am EST. This the third time the company has recovered the vehicle post-launch, and the second time the rocket has landed intact on the drone ship. The primary mission was to send a Japanese JCSAT-14 communications satellite into a geostationary transfer orbit high above the Earth and SpaceX delivered as promised.
Like every good space nerd I stayed up until 1:21am in order to watch the rocket launch (ok, I watched it when I woke up in the morning, but who is counting). SpaceX said on Monday that a successful landing was incredibly unlikely, however, Elon Musk upgraded the chances to “maybe even” just before launch. SpaceX originally said that because of the rocket’s destination, the vehicle would be “subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating,making a successful landing unlikely.”
Just as the first stage of the vehicle was about the land on the drone ship landing, the screen briefly blacked-out. A second later, cheers erupted as the first stage successfully landed. This landing occurred a little over fifteen minutes after the launch, and about twenty-minutes later, SpaceX reported that the satellite had successfully been deployed.
Landing confirmed. Second stage continuing to carry JCSAT-14 to a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit. pic.twitter.com/HfHI5cwoYX— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 6, 2016
SpaceX’s first successful first stage landing occurred in December 2015, when the rocket touched down at a ground-based spaceport at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The second landing occurred in April on a floating drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. These recoveries are important because SpaceX hopes to reuse the first stage rockets. This would be an incredible money and resource saver.
May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 6, 2016
Missions that are particularly heavy or go high into orbit use a lot of fuel to take off, which leaves a lot less fuel for landing. Landing at sea however requires a lot less fuel than landing on land which is why SpaceX is so keen on the water landings. SpaceX estimates that one-half to two-thirds of their landings will need to occur at sea.
Looking to the future, Musk has predicted that their first mission to Mars could be less than two years away. The company plans to send the Red Dragon capsule to survey the terrain on Mars and potentially collect soil samples.
You can view the launch here.