SpaceX Nails It!
And X-1R was there.
Space X, the company owned by billionaire founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, has finally gone where few men have gone before and managed to land its Falcon 9 spacecraft back on earth without crashing, after a successful mission to send 11 satellites into space.
On Monday night, the Falcon 9 craft, which is as tall as a 23-storey building, took off from the Kennedy Space Centre, with the main stage touching down, seemingly gently, just ten minutes later. It landed a mere 10 kilometres away from its launchpad in Cape Canaveral, the precise place where it was meant to, and all in one piece, unlike previous attempts that had met a somewhat fiery end.
Near the peak of its flight, at an altitude of some 200km (125 miles), it propelled the rocket’s second stage – laden with 11 communications satellites – into space.
SpaceX employees broke out in celebration as they watched a live stream of the white booster slowly descend to earth in the form of a glowing orange ball.
“Welcome back, baby!” Elon Musk said in a celebratory tweet.
SpaceX commentators described the launch and return – the first time an orbital rocket successfully achieved a controlled landing on Earth – as “incredibly exciting”.
“This was a first for us at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and I can’t even begin to describe the joy the team feels right now having been a part of this historic first-stage rocket landing,” the top officer at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Brig Gen Wayne Monteith, said in a statement.
SpaceX is aiming to revolutionise the rocket industry, which up until now has lost millions of dollars in discarded machinery and valuable rocket parts after each launch. Notably, several earlier attempts to land the Falcon 9’s first stage on an ocean platform have failed.
This is not the first spacecraft of late that has launched and returned successfully using a vertical boost concept. Jeff Bezos of Microsoft fame did this back in November with his New Shepard, but without the same amount of media frenzy. This may have been because the Falcon went twice as high as the New Shepard and delivered a payload. Bezos sent a congratulatory tweet to Musk, which had enough catty snark to be funny: “Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon’s suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!”
Nonetheless the Falcon 9 flight is a milestone towards reusing rockets. SpaceX aims to slash the cost of private space operations with such reusable components, but the company had not launched a rocket since one exploded in June. Now, SpaceX, which has a US$1.6 billion contract with NASA, can really start to send supplies to the ISS. Musk has said the ability to return its rockets to Earth so they can be reused and launched again would hugely reduce his company’s operational costs in the growing but highly competitive private space launch industry.
X-1R, the sponsors of this site, are proud to have played a very small part in this major success after they supplied the lubricants that got the Falcon to the launch site and thereafter (presumably) from the landing site back to the Vehicle Assembly Area.