Another month, another breakthrough for SpaceX. The American company has managed to launch and land a second Falcon 9 rocket on an autonomous barge, following the first historic barge landing last month and the first ground landing in December 2015.
The Falcon 9, launched from Florida, was used to transport a Japanese telecommunication satellite into space, which will ultimately be lifted to geosynchronous orbit, 36,000 kilometers (22,400 miles) above the surface.
The first stage of the rocket separated after it had reached space and sent the satellite on its way. To get back, it performed a "boostback burn" to get on the right trajectory towards the barge, and performed two more burns as it entered the atmosphere and as it approached the landing platform. It landed on the same autonomous spaceport drone ship that was used last month, named “Of Course I Still Love You”.
Founder and CEO, Elon Musk had tweeted previously that this Falcon 9 reentry was to be at a higher speed than the previous landing, so the chance for success was “maybe even,” but the extra landing burns did the trick and he excitedly tweeted “Woohoo!” as the rocket touched down. He later joked that he'd have to increase the size of their rocket storage hangar.
May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 6, 2016
SpaceX is investing heavily in the reusability of its rocket fleet, believing that to be the key to reducing costs and making it easier and cheaper to get to space. A Falcon 9 rocket costs $60 million to build but just $200,000 to refuel.
“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred,” Elon Musk said in a statement last year.
“A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.”
SpaceX has yet to refly any of its landed rockets, but the company is hoping to send one back up as soon as June. Between these plans and the potential for a private Mars mission in 2018, a new golden age of space flight is truly beginning.