Big changes in the rocket world
On April 18, Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, successfully executed a soft landing of their Falcon 9-R rocket booster in the Atlantic Ocean.
The rocket was carrying a Dragon space capsule filled with 3.5 tons of supplies for the International Space Station. This was SpaceX's third delivery mission to the ISS, but the first time that the soft landing technique was utilized in an official mission.
SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk shared the landing details live on Twitter.
"Orbit insertion and Dragon deploy all good. Falcon reentry burn also good. Waiting for landing data from tracking plane," wrote Musk at 10:40 a.m.
"Last known state for rocket boost stage is 360 m/s, Mach 1.1, 8.5 km altitude and roll rate close to zero (v important!)," at 10:48 a.m.
"Data upload from tracking plane shows landing in Atlantic was good! Several boats enroute through heavy seas," at 2 p.m.
"Flight computers continued transmitting for 8 seconds after reaching the water. Stopped when booster went horizontal," he concluded at 2:16 p.m.
Musk commented on the launch at a news conference in Washington D.C. that afternoon.
"What SpaceX has done thus far is evolutionary, not revolutionary. If we can recover the booster stage, the chance is there for revolutionary."
Conventional rocket boosters disengage after using their fuel and disintegrate in the Earth's atmosphere as they descend. Because the boosters are irrecoverable, a new rocket must be built for every launch.
The Falcon 9-R was designed to return to Earth using a powered descent and landing on a set of extendable legs. This would allow most of the rocket to be recovered and reused for future flights.
Previous unmanned rocket launches could cost in upwards of $200 million. SpaceX has reduced that cost with their Falcon 9-R rocket to $56.5 million and anticipates the cost going down once they complete a soft landing on land.
The Falcon 9-R that landed in the Atlantic was not recovered due to rough seas. SpaceX plans on an on-land landing and reuse of the Falcon 9 rocket by sometime next year.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 by former PayPal founder and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk. Their primary goals are reducing space transportation costs and helping enable manned missions to Mars. The company won a NASA Commercial Orbital Transportation Services contract in 2006.