SpaceX successfully launched their commercial Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon cargo ship on a critical mission for NASA bound for the space station this morning, Jan. 10, while simultaneously accomplishing a hard landing of the boosters first stage on an ocean-floating “drone ship” platform in a very good first step towards the bold company goal of recovery and re-usability in the future.
The spectacular night time launch of the private SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lit up the skies all around the Florida Space Coast and beyond following a flawless on time liftoff at 4:47 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The nine Merlin 1D engines of the 208 foot-tall Falcon 9 generated 1.3 million pounds of liftoff thrust as the rocket climbed to orbit on the first SpaceX launch of 2015.
It is loaded with more than two tons of supplies and NASA science investigations for the six person crew aboard the massive orbiting outpost.
A secondary goal of SpaceX was to conduct a history-making attempt at recovering the 14 story tall Falcon 9 first stage via a precision landing on an ocean-going landing platform known as the “autonomous spaceport drone ship.”
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk quickly tweeted that good progress was made, and as expected, more work needs to be done.
This was an experiment involving re-lighting one of the first stage Merlin engines three times to act as a retro rocket to slow the stages descent and aim for the drone ship.
“Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho, ” Musk tweeted soon after the launch and recovery attempt.
“Ship itself is fine. Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced…”
“Didn’t get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry and … actual pieces.”
Musk’s daring vision is to recover, refurbish and reuse the first stage and dramatically reduce the high cost of access to space, by introducing airline like operational concepts.
The ‘autonomous spaceport drone ship’ was positioned some 200 to 250 miles offshore of the launch site in the Atlantic Ocean along the rockets flight path, flying along the US Northeast coast to match that of the ISS.
The autonomous spaceport drone ship measure only 300 by 100 feet, with wings that extend its width to 170 feet. That’s tiny compared to the Atlantic Ocean.
Therefore the SpaceX team was successful in accomplishing a rocket assisted descent and pinpoint landing in the middle of a vast ocean, albeit not as slow as hoped.
No one has ever tried such a landing attempt before in the ocean says SpaceX. The company has conducted numerous successful soft landing tests on land. And several soft touchdowns on the ocean’s surface. But never before on a barge in the ocean.
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