SpaceX achieves controlled landing of Falcon 9 first stage

July 6, 2017 – 08:43 am

SpaceX says it made two key strides toward the eventual reusability of the Falcon 9 rocket this week with the controlled splashdown of the rocket's first stage in the Atlantic Ocean on Friday and the successful first flight of a booster prototype from the company's Central Texas test facility.

Artist's concept of a Falcon 9 first stage descending to a landing. Photo credit: SpaceX
The California-based space transportation company, founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, has tried to retrieve rocket stages after several launches, initially trying a parachute-assisted recovery before switching to a concept involving a propulsive soft touchdown on a landing pad.

The first step was to prove the rocket's first stage could complete a series of unprecedented engine burns using leftover propellant after finishing its primary job of boosting a satellite into orbit.

Musk announced late Friday the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral earlier in the day had apparently reached a splashdown zone in the Atlantic Ocean intact, based on data from a tracking plane dispatched to monitor telemetry from the descending rocket booster.

Using Twitter to share the news, Musk said the aircraft received data for 8 seconds after the rocket reached the water, an indication the first stage at least survived the landing long enough to continue powering its transmitter.

The first stage was supposed to fire its engines twice after separating from the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage less than 3 minutes after liftoff Friday. The first burn was expected to slow the rocket's velocity enough to fall into a prescribed landing zone in the Atlantic Ocean a few hundred miles northeast of Cape Canaveral, and a second firing was to have allowed the rocket to gently settle into the sea.

Four carbon fiber and aluminum honeycomb mounting legs mounted around the base of the 12-foot-diameter first stage were supposed to extend shortly before the water landing. Friday's launch was the first SpaceX flight to feature landing legs, which officials said had no negative effect on the flight's ascent.

The first stage's sporty descent maneuvers occurred as the Falcon 9 rocket's upper stage continued into orbit with a Dragon supply ship heading for the International Space Station.

Boats stationed near the first stage's landing site were heading for the expected splashdown point late Friday, according to Musk, but rough seas were expected to make it difficult...


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