SpaceX has nailed a night landing of its Falcon 9 booster. Against all expectations, the rocket not only achieved its second landing on the unmanned "Of Course I Still Love You" droneship, but did so in the dark, at high speed and with little fuel.
The Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 1:21 am EDT during a two-hour launch window. At one minute and 20 seconds into the flight, it reached the point of maximum stress (Max Q) and the first stage shut down at the two minute 38 seconds, with second stage separation three seconds later. After second stage firing was completed, its satellite payload deployed at about the 32-minute mark.
Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 booster autonomously carried out its powered reentry maneuver that brought it down on the barge, which was positioned downrange in the Atlantic Ocean. According to SpaceX, the high velocity required to return from a Geostationary Transfer Orbit trajectory combined with the low fuel reserved meant that the chances of a successful landing were poor. However, to the surprise of mission control and a crowd of spectators, the Falcon 9 landed on the droneship with what looked like almost routine ease.
The purpose of the experiment was to collect more data for SpaceX's program to develop a fully reusable launch system.
The landing, which will provide more data for SpaceX's program to develop a fully reusable launch system, was conducted during the launch of the JCSAT-14 mission to place a telecommunications satellite for Japan's SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation. The Space Systems Loral (SSL) telecommunications satellite will provide mobile coverage for the Asia-Pacific region.