SpaceX has released footage shot from a circling chase plane of the first successful barge landing of the Falcon 9 mainstage booster. The milestone touchdown followed the successful launch and orbital insertion of a Dragon spacecraft destined for the ISS bearing 6,900 lb (3,130 kg) of cargo, and a brand new test module for the ageing station.
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SpaceX's reusable rocket ambitions have come a long way from the highest 2,440 ft (744 m) hop made by the Grasshopper concept, to the fully fledged main stage landing of an orbital insertion launch vehicle. The journey has not always been easy, and at times have at times involved large explosions, but the successful landing of the Falcon represents a vital step in reducing the cost and lowering launch turnaround times for the Falcon 9 program.
Reusable rocket technology represents a valuable feather in the hat for SpaceX as it faces increasing market competition. The European built Ariane 6, which Airbus Safran Launchers (ASL) hope to debut in 2020, will not feature a reusable first stage. Instead the manufacturer is relying on cost-cutting measures centered around employing the same Vulcain engines for the Ariane 6 main stage liquid fuel thruster as that used by the current Ariane 5 launcher.
The Ariane 6 will be available in two distinct configurations. A two strap-on booster variant, known as the Ariane 62 will utilize 8,000 KN of thrust at launch to place smaller payloads such as navigation and Earth observation satellites in orbit.
The more powerful four-booster Ariane 64 variant will leverage 15,000 KN of thrust at lift-off to carry heavier payloads into high geostationary orbits.
ASL hope that the versatility of the new launcher family will make Ariane 6 a serious competitor to the Falcon 9, which boasts roughly 6,806 KN of thrust at liftoff, and also counter SpaceX's Falcon 9 Heavy, which is expected to make its maiden flight later this year. The big brother of the Falcon 9 will leverage three nine-engine cores to produce 20,418 KN of thrust at sea level.
Scroll down to view the chase plane footage for the Apr. 9 Falcon 9 barge landing.