A new era of spaceflight began today with SpaceX successfully making the first landing of an orbital space booster rocket. At 8:39 pm EST at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida a Falcon 9 first stage rocket booster made a controlled, powered touchdown on land after delivering 11 communications satellites into low Earth orbit for the Orbcomm-2 mission.
The landing occurred 10 minutes after the 8:29 pm EST launch of the Falcon 9 from Space Launch Complex 40. The evening launch took place under partly cloudy skies with winds at about 10 mph (16 km/h). One minute after lift off, the rocket reached Max Q or the point of maximum stress and the first stage shut down at the two minute 20 second mark with second stage separation and firing occurring four seconds later. The protective payload fairing jettisoned at three minutes, the second stage engine shut down 10 minutes into the flight, and at 15 minutes the first of the satellites began deployment with the final satellite released at 8:49 pm.
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Meanwhile, the Falcon 9 first stage, instead of crashing into the Atlantic Ocean, re-oriented itself and executed a "boostback" burn to kill its suborbital hypersonic velocity, followed by a re-entry burn four minutes later to further slow it down. As it re-entered the atmosphere, A set of vanes deployed on the top of the booster and acted as rudders to guide the rocket down.
About 10 minutes after liftoff, the engines fired for a final time to bring the Falcon 9 in for a soft landing at 8:39 pm at Landing Zone 1, which is the previous Space Launch Complex 13 last used in 1978. According to SpaceX, the entire landing maneuver was carried out by the booster's autonomous guidance computer. As the rocket touched down, mission control broke out in cheers and chants of "USA."
According to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk, the launch was postponed 24 hrs to provide a 10 percent greater chance of success. As a further precaution, local communities were warned of a sonic boom as the rocket returned. This increase in the safety margin was a considerable factor because today's launch also marked the first flight of a Falcon 9 since the CRS-7 was destroyed when a strut broke in the second stage, causing an oxygen bottle to overpressurize and the rocket to explode.
The 11 Orbcomm satellites delivered now complete a 17-satellite, low Earth orbit constellation for Orbcomm and is designed to provide machine-to-machine communications to and from remote locations.
You can check out the historic touchdown in the video below.