SpaceX takes aquatic hat trick with third sea barge landing
The daring became almost routine today as SpaceX pulled off a spectacular three-in-a-row by successfully landing a Falcon 9 booster on the deck of a sea barge for the third time running. At 5:48 pm EDT, the nine-engine rocket touched down in a powered landing on the unmanned drone barge "Of Course I Still Love You" in the Atlantic Ocean after delivering a telecommunications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.
Today's landing was the sequel to the Thaicom 8 mission, which lifted off from Launch complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 5:40 pm EDT. The launch, which was delayed 24 hours due to minor technical difficulties, delivered the single 3,000-kg (6,613-lb) commercial communications satellite to a transfer orbit that will eventually see it circling the Earth at a distance of 35,800 km (22,245 mi) over South and Southeast Asia for the next 15 years.
The Falcon 9 returned to Earth using a series of controlled engine burns with a set of vanes acting as steering airfoils. The landing, which SpaceX still refers to as experimental, was particularly hazardous. This was not only due to coming down on the unstable deck of a barge, but also because the mission required it to come back at much higher velocities than low-Earth orbit missions and with less surplus fuel for braking.
Today was the fourth successful powered mission landing for Falcon 9, the third barge landing, and the second following a geosynchronous transfer orbit mission.