When SpaceX CEO Elon Musk speaks about reusable rockets, he imagines them functioning like airplanes, coming down to land, being cleaned up and then flown again. Rapidly. The company has taken an important step towards this future, for the first time ever flying a Falcon 9 booster that had already flown twice before.
SpaceX has now flown a number of missions using recycled rockets since it first achieved reusability in March of 2017. The ability to land and fly them again marks a huge breakthrough in rocket technology, but the idea is that this cycle not be a one-off, rather that it can be repeated over and over again.
The surreal sight of a scorched rocket being towed out to the pad ahead of launch mightn't do much to instil confidence, but with time these could be seen as the signs of an experienced traveler rather than disconcerting wear and tear.
Having already launched and landed twice this year, the Falcon 9 used in today's Spaceflight SSO-A: SmallSat Express mission has certainly been around the block. And its third visit to space also went off without a hitch, lifting a total of 64 satellites into space for 35 different parties in one of the biggest ride-sharing space missions ever.
It then successfully came down to land on SpaceX's droneship in the Pacific Ocean a few minutes later, while a vessel named Mr Steven fitted out with a huge net tried to position itself to catch the rocket's fairing. This is another avenue of rocket reusability being pursued by SpaceX – recovering the robust US$6 million nosecones that protect payloads en route to space. This remains a work in progress, but with parafoils attached that slow their descent, all is not lost.
"Falcon fairing halves missed the net, but touched down softly in the water," tweeted Musk. "Mr Steven is picking them up. Plan is to dry them out & launch again. Nothing wrong with a little swim."
Source: SpaceX (Twitter)
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