SpaceX is making it look easy, but watching a rocket launch never gets old. Every time I see the first stage of the Falcon 9 come back through the clouds is exciting. But there was one thing that always bugged me. The live feed would cut right as the rocket was approaching its drone ship. One moment the live feed goes dark, the next moment the Falcon 9 appears out of thin air.
But that didn’t happen during yesterday’s launch. After helping push 10 Iridium satellites past the pesky forces of Earth’s gravity, the Falcon 9’s first stage began its trip back towards the Pacific Ocean. And the camera onboard the first stage was live the entire time.
First stage separation is at 17:30 in the video below. A set of new titanium grid fins extend at 18:25. Fast-forward to 22:00 for re-entry and landing.
It’s been more than a year since SpaceX attempted a first stage landing and failed. Since then, the company has attempted nine landings and nailed every single one of them.
There were no attempts at landings on two recent launches (March 16 and May 15). Both of those launches carried hefty satellites into high-altitude orbits that didn’t leave the first stage with enough fuel to attempt landings.
Sunday’s SpaceX mission
It isn’t a SpaceX mission without a little something new. I mentioned a new set of titanium grid fins above. Take a closer look.
We know all about Elon Musk’s aim for reusability, and that extends to the smaller parts of the Falcon 9 like grid fins. Earlier versions were made from aluminum and would need to be replaced after re-entry. That’s not the case with titanium.
Flying with larger & significantly upgraded hypersonic grid fins. Single piece cast & cut titanium. Can take reentry heat with no shielding. https://t.co/SmyCCQRt2F
What about the primary mission? 10 Iridium satellites were successfully deployed just over one-hour after launch. A total mission success. The launch pad explosion nearly 11 months ago feels like a distant memory.
The folks at SpaceX stay busy. According to NASA Spaceflight’s Chris Bergin, the static fire for Intelsat 35e could be as early as Thursday.
What’s that? You want more? OK, well pending 39A Shakedown Report, Falcon 9 (Intelsat 35e) Static Fire Test is NET… THURSDAY! 😲😎 pic.twitter.com/VT8GkxK1fY
There was a five-day gap between static fire and launch for yesterday’s Iridium mission. A similar timetable here would put the launch on July 4th. Yeah, there’s not a fireworks show on Earth that will top a Falcon 9 boosting into the skies above Florida. I’ll keep you posted on when exactly SpaceX plans to launch Intelsat 35e.