On a cool November day in 2012, we watched as SpaceX’s vision for reusable rockets began. It wasn’t much, but their Grasshopper test vehicle hopped nearly two stories.
Yesterday, the culmination of years of hard work, heart crushing failure and incredible successes led to the first successful relaunch of an orbital class rocket. A first stage Falcon 9 rocket lifted off again from the space coast along Florida as it wrestled with gravity to help put a communications satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit.
You couldn’t ask for a more picturesque launch.
That first stage rocket helped carry almost 7,000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station on April 8th, 2016. Yesterday, it lifted a communications satellite that will serve Latin America.
For SES, the communications company whose satellite was aboard, it was more about pushing the concept of reusability forward. It didn’t hurt they also received a discount.
“We did receive a discount. Obviously to fly this there was some interest and there was some incentive to do so,” said Martin Halliwell (CTO of SES) during a pre-launch press conference. “But it is not just the money in this particular case. It’s really, ‘let’s get this proof-of-concept moving.’ Someone has to go first here and SES has a long history of doing this.”
Several minutes after launch, the moment most of us were waiting for was finally here. First stage reentry and landing on the drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a bummer the live video feed cut out but once it came back, the first stage rocket was back to greet us.
Success! Now, where’s my HD video of the landing SpaceX? C’mon, don’t leave us hanging too long.
The day wasn’t over. Launch and landing are exciting, but SES isn’t paying for that. They want their communications satellite in orbit. 32 minutes after shaking the ground in Florida, the SES-10 satellite was deployed. A total mission success.
SpaceX could do no wrong yesterday. They even recovered the Falcon 9’s nose cone (payload fairing) for the first time. Musk called it “the cherry on the cake” in a press conference following the mission. Thrusters and steerable parachutes helped steer the nose cone to a much softer landing than slamming into the ground. At least one of the two pieces made it back in one piece.
If SpaceX can retrieve this piece on a regular basis, that’s another $6 million back in their pocket.
Elon Musk teased another SpaceX milestone on Twitter. Reflight within 24 hours.
Incredibly proud of the SpaceX team for achieving this milestone in space! Next goal is reflight within 24 hours.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2017
Welp, get ready to see quick turnarounds at some point. You can fault Musk and SpaceX with their timetables, but they get things done. If they set a goal to do something, I’m siding with them doing it. Maybe not on time, but it’ll get done. And hey, it’s not like what they are doing is easy. A 24-hour turnaround would be a stunning achievement in spaceflight.
Last night’s launch and landing felt like a truly revolutionary moment. How far can we go in another 10-20 years? The Expanse fan in me dreams of ordinary people heading to space.