Landing the first stage of a Falcon 9 on the drone ship ‘Of Course I Still Love You’ is difficult. Extremely difficult. Yet, the talented folks at SpaceX are making these landings seem routine.
In the predawn hours on Sunday, the private space company was tasked with lifting the JCSAT-16 into geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). Getting the satellite into this highly elliptical orbit means two things. More speed and more fuel. Both factors make the rocket’s first stage trip back to Earth more difficult.
Before this weekend’s launch, SpaceX described a potential landing as “challenging.”
“The first-stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating, making a successful landing challenging,” SpaceX said in a press kit for Sunday’s launch. Placing a satellite into GTO also gives them less fuel to work with on the return trip.
Did You Know: When fully deployed, the droneship is just 300 feet by 170 feet. Four diesel-powered azimuth thrusters keep the droneship steady in the always shifting Atlantic Ocean.
But SpaceX doesn’t shrink from a challenge. A few minutes after liftoff, the first stage came back down through the dark skies above the Atlantic and successfully landed on the drone ship. Unfortunately, the feed cut out right as the first stage was coming into view.
Falcon 9 first stage has landed on Of Course I Still Love You
Here’s an image of the rocket resting on the drone ship.
Hopefully, SpaceX will publish video of the landing later today.
JCSAT-16 was deployed successfully
It’s not as sexy as a rocket landing, but it’s what pays the bills for SpaceX. At just past 32 minutes after liftoff, the JCSAT-16 communications satellite was successfully deployed into planned Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO) according to SpaceX.
JCSAT-16 comms sat deployed into planned Geostationary Transfer Orbit with 36,000 km apogee (high point in orbit) pic.twitter.com/zScDgaOSzY
The JCSAT-16 is designed to serve as a backup satellite for Space Systems Loral’s existing satellites in orbit. But that backup status won’t last long. NASASpaceFlight reports the satellite is expected to be used immediately after the launch of a Superbird 8 satellite was delayed up to two years.
JCSAT-16 will pick up the slack until that satellite is launched.
SpaceX’s next flight
The hard-working engineers at SpaceX never stop. According to SpaceFlightNow, the private space company is scheduled for two launches in September. A Falcon 9 rocket will lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base on September 20th carrying 10 Iridium satellites.
Another Falcon 9 will launch from Cape Canaveral carrying the Amos 6 communications satellite. The specific launch date for this September launch is still being determined.
ICYMI, SpaceX High Speed Footage
I’ll leave you with some of the best launch footage you’ll ever see. SpaceX didn’t want NASA taking all the high-speed spotlight. So they released their own footage showing rocket launches, landing burns and stage separations. It’s incredible.