SpaceX has just pulled off something that even its founder Elon Musk was not confident about. Though the company has previously landed its rocket on an offshore barge, this time it was different due to the satellite’s trajectory and the high speed of the booster at stage separation. Before the Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Elon Musk put the odds of safe landing at a coin toss.
SpaceX aims to cut costs of space missions
The Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at 1:21 AM EDT on Friday. It was carrying the JCSAT-14 satellite for the Japanese telecom company SKY Perfect JSAT Corp. Less than three minutes after the launch, the first stage of the rocket shut down, separated, and headed back towards a landing barge 400 miles off the coast of Florida. The second stage moved forward to deliver the 4,700-kg satellite into an orbit 23,000 miles above Earth.
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Landing confirmed. Second stage continuing to carry JCSAT-14 to a Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit. pic.twitter.com/HfHI5cwoYX
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) May 6, 2016
The first stage of Falcon 9 carried out a controlled landing on the barge. It was the second successful landing for SpaceX at sea after last month’s historic landing. Four previous attempts had failed. A Falcon rocket had landed safely on a ground-based landing pad in December. Landing and reusing the first stage would significantly reduce the cost of space missions.
Musk considers increasing the size of storage hangar
Prior to Friday’s launch, SpaceX managers downplayed expectations for a successful landing because the rocket was traveling twice as fast as the one launched in April so it could deliver the heavy TV broadcast satellite in the orbit. After the landing, Elon Must tweeted out, “May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar.” It was the company’s fourth flight this year. SpaceX has a backlog of more than $10 billion of launch orders from major clients including NASA.
May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 6, 2016
Meanwhile, SpaceX is gearing up to launch a mission to Mars in 2018. NASA has agreed to provide technical support to the private company in exchange for crucial data on Martian entry, descent, and landing.