Friday, May 6, 2016
Space-X Nails A Difficult Rocket Landing After Launch
The era of reusable rockets has begun. SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket for the third time, having previously achieved first stage landings on land and on an autonomous floating barge at sea.
This rocket booster also landed on a floating barge, which SpaceX calls an autonomous spaceport droneship, or ASDS. The droneship is named "Of Course I Still Love You"—after a giant starship in the sci-fi works of Iain M. Banks—which was floating off the coast of Florida.
This landing—which you can see in the video above at the 38:20 mark—was particularly impressive because the first stage of the rocket was coming in twice as fast as SpaceX's other landings, entering the atmosphere at more than 4,400 mph on the way down. The rocket booster was traveling at a higher velocity because it launched a Japanese television and communications satellite, JCSAT-14, fast enough to get all the way up to geostationary transfer orbit, or GTO. Before the launch, SpaceX had stated that a successful landing was "unlikely" due to the high speeds.
The rocket reached a speed of 37,000 mph after liftoff. The first stage, traveling in a parabolic arc, burned thrusters near its top to reorient itself so the bottom of the booster was traveling toward the ground. Then there was a reentry burn and a landing burn to slow the rocket stage down, but it still came in hot for the landing.
After two burns from the second stage, the satellite is on track to ultimately enter geostationary orbit, 22,236 miles (35,786 km) out from Earth. Geostationary orbit is 90 times farther away than the International Space Station's orbit. Satellites out that far orbit the Earth at the exact same rate that the planet spins on its axis, allowing them to cover one area of the planet at all times. In this case, the satellite will provide 4K television services to Japan, as well as operate as a communications satellite for aviation and maritime industries.
The successfully deployed JCSAT-14 will continue to make its way out to geostationary orbit. And now that SpaceX has recovered three first stage boosters, we're ready for them to launch one a second time.