Elon Musk, the legendary man behind the private space venture SpaceX would be the happiest man on Earth today as the Falcon 9 reusable rocket makes its third successful landing(actually, the fourth) back on a floating drone ship, after launching a communication satellite – THAICOM 8 – to outer space.
The space company today launched the communication satellite THAICOM 8, built by Orbital ATK from the Kennedy Space Center(Space Launch Complex 40) and was successfully able to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket after completing the difficult orbital launch.
While the second stage of the Falcon 9 was busy placing the THAICOM 8 in the geostationary transfer orbit, the first stage has already made its way back and landed at sea. Elon Musk after the landing said that since the rocket had to take an elliptical route on its way back, there is still some risk of the rocket tipping while being brought back to port.
Geostationary Transfer Orbit(GTO) is a high-elliptical orbit, which sits over 30,000 kilometers above the equator. This is the preferred orbit for communication satellites. THAICOM 8 is a 3,100 kilogram satellite that once fixed into a particular position in the GTO will help improve weather reporting and communication services for South-east Asia, Africa and India. The said satellite will spend over 15 years serving its purpose.
This was a particularly important launch and land for the SpaceX team, because the satellite had to be sent to a higher orbit as compared to the tests which had been conducted in Lower Earth Orbit. This meant that Falcon 9’s error and control system had a narrower margin to operate while making the high-speed steep return back towards the floating drone ship. The first stage also had less fuel due to higher orbit payload delivery and still it was able to complete the task at hand successfully.
The SpaceX project began in 2002 under the guidance and leadership of PayPal founder Elon Musk who was eager to work on space technology and rockets that could be re-used, thus reducing the space travel costs and making his dream of colonizing Mars a reality. SpaceX alongside Amazon and Boeing has been trying to test and deploy its reusable Falcon 9’s for the past couple years. After multiple failed attempts, the space company had its first break-through landing earlier in December, but that’s just one of the few to follow.
However, the work is only half done. SpaceX is running out of space to store its rockets at the Kennedy Space Center. The hangar the company is using can hold up to five rockets, while this newly-landed one will amount to four. SpaceX hasn’t reused any of the previously launched Falcon 9 rockets yet, and deployed a new rocket for today’s launch.
The Falcon 9 that completed the first successful launch is now placed in the front-lawns of the SpaceX headquarters as a memorabilia of their achievement. If today’s Falcon 9 rocket survives until reaching the port, then we’ll have to see how and when the team will re-use the first stage in a following launch.