SpaceX achieves sea landing of Falcon 9 first stage

April 9, 2016

SpaceX on Friday successfully landed the reusable first-stage booster of a Falcon 9 rocket on the drone ship Of Course I still Love You in the Atlantic Ocean, marking the first successful sea landing of an orbital mission booster. The Falcon 9 rocket launched the Dragon spacecraft to deliver cargo to the International Space Station for NASA. The launch marked the company’s eighth Commercial Resupply Services mission (CRS-8) from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL. Dragon is expected to attach to the ISS about two days after launch. SpaceX has a webcast of the launch and vertical landing.

SpaceX successfully landed the reusable first stage of Falcon 9 rocket December 21 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, marking the first safe return to earth of an orbital mission booster. That mission delivered 11 commercial satellites into orbit for ORBCOMM.

Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin achieved the first successful landing of a suborbital-mission booster November 23 last year. On April 2 Blue Origin successfully landed its third such test after launching a suborbital capsule.

The Wall Street Journal reports that it remains unclear how easy it will be for SpaceX to refurbish returned booster sections and how many missions each booster might serve.

SpaceNews quotes SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell as saying of the booster returned last December, “It was extraordinary how great it looked. In fact we didn’t refurbish it at all. We inspected it and then three days later we put it on the test stand and fired it again. The goal is not to design a vehicle that needs refurbishing. It is to design a vehicle that we can land, move back to the launch pad, and launch again. Hopefully our customers will get comfortable flying the third or fourth time.”

Shotwell says that reusable first stages could cut Falcon 9 launch costs by 30%.

Loren Grush at The Verge reports that, for launches from Cape Canaveral, sea landings are more efficient than ground landings because the drone ship can be positioned to “catch” the returning booster near its natural path back to Earth, minimizing the fuel needed for the maneuver. She adds that a Falcon 9 costs $60 million to make.

Update 10:17 a.m. EDT April 10: NASA confirmed Sunday morning that Dragon is bolted to the ISS.

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