“Stage One has landed.”
They say that the third time’s the charm. In the case of SpaceX and its attempt to successfully land its Falcon 9 rocket after launch, five is the lucky number.
Today, 10 minutes after launching its Falcon 9 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the rocket returned to Earth, finally earning it the moniker “reusable,” which SpaceX has coveted for some time now. SpaceX employees chanted “USA!” after the landing.
Each of the company’s four previous attempts to land a Falcon 9 on a so-called “drone ship” at sea have failed, some in spectacular explosions, some in oh-so-close misses. Finally, today was the day, with the rocket touching down in SpaceX’s first attempt at touching down the rocket’s first stage on land rather than at sea.
The main stage of the rocket was carrying 11 satellites that will be deployed in low-Earth orbit for Orbcomm, a global provider of machine-to-machine and Internet of Things technology. The payload on the last Falcon 9 launch, in June, was lost after the entire rocket was destroyed just seven minutes after launch.
For SpaceX, successfully reusing a rocket is a key element of a future of affordable launches.
“SpaceX believes a fully and rapidly reusable rocket is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access,” the company says on its website. “The majority of the launch cost comes from building the rocket, which flies only once. Compare that to a commercial airliner–each new plane costs about the same as Falcon 9, but can fly multiple times per day, and conduct tens of thousands of flights over its lifetime. Following the commercial model, a rapidly reusable space launch vehicle could reduce the cost of traveling to space by a hundredfold.”
Of course, as Amazon founder Jeff Bezos knows all too well after being scolded publicly by SpaceX founder Elon Musk, today’s successful Falcon 9 landing wasn’t the first time the company had brought a rocket back to Earth.
Last month, after Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, launched, and then landed, a rocket, he posted his first-ever tweet, bragging, “The rarest of beasts – a used rocket. Controlled landing not easy, but done right, can look easy.
Musk quickly replied, also on Twitter, noting that the occasion of Blue Origin’s successful return to Earth was “Not quite [the] ‘rarest.’ SpaceX Grasshopper rocket did 6 suborbital flights 3 years ago & is still around.”
Either way, there’s no doubt SpaceX executives and engineers alike are celebrating after the Falcon 9’s launch and landing today.
For his part, Bezos decided to take yet another poke at SpaceX. In only his fifth-ever tweet, Bezos taunted Musk: “Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon’s suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!”