The Falcon 9 is a reusable medium-lift launch vehicle produced by SpaceX. It’s available in various versions: v1.0, v1.1, Full Thrust, and Block 5.
After launching, the rocket slows down dramatically, almost hovering in midair as it descends towards Earth. Cold gas thrusters flip the first stage 180 degrees so it faces the ground as it re-enters the atmosphere.
Reusable First Stage
SpaceX, or Space Exploration Technologies, has been developing a reusable first stage for the Falcon 9 rocket. It’s a 14-story-tall booster that contains most of the rocket’s engines and bears the company’s name in big, vertical letters.
After launch, the first stage separates and makes a controlled descent back to Earth — either landing on solid ground or on one of SpaceX’s autonomous drone ships in the ocean.
It takes a lot of work to design a reusable first stage that will return safely to the ground. It requires careful control of the vehicle’s speed and trajectory to avoid a disastrous touchdown or hitting the ground at Mach 1.
After years of testing, SpaceX finally got the first reusable core stage up and flying in March 2017. The SES-10 mission that year was the first time a core stage of an orbit-capable rocket had been reused, and it was less than half the cost to build a new one.
Landing on Drone Ships
Drone ships are floating platforms designed to support the landing of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 Rocket. They are able to maneuver autonomously using GPS information, but they also can be remotely controlled by an accompanying support ship with technicians on board.
They are able to do this because they can position themselves in an ideal place for catching the Falcon 9 Rocket as it descends into the ocean. This reduces the distance it must travel to land, as well as the amount of fuel required for the landing.
After the Falcon 9 Rocket lands, SpaceX’s octagrabber robot will be deployed. The robot is capable of grabbing the booster and lowering it to the drone ship, where it will be secured until a tug takes it back to port.
This particular Falcon 9 Rocket launched Monday night from Cape Canaveral and landed on SpaceX’s drone ship Just Read the Instructions in the Atlantic Ocean. This was the first time a SpaceX drone ship had successfully landed a rocket.
Landing on Landing Pads
Rocket launches are always cool to watch. But a rocket landing on a barge is even more exciting.
The video above is a beautiful depiction of a Falcon 9 rocket flying to space then gracefully coming down to a floating launch pad. It was captured by drones and was posted to SpaceX’s official YouTube page earlier this week.
It’s a very important step for SpaceX in developing reusable rocket technology. It will allow a booster to be re-used and will help make the ferrying of cargo to space much cheaper and easier.
In order to do this, SpaceX is working on a self-stabilizing floating platform in the ocean that will allow the Falcon 9 to land on it. The platform will have GPS tracking, “X-wings” that will deploy upon reentry, and other technologies to ensure the Falcon 9 is safely guided onto it.
A re-used booster is one of the key technologies that SpaceX is working to develop for its Falcon 9 rocket. It will allow the company to fly more missions and increase its profitability, especially as it builds up its Starlink satellite fleet.
While most of SpaceX’s launches will include a fresh first stage, the company is also recovering its boosters to land on drone ships or landing pads to be used again on future flights. This process is known as Booster Recovery and has been used successfully by SpaceX on several launches in the past.
On this mission, the Electron booster will launch a Swedish atmospheric-research satellite into a 363-mile-high (585-kilometer) orbit. It will then separate from the upper stage about two minutes and 36 seconds after liftoff.
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