SpaceX achieved a major milestone on Thursday, March 30 by successfully launching its Falcon 9 rocket with a first stage booster initially used to carry its Dragon spacecraft into orbit a year ago. The booster subsequently returned by landing vertically on a drone ship in the ocean.
After carrying an SES-10 communications satellite designed to provide television and internet access to South American viewers into orbit, the booster repeated its successful ocean landing on the drone ship named Of Course I Still Love You.”
The event marked the first successful reuse of a booster returned from orbit, viewed as a critical step confirming the feasibility of reusable rockets.
“It’s an amazing day for…the space industry,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. “It means you can fly and re-fly an orbit-class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be ultimately a huge revolution in spaceflight.”
Both the booster and the SES-10 payload fairing, which protected the satellite during launch, were recovered. Using an on board thruster system and parachute, the fairing soft landed in the Atlantic Ocean.
SpaceX intends to reuse payload fairings as well as first stage boosters.
The 23-foot tall rocket launched from the Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A, from which many of the Apollo Moon missions and space shuttles took off, carrying the 11,645-pound (5,282 kg) satellite into an elliptical orbit that ranges from 135 to 22,002 miles (218 to 35,410 km) above the Earth at a 26.2-degree tilt to the equator.
Within about a month, the satellite will move into a circular orbit 22,300 miles (35,800 km) over the equator to a position of 67 degrees west longitude.
Having now launched and landed the Falcon 9 first stage nine times, SpaceX is ramping up its schedule, hoping to launch every two to three weeks. For the three flights that will use the Falcon 9, the company may again re-use previously launched boosters.
The company’s contract with SES calls for launching nine more satellites into orbit.