For the fourth time, aerospace company SpaceX successfully landed its reusable Falcon 9 rocket on a floating droneship Sunday, Aug. 14, just minutes after sending a Japanese satellite into orbit.
The achievement marks the Southern Californian company's eighth launch in 2016 and its sixth overall recovered Falcon 9 rocket since it began employing the reusable craft two years ago.
Challenging Launch And Landing
Sunday's landing wasn't a particularly easy feat. The Falcon 9 rocket's main goal was to carry the onboard satellite called JCSAT-16 into the geostationary transfer orbit (GTO).
The GTO is a highly elliptical orbit that will take the JCSAT-16 about 36,000 kilometers or 22,300 miles out beyond the surface of Earth.
Getting to the GTO would entail the use of greater speed and more fuel than before, more so than getting to the lower Earth orbit.
This makes the rocket landing extremely difficult, because the rocket will experience extreme re-entry heating at high velocities during its descent to Earth, SpaceX said.
Despite these circumstances, the company has successfully landed three Falcon 9 rockets that were bound for GTO on its floating droneships, aside from the recent landing.
On Sunday, after a flawless launch from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, the Falcon 9 rocket's main stage separated about 3 minutes into the atmosphere.
The rocket then performed several complicated maneuvers and engine burns to flip the first stage back to Earth.
Approximately 6 minutes later, the booster settled on a barge — with the words "Of Course I Still Love You" on the surface — floating hundreds of miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
The JCSAT-16 satellite sent to the GTO is expected to provide more stable services for data transfer communications and video distribution in Asia, Oceania, Russia, North America and Middle East.
It is the second JCSAT satellite that SpaceX lifted off in four months for the satellite operator SKY Perfect JSAT Corporation.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk aims to revolutionize the rocket launch industry by making rocket components reusable.
Up until now, almost all rockets used in launches have been destroyed or unrecovered afterwards, making them expendable.
But the hope is that SpaceX will be able to reduce a huge chunk of manufacturing costs by reusing these rockets.
Gwynne Shotwell, president of SpaceX, says that reusing landed Falcon 9 rockets will result in a 30 percent reduction in launch costs.
Meanwhile, the fact that SpaceX has already nailed eight successful launches and six successful landings is a sign that the company is speeding up its launch tempo, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Seven more launches are listed through the end of December. The much anticipated initial launch of the company's Falcon Heavy may occur by the end of 2016.
Photo: SpaceX | Flickr