Just under a month after SpaceX finally managed to land the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket on a floating drone ship, Elon Musk’s space company has done it again. And this time, it landed its rocket under tougher conditions.
The rocket was tasked with launching a Japanese communications satellite, JCSAT-14. After launch, the second stage of the Falcon 9 continued its journey up to geosynchronous orbit, while the first stage headed back down to the Of Course I Still Love You ship, which was waiting in the Atlantic.
Compared with the April descent, this time the first stage was coming in faster and heating up more. This was because it had to take its payload higher —the first payload was only going up to the International Space Station, which has an altitude of around 250 miles, but this time it was sending a satellite around 22,000 miles up.
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SpaceX’s own commentators on the livestream of the attempt did not expect a successful landing. But it made it back.
This wasn’t the same rocket stage that landed in April—SpaceX intends to relaunch that one later this year. Being able to reuse rockets is the primary point of this exercise; it would drastically lower the cost of sending stuff into space.
The company made its first successful first-stage landing in December at Cape Canaveral (from which the latest launch took place). The option of sea landings is useful, though, as those rocket stages may not have enough fuel to take them back to where they took off.
SpaceX said in March that it intended to ramp up its tests. It will help that it now has three first stages that made it back in one piece.