A triumph for SpaceX return to launches with the landing of the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage

The Falcon 9 rocket blasting off with 11 ORBCOMM satellites (Image courtesy SpaceX. All rights reserved)
The Falcon 9 rocket blasting off with 11 ORBCOMM satellites (Image courtesy SpaceX. All rights reserved)

The new version of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was launched from Cape Canaveral in its return to the activity after the June 28, 2015 mishap. It was carrying 11 satellites ORBCOMM, part of the OG2 mission. A secondary objective was the new controlled landing test of the rocket’s first stage, which for the first time had to reach the mainland. The mission was a triumph with the success in the landing and the satellites deployment.

The ORBCOMM’s communications satellites are part of OG2 (ORBCOMM Generation 2) constellation, which aims to replace the previous constellation, launched since the early ’90s. They are small satellites so they can be launched in groups. Six of them were launched on July 14, 2014 on the previous version of the Falcon 9 rocket.

The investigation on the June 28, 2015 mishap concluded that the Falcon 9 rocket was destroyed almost certainly due to one of the support struts of the second stage’s liquid oxygen tank. During the past months SpaceX made stricter tests on the rocket’s parts but also made other improvements.

The new version of the Falcon 9 rocket is called Full Thrust (FT), Enhanced Falcon 9, Performance Falcon 9 or simply Falcon 9 1.2. The changes affect the Merlin 3D engines, which will be able to work at higher thrusts, the use of more dense propellant to increase the engines performance and other improvements including those at the landing system.

So far, SpaceX had attempted a controlled landing on an autonomous spaceport drone ship getting close to success but failed to do it. This time the landing of the first stage was attempted on the mainland on Landing Complex 1 in Cape Canaveral, refurbished by SpaceX.

Elon Musk, SpaceX owner, was under pressure after the June 28, 2015 mishap. The company has contracts to launch a series of satellites and one with NASA for the resupply missions to the International Space Station with its Dragon spacecraft. The hard work of SpaceX staff led to triumph!

The first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket performed a perfect landing coming back to Cape Canaveral and touching down at Landing Complex 1 in the programmed controlled way. Blue Origin did it almost exactly a month ago with its New Shepard rocket but it was a suborbital test. SpaceX did it during a real mission to launch satellites into orbit. The first stage is the most expensive part of a rocket so the possibility to reuse it will make launches much cheaper.

All eyes were upon the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage controlled landing but the primary mission was to deploy into orbit the 11 ORBCOMM satellites. This was also accomplished perfectly. In the end, the resumption of the launches by SpaceX after difficult months was a historic event!

SpaceX released a video of the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage landing shot from a helicopter.

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