Space exploration could grow less expensive, as Elon Musk's SpaceX dream of reusable rockets took a step forward this weekend with its latest successful launch.
Elon Musk’s SpaceX project scored a victory over the weekend when it performed the successful landing of a Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday, after launching a resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS).
The rocket booster made its landing nine minutes after taking off and reaching low orbit.
The location of the takeoff and landing was the NASA Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, site of the Apollo lunar missions, with the exception of Apollo 10. This was the first time a rocket had been launched from Launch Complex 39A since the retirement of the space shuttle launches in 2011. SpaceX agreed a 20-year lease agreement for Pad 39A in 2014.
This weekend’s news was particularly positive following the temporary setback the SpaceX project suffered in September last year, when one of its rockets exploded on the launch pad.
For a short period of time it seemed like bad luck might also strike this weekend’s launch, when it was delayed for a period 24 hours from its original planned date of Saturday. On Twitter, Elon Musk explained that this was due to engineers discovering that, “the movement trace of an upper stage engine steering hydraulic piston was slightly odd.”
“If this is the only issue, flight would be fine, but need to make sure that it isn’t symptomatic of a more significant upstream root cause,” he continued. “That 1-percent chance isn’t worth rolling the dice. Better to wait a day.”
The Falcon 9 rocket contained SpaceX’s Dragon capsule, packed with around 5,500 pounds of supplies and research equipment intended for the six astronauts on the ISS. It is expected to arrive at the ISS on Wednesday, when it will be retrieved using a 57-foot robotic arm.
In all, it’s another positive step in Musk’s SpaceX reusable rocket program — as well as proof positive that America’s most iconic launch site still has a whole lot of life left in it when it comes to playing a role in the next iteration of the space race.
Earlier this month, SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell said the team hoped to launch “every two to three weeks” from three sites in California and Florida. It also had a successful launch of the Falcon 9 rocket last month.