SpaceX, Elon Musk’s aerospace manufacturing corporation, successfully completed the flight of its sixth Falcon 9 rocket this morning, as it landed in the ocean on a drone ship.
After taking off at 1:26 a.m. ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the Falcon 9 was tasked — and succeeded — with launching a Japanese communications satellite, the JCSAT-16, into geostationary transfer orbit, or GTO. Achieving GTO, a “highly elliptical orbit that takes the satellite 20,000 miles out beyond Earth’s surface,” according to The Verge, is extremely difficult due to the high speeds and amount of fuel required for takeoff.
The Falcon 9 is family of two-stage-to-orbit rockets designed and manufactured by SpaceX, which involves two separate stages. Propulsion is provided one after the other to allow the rocket to achieve orbital velocity. The rockets have nine engines, hence the name, and can lift payloads up to 22,800 kilograms (50,300 pounds) to low Earth orbit, and up to 8,300 kilograms (18,300 pounds) to GTO, according to SpaceX.
The key to the two-stage-to-orbit system is that SpaceX designed the first stage to be reusable. Proving this specific design reliable, the company could ultimately cut costs, opening more possibilities for space transportation, which translates to easier, more affordable, and more efficient travel.
Sunday morning’s launch specifically used a Falcon 9 Full Thrust, a 30 percent higher performance version of 2013’s Falcon 9 v1.1, which was 60 percent heavier than its previous model.
While SpaceX has not yet launched any of its previously used rockets, the stockpile of recovered first-stage rockets is now increasing. According to The Verge, Musk said the company intends to launch its first landed rocket this fall.
With the tests, SpaceX hopes to ultimately get the Falcon 9 Full Thrust to a human rating for transporting NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, which would fulfill part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract.