Elon Musk’s SpaceX company took its next small step toward commercial space flight today by launching two Boeing-manufactured commercial communications satellites into geostationary transfer orbit. These satellites will be used to broadcast television across parts of Africa, Asia, and Latin America, as well as providing GPS coordinates to airplanes in the good old USA.
In terms of how it worked out… well, there’s good and bad news!
The good news is that the launch went well and the satellites were delivered as promised. The bad news is that the landing wasn’t quite the smooth one Musk had been hoping for.
Despite having previously landed a Falcon 9 on SpaceX’s drone barge in the Atlantic Ocean three times, on this occasion the rocket made an unfortunate crash-landing (or, as Musk calls it, a Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly). Musk has said the problem related to the low thrust in one of the rocket’s main engines, but noted that SpaceX is already working on a solution. A video showing exactly what happened today will be released at a later date.
In the meantime, there are $60 million reasons for SpaceX to keep trying — since this is the sum that is saved each time it can successfully reuse a rocket. So far, the group is responsible for a total of 26 Falcon 9 launches, with six of these happening in 2016 alone.
Elon Musk has said that he hopes to reuse a rocket for the first time later this year, likely around September or October time, while Falcon Heavy, the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two, is set to launch in November.
Let’s hope the team can get any glitches in the system ironed out by then!
Updated on 06-15-2016 by Luke Dormehl: Updated story to reflect events from today’s launch.
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