The only thing more impressive than SpaceX blastoffs may just be SpaceX landings. In late July, Elon Musk’s extraterrestrial-focused company managed to land a rocket on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean after launching a satellite into orbit from Cape Canaveral in Florida. But this feat was only the first in a series of accomplishments slated to take place over the next two weeks. In that time period, SpaceX plans to complete no fewer than three Block 5 launches.
The second launch took place Wednesday morning, July 25, and despite less than ideal weather, SpaceX was able to deliver 10 Iridium satellites into orbit. The first-stage rocket booster stuck its landing on a platform located in the Pacific Ocean, with SpaceX tweeting its success. This was effectively a rerun of SpaceX’s Sunday mission, during which the team sent the Telstar 19 Vantage communications satellite into orbit, tasked with providing broadband internet service for folks in the Americas.
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 25, 2018
These two landings have proven significant not only because they’re the first in quite some time for the startup, but also because they’re among the very first launches or landings of the newest Falcon 9 rockets, the Block 5.
Part of the reason we’ve gone so long without seeing a SpaceX landing is that the company has been trying to get rid of its excess Block 4 rockets by declining to land them back on Earth. That has historically always been the way that satellites and other spacecraft are launched — it’s rather inefficient, and certainly expensive and unsustainable. But SpaceX offered a real game changer to the space exploration industry with the debut of the Block 5 launcher, which is both recoverable and reusable. As such, SpaceX should be able to cut down on the expenses related to getting into space.
Indeed, Musk hopes that the Block 5 first-stage boosters will ultimately be able to be reused up to 10 times without much modification, which will save the company quite a bit of money. However, SpaceX has yet to use the same Block 5 rocket twice, which makes sense, given that only three successful launches have been completed thus far.
One potential roadblock involves the attempt to catch the payload fairing as it returns to Earth. The fairing is the shield that protects the rocket’s cargo as it moves through Earth’s atmosphere. A ship called Mr. Steven is tasked with this responsibility, though on Wednesday, it was unable to complete the mission due to foggy weather. A SpaceX spokesperson confirmed that while the ship saw the fairing return the Earth, SpaceX was unable to steer the ship close enough to make the catch. In fact, even with its large claw arms and giant net, it has not yet caught a payload fairing. But perhaps the fourth time will be a charm.
The next Block 5 launch (the third in two weeks) will take place on August 2, and is meant to send into space an Indonesian communications satellite. Two weeks later, SpaceX will embark upon its fourth mission in less than a month.
Back in May, SpaceX launched Block 5 for the first time, during which it carried Bangladesh’s very first satellite, the Bangabandhu-1. The goal is for Block 5 to allow SpaceX to complete more than two flights with the same Falcon 9 booster, which could help cut down on costs, as well as the time required between launches.
In the coming weeks and months, we can expect Musk and his team to begin putting the real capabilities of this latest rocket to the test as it continues to land its boosters and again attempts to catch its payload fairings (all while completing successful missions). We’ll be sure to keep you abreast of the latest happenings.
Updated on July 25: SpaceX is launching three rockets in under two weeks.
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