The private space company’s busiest schedule to date began in Florida on Friday, June 23 when it successfully launched a Bulgarian communications satellite into orbit. The mission marked the second reflight of a Falcon 9 rocket after previously supporting the Iridium-1 mission at the start of this year.
Friday’s mission presented a major challenge as the Falcon 9 deployed the satellite into an orbit higher than usual for SpaceX. That meant the rocket would have to endure extra heat and other forces on its descent toward the drone ship in the Atlantic. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said beforehand that there was a “good chance” the rocket wouldn’t make it back. In the event, it performed a heavier-than-usual landing, but appeared largely unscathed.
On Sunday SpaceX turned its attention to Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, where it launched another rocket (above), this one deploying 10 satellites for communications company Iridium. Extreme conditions, including fog, wind, and rough seas, meant this mission also faced challenges. Indeed, the team was forced to reposition the drone ship in the Pacific, but in the end the landing was perfect. A little while later, Musk posted a sped-up video (below) of the successful landing with footage captured by a camera attached to the rocket.
Flying a used rocket just six months after its first flight — as it did on Friday — marks real progress for SpaceX, which took a year to refurbish its first relaunched rocket back in March. Fast turnaround time is important if it is to achieve its ambition of efficient space flight, with the aim to have boosters ready to fly again in just days rather than months.
SpaceX is riding high following a number of recent high-profile successes, which besides its March reflight and landing include its first-ever reuse of a cargo ship that’s currently docked at the International Space Station.
It all looked very different just nine months ago when SpaceX suffered a major setback after one of its Falcon 9 rockets exploded on a Cape Canaveral launchpad. But after months of investigation, the team fixed the issue and has now been enjoying a string of successes as it continues its quest to perfect its reusable rocket system in preparation for more ambitious missions into deep space.
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