People who live along the central Atlantic coast of Florida used to enjoying the spectacle of rockets headed for space but today they’ve seen something different: a rocket coming back down to a gentle landing.
“After helping to launch 11 communications satellites to orbit the spaceflight company managed to bring back the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket to Earth, landing it on a pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida as people in mission control and around the world looked on, cheering,” writes Mashable. “Oh, and all of the 11 ORBCOMM satellites deployed without a problem.”
However, today’s landing is considered to be a real breakthrough as it’s the first time SpaceX has attempted to vertically park a Falcon 9 rocket stage back on solid ground after flying a payload to orbit. It’s also the first time any company has landed an orbital rocket segment back on Earth following a launch to space.
@PaigeANjax -340 F in this case. Deep cryo increases density and amplifies rocket performance. First time anyone has gone this low for O2.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 18, 2015
“Everything appears to have been perfect,” SpaceX founder Elon Musk said during a press after the rocket landed successfully.
He went on, adding that he actually thought the rocket blew up as it came down to the pad as he heard a huge boom when it met the earth. He then realized that he was just hearing the sonic boom from the rocket stage’s re-entry, not the destruction of the rocket itself.
What a day in spaceflight. Spacewalk, Progress launch, and now @SpaceX has a great launch and recovers the first stage. 2015. Amazing work.
— Reid Wiseman (@astro_reid) December 22, 2015
Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin also landed its rocket back on Earth after flying a test capsule to the edge of space — close to 100 km in altitude. And that’s why he had a few words to say:
Congrats @SpaceX on landing Falcon's suborbital booster stage. Welcome to the club!
— Jeff Bezos (@JeffBezos) December 22, 2015
SpaceX commentators described the launch and return – the first time an orbital rocket successfully achieved a controlled landing on Earth – as “incredibly exciting”.
“This was a first for us at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and I can’t even begin to describe the joy the team feels right now having been a part of this historic first-stage rocket landing,” the top officer at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Brig Gen Wayne Monteith, said in a statement.
This flight of the Falcon 9 marks SpaceX’s return to flight since a Falcon 9 disintegrated not long after launch in June 2015. (That rocket broke up carrying an uncrewed Dragon capsule to the International Space Station.)
The rocket launched today is an “upgraded” version of the Falcon 9 rocket, reportedly making it more powerful than ever.
The Falcon 9 “has higher performance than the prior version due mostly to increased boost thrust, deep cryo-oxidizer and a much larger upper stage engine bell,” SpaceX said. “It also has a number of reliability enhancements, such as a redundant stage separation system and greater structural safety margins.”