The pressure was on, and SpaceX delivered. Here's what you need to know about Elon Musk's private space company's rocket landing on Monday night.
First stage of Falcon 9 after it landed. Image source: SpaceX.
Why this launch was critical
The importance of SpaceX's launch last night couldn't be overstated. After 20 successes in a row, the company's rocket blew up during SpaceX's last flight. Marking the private company's return to flight after a six-month hiatus, two failures in a row could have been detrimental for the company. Adding even more pressure, it was attempting a rocket landing after delivering a significant payload of 11 satellites to space.
Furthermore, SpaceX had tried to land the 14-story tall first-stage portion of the Falcon 9 rocket two times before this attempt. Both times SpaceX came close but didn't quite pull it off .
SpaceX's landing attempt this time around differed in several key ways. First, this time SpaceX was trying to land on solid ground instead of on a barge in the ocean. Second, the Falcon 9 sported improved Merlin 1D engines with about 30% more power.
Following a launch at about 8:30 p.m. ET last night, the launch was jam-packed with action. All within about 20 minutes, the upgraded Falcon 9 lifted off, successfully made it through "max Q," or the point of primary atmospheric pressure, separated into its first and second stages, and performed a successful first-stage landing and deployment of 11 satellites.
The Falcon 9 payload was comprised of 11 ORBCOMM OG2 satellites.
OG2 SATELLITES. Image source: ORBCOMM.
"Today marks a significant milestone for our company," said ORBCOMM CEO Marc Eisenberg in a press release announcing the successful deployment of its satellites.
The satellites are designed to provide commercial machine-to-machine messaging and automatic identification system, or AIS. These OG2 satellites are "far more advanced than its current OG1 satellites," the company noted. ORBCOMM expects the satellites to be in full operation within the next 60 days.
The successful deployment of the satellites sent ORBCOMM shares about 7% higher on Tuesday.
A first step in reusability
Musk noted in a press call following the event that the company does not plan to reuse the first stage of the Falcon 9 .
"I think we'll probably keep this one on the ground... it's kind of unique, it's the first one we've brought back," he said.
SpaceX does, however, intend to perform a static fire with the landed Falcon 9 in order to confirm whether the rocket could potentially fly again.
Notably, Musk did say the company would try to fly a landed Falcon 9 as early as next year.
It's not surprising SpaceX won't be reusing the first Falcon 9 it landed. Landing a rocket is only a first step in reusability. Musk has said that the company will need to examine its rockets after landings in order to figure out where the rocket is over- or under-strengthened, making any adjustments needed to make reusability a reality.
But even though SpaceX won't be reusing this Falcon 9, this is undoubtedly a huge step forward for the company. Achieving reusability would dramatically reduce the costs of flight and put SpaceX in a position to disrupt the entire space industry.
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