The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket booster had blasted off from Cape Canaveral on May 6, 2016, carrying a Japanese communications satellite, JCSAT-14. The launch was perfect and the satellite was homed into an orbit more than 22,000 miles above the equator.
The booster the turned for its most tricky manoeuvre- A mile above its target, the SpaceX rocket booster slammed on the brakes to reduce the speed by more than 300 mph in three seconds.
The Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage then settled quietly on the deck of a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. It was a high-speed 75-mile drop which was accomplished perfectly.
It proved that it was possible to recover boosters intact from some of its most difficult launches. However, the rocket’s searing return from space took a toll. However by recovering the booster intact will surely help assess the flight-worthiness of boosters recovered in the future. Recovering the boosters will significantly reduce the launch cost of space hardware.
The recovered 14-story Falcon 9 booster which was charred black, an indication of the searing temperatures which it had to endure during re-entry was then taken by SpaceX to a hangar in Kennedy Space Center where it will join the previously landed stages.
The other two landed stages were from the missions from lower orbits which offered comfortable and easy landings. However, the booster which was recovered from the May 6 launch was from a higher orbit which required much higher speeds of 5,200 mph when it separated from the rocket’s upper stage as compared to about 4,000 mph during the previous mission.
Experts had warned that since the booster was coming in much faster and hotter, a perfect landing was unlikely. It still landed within six feet of its target.
It needs to be seen how SpaceX will try to harden the rocket so that it could be made reusable, something which will go a long way in reducing the costs of the rocket launches.