2015/01/10

SpaceX Rocket Lands On Ocean Spaceport Ship!

SpaceX achieved another first on 10 Jan 2015 for Earth's emerging civilian aerospace industry -- they landed a rocket on their ocean spaceport ship!

SpaceX Ocean Spaceport Drone Ship
Although most media and space enthusiast coverage of the event called it a 'failure,' IMHO
BusinessInsider had a much better perspective on the SpaceX landing. The BI headline read, "SUCCESS: Elon Musk Landed A Rocket On A Platform In The Ocean." Their article says:
"...While other outlets are saying the test was a failure, because the hard landing means that the rocket is probably too damaged to be reused, we think it's still a win. It took a crazy amount of precision to guide the rocket from 50 miles above Earth's surface to a football field-sized platform in the ocean, and then actually land on it. No one else has even thought to do this, let alone succeed..."
Jon Ross' Concept Image Of Ocean Spaceport Landing
The 'rocket' that landed on the SpaceX ocean spaceport was the first stage of their Falcon 9 rocket from the fifth resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The SpaceX Dragon cargo capsule from this fifth mission successfully reached orbit today and is schedule to reach the ISS about 6 AM on Monday.

Above on the left is Jon Ross' conceptual image of what the Falcon 9 first stage will look like when it lands on the ocean spaceport. He has an excellent "Illustrated Guide To SpaceX's Launch Vehicle Reusability Plans" page on his website. If this topic is of interest to you, check out his guide.

SpaceX has become a victim of its own success. They were the first US 'newspace' civilian aerospace company to resupply the ISS after the NASA space shuttles stopped flying, and all four of their previous resupply missions to the ISS previous to today's effort succeeded. They have also had successful Falcon 9 reusable rocket vertical test landings as shown in this SpaceX video in a recent TechNewsWorld article about landing on the ocean spaceport. The TechNewsWorld article also mentions the first stage has done "two successful soft water landings." SpaceX has had so many amazing aerospace accomplishments in such a short time that the general public and the media have come to expect success on every attempt.

A SpaceX competitor, Orbital Sciences, publicly illustrated in 2104 that there are no guarantees of success on every newspace company mission, per a recent Space.com article:
"...Dragon is loaded with more than 5,000 pounds (2,270 kilograms) of food, scientific experiments and spare parts on this journey. Some of the parts are replacements for objects lost when Orbital Sciences Corporation's Antares rocket exploded just after liftoff in late October, destroying the company's Cygnus cargo craft. Both SpaceX and Orbital hold billion-dollar deals to fly robotic supply missions to the space station for NASA; Orbital had completed two successful flights before the October accident..."
It will take a few years and a few more 'success-failures,' but I have no doubt that SpaceX (and others) will one day be doing vertical rocket landings on a regular basis. At that point, young people will wonder why spaceship launch rockets used to be one-use, in the same way that today's teenagers can't really grok hardwired landline phones with a circular dial.

Then we can start wondering why spaceships have to use first stage booster rockets instead of just having integral long-term-use propulsion systems...

*****

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