Very early on August 14th, rocket pioneer Elon Musk and his team pulled off another ‘double’ win.
First a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched Japan’s JCSAT-16 satellite into the night sky and onto a geostationary transfer orbit from Cape Canaveral (at 1.26am Sunday morning Florida time), and then just minutes later, following on from the satellite’s stage separation, the rocket’s engines were re-started and the first stage successfully brought back to its floating landing barge a few hundred miles down range.
The safe touch-down is the fourth successful at-sea landing for SpaceX, and the third after a series of extreme velocities needed to get the satellite to its high geostationary transfer orbit, and the subsequent complications of re-entry heating during the rocket’s flight back to the landing platform.
The statistics are also now beginning to move firmly in SpaceX’s favour. Of SpaceX’s rocket landing attempts over the past two years, six Falcon 9 rockets have successfully made a return journey.
Musk’s aim is simple: every first stage recovered is cash in the bank. Even if the complete first stage is not wholly re-usable, the engines and other vital – and expensive – components can be refurbished and reused.