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Launching a communications satellite into orbit is more or less routine. But SpaceX is proving that recovering a rocket from its launch is also fast proving to be routine.
SpaceX on June 23rd launched a previously used (‘flight proven’) first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket with BulgariaSat-1 on board. Then, just minutes later, and a few hundred miles down-range, the rocket’s first stage landed on its floating ‘Of course I still love you’ barge. This landing was a little hotter and heavier than normal and one of the stage’s four supporting struts was apparently seen to be leaning slightly, but nothing that cannot be fixed later.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted that this particular landing was the highest-ever re-entry in terms of force and heat, having lifted the heavyweight satellite (of 3750 kgs) into its initial orbit. “Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard (used almost all of the emergency crush core), but otherwise good,” Musk said after Friday’s landing.
This made a total of 12 successful rocket recoveries out of 17 attempts. The last 8 launch/landings have been successful.
SpaceX has not yet said whether it will re-use again this particular 1st stage. No doubt it will be subject first to a thorough inspection.
As to BulgariaSat-1, their engineering team deemed the launch a complete success. It should enter service in August delivering DTH signals to the region from 1.9 degrees East.
Then, on an equally routine basis, but some 3000 miles West at the Vandenburg Air Base, California, rocket site, another Falcon 9 craft barely 48 hours later on Sunday afternoon (at 4.25pm local time) streaked into the sky carrying 10 smaller Iridium telephony communications satellites. All were successfully deployed, and minutes later the rocket’s first stage again made a pinpoint landing on its offshore barge. This was the 13th successful recovery by SpaceX.