Featured Image Source: SpaceX
SpaceX conducted a crewed mission for the first time this year. On May 30th, a new Falcon 9 rocket sporting NASA’s retro red ‘worm’ logo, lifted off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center carrying veteran astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley aboard the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The mission returned crewed flights to the United States after nearly a decade.
The rocket booster, production number B1058, propelled Dragon into orbit, and around nine minutes after liftoff, it returned from space landing vertically atop the Of Course I Still Love You autonomous droneship at sea (pictured above). SpaceX is the only aerospace company in the world that can perform controlled landings of orbital-class rocket boosters, all part of the company's reusability program. Reusing rockets is key to reducing the cost of spaceflight.
The Falcon 9 rocket is a two-stage launch vehicle; SpaceX developed an innovative first-stage booster recovery system that has enabled the company to return around 59 orbital-class boosters from space, some of which have been reused. To date, ten previously-flown Falcon 9 rockets have conducted multiple missions, the most one particular booster has flown is six times. SpaceX officials state that Falcon 9 [Block 5] “is capable of at least 100 flights.” Engineers hope to accomplish launching a Falcon 9 ten times.
The historic Falcon 9 booster that propelled the first astronauts to orbit also deployed the ANASIS-II communications satellite for South Korea on July 30th – just 51 days after propelling the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station with Behnken and Hurley aboard. After the ANASIS-II satellite was deployed, B1058 returned from space, it landed on the Just Read The Instructions autonomous droneship at sea (video below).
Falcon 9’s first stage has landed on the Just Read the Instructions droneship pic.twitter.com/fPbckYFySh— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 20, 2020
Now, B1058 is ready to fly a third time this week. The booster will conduct SpaceX’s next Starlink mission, that will deploy a fleet of 60 internet-beaming satellites to low Earth orbit on Thursday, September 17.The twice-flown Falcon 9 will liftoff at 2:17 p.m. EDT. from Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. SpaceX will attempt to recover B1058 a third time; Around nine minutes after liftoff, the Falcon 9 will return from space to land on the Just Read The Instructions droneship again. If successful, the special rocket will be able to fly a fourth time on a future mission.
It is always incredible to watch SpaceX land a Falcon 9 rocket on an autonomous vessel at sea. Rocket reusability is one of SpaceX’s greatest achievements. Even though a Falcon 9 is only capable of being 85% reusable, it is the only company that has achieved landing orbital-class rockets over fifty times. SpaceX aims to develop a rocket that could one day be fully reusable, Falcon 9’s recovery system paves the way towards accomplishing that goal. Booking a flight aboard a new Falcon 9 rocket costs approximately $62 million. The first-stage booster that SpaceX recovers makes up about 60% of the total cost of the rocket, around $37.2 million. So, by recovering a Falcon 9’s first-stage SpaceX significantly reduces manufacturing and operation costs.