December 21, 2019 •Evelyn J. Arevalo
Today, December 21, is SpaceX's anniversary of the first successful Falcon 9 landing! The first attempt to land an orbital-class rocket booster on solid ground took place on December 21, 2015, after the Falcon 9 rocket delivered 11 Orbcomm-OG2 satellites into low Earth orbit. The mission is known as Falcon 9 Flight 20.
11 satellites deployed to target orbit and Falcon has landed back at Cape Canaveral. Headed to LZ-1. Welcome back, baby!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2015
That day, SpaceX successfully brought back Falcon 9's first stage from space, landing it flawlessly at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Landing Zone 1, near the launch site in Florida. The Falcon 9 settled itself down under the power of its own engines. SpaceX made history that night!
THE FALCON HAS LANDED !
This is the first time in history an orbital class rocket returned from space to land vertically on a ground pad. SpaceX rocket recovery technology could one day revolutionize space transportation, do for spaceflight what jet engines did for airplane transportation. Today we see thousands of airplanes take off all around the planet. SpaceX's goal is creating a reusable rocket system to significantly reduce operational costs and enable humanity to become a multi-planet species.
All Images Source: SpaceX
The following days after the historic landing on December 21, 2015, SpaceX conducted static fire tests, determined the rocket was in optimal conditions and could be reused. They decided not to reuse the flight 20 rocket's first stage again, instead opted for displaying the historical rocket booster (serial number B1019) at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California. As a reminder of their greatest achievement which paved the way towards landing orbital-class rockets.
Of course, achieving such an amazing feat has it's challenges, SpaceX went through several failed landing attempts before nailing it. Here's a blooper reel video of How not to land an orbital-class rocket:
Today, SpaceX rockets are known for flawlessly returning from space in order to be reused again, it truly became the company's signature feat. They can land rockets both on the ground and on autonomous droneships located in the ocean.
From December 21, 2015 to December 21, 2019 they have successfully launched and landed orbital- class rocket boosters 47 times out of 53 attempts, including synchronized recoveries of the side-boosters during three Falcon heavy rocket missions. It is very impressive technology, no other rocket company has achieved this.
THE FALCONS HAVE LANDED!
Developing the technology to return a rocket's first stage from space is one of the greatest accomplishments SpaceX has contributed to the spaceflight industry.
The first reuse of an orbital rocket happened on March 2017, they achieved the world's first second reflight of an orbital class Falcon 9 rocket after the delivery of cargo to space. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, said that day:
"It means you can fly and refly an orbital class booster, which is the most expensive part of the rocket. This is going to be, ultimately, a huge revolution in spaceflight."
The company is actively engineering the technologies to facilitate full and rapid reusability of space vehicles. Their long term goal is to design a rocket that will allow reuse a few hours after returning it from space, that could also perform multiple flights.
This year in November 2019, SpaceX reused the same Falcon 9 booster for the fourth time -another first in the history of spaceflight!
They designed an upgraded version of Falcon 9 boosters (Falcon 9 Block 5) that could be used up to 10 times. Next year, is guaranteed to be exciting in terms of rocket reusability, they plan to fly that same rocket booster a fifth time.
SpaceX really does make colonizing Mars seem possible. One day, all the company's hard-working teams will develop a reusable rocket/Starship that could perform frequent voyages to the Moon and Mars. SpaceX will go down in history as the company who enabled humans to become a spacefaring civilization!
Congratulations to SpaceX for all the achievements obtained while paving the way towards rocket reusability!