Private space exploration company SpaceX has successfully launched and landed two Falcon 9 rockets in two days. On Sunday, SpaceX launched a rocket from the central coast of California, taking 10 new satellites into orbit. The company then successfully landed the rocket back on earth. The launch took place just two days after a Falcon 9 was successfully launched from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. In both flights, the first stage rocket from the Falcon 9 re-entered the atmosphere and used propulsion to successfully land on a barge that was stationed hundreds of miles away from the launch site.
This is the quickest turnaround time for SpaceX, and it could become a regular occurrence if the company reopens the Cape Canaveral launch pad that is currently damaged. The company is expecting to be working from its Texas spaceport as early as 2018. The last time two similar rockets took off in such a short time frame was in March of 1995, when an Atlas E launcher and a Lockheed Martin Atlas 2AS were launched from Vandenberg Air Force and Cape Canaveral. The two rockets were delivering a broadcast satellite, and a weather satellite designed for the Air Force.
The Russians, however, have been launching Soyuz rockets multiple times a day from different launch pads as recently as March 2015. SpaceX’s last launch from Florida was used to launch a Bulgarian communications satellite into earth orbit, and the company used a Falcon 9 booster that had already been used on a previous mission. The ongoing launches and the use of repurposed equipment shows that SpaceX is taking its mission of creating reusable spacecraft seriously.
The launch on Sunday started at 1:25:14pm PDT, the precise moment when the Falcon 9 rocket could dispatch the 10 different satellites into one of six available orbital pathways. The Falcon launcher, which is around 70 meters tall, cleared the fog and launched through a clear sky in a southerly direction. The rocket uses 9 Merlin engines, which produce 1.7 million pounds of thrust. Once all the initial liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants were used up, the first stage rocket dropped off and allowed the upper rocket to continue the journey into orbit. The first stage rocket then used its secondary propulsion systems to begin a controlled descent to the SpaceX launch barge located in the Pacific Ocean.
Upon reaching the base, the landing gear on the rocket opened, which consists of four legs. Using a booster, the rocket slowly landed onto the barge, beating high speed winds. The rocket was then sent to south California, where experts will perform inspections to determine whether the rocket is safe to be reused.
The founder of SpaceX, Elon Musk, said that a new fin design has replaced the original aluminum fins used on the Falcon 9, which originally had to be replaced for every launch because of the extreme heat of the atmosphere. The new fins are cast from one piece of titanium and while they are heavier, they offer greater stability.