Monday night marks the first time that a rocket has ever come back down to Earth for a gentle and upright landing.
Space Exploration Technologies Corporation of Hawthorne, CA., commonly condensed to SpaceX, launched its Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, FL. at 8:29 p.m. on Monday.
SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk initially believed the launch to be a failure. Upon hearing the sonic boom that occurred when the rocket landed, Musk thought the booster had exploded. It was not until he returned to Launch Control and saw a video of the Falcon 9 standing upright on the ground that he knew his booster had completed the first-ever upright landing.
This landing is a significant achievement for SpaceX, and it has even been regarded by the New York Times at a threefold success for the company.
First, Monday’s launch marked the first SpaceX flight since the company’s last attempted launch was unsuccessful. The failed launch, which took place nearly six months ago, was scheduled to deliver supplies to the International Space Station, but the rocket disintegrated just minutes after taking off.
The second success the New York Times notes is that the Falcon 9’s upgraded design worked flawlessly. Upgrades included chilling the liquid oxygen to minus 340 degrees Fahrenheit, which is about 40 degrees cooler than on the previous flights, and cooling the rockets kerosene to 20 degrees instead of the previous 70 degrees. Lower temperatures improve the engine’s performance, Musk explained on Twitter.
The third, and most significant, success that the New York Times highlights is that once the rocket with the satellites continued into orbit, the booster stage engines reignited to turn the rocket around, sending it back to Florida.
Just 10 minutes after the launch, the Falcon 9 landed gently, six miles south at Landing Zone 1. This Landing Zone was previously used by SpaceX as a launch facility for Atlas intercontinental ballistic missiles.
Upon discovery of the booster’s landing, the SpaceX California headquarters erupted with cheers and chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
This was not SpaceX’s first attempt at landing the Falcon 9. The company had tried twice previously to land the booster on platforms floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The booster reached the platform on both occasions, but did not achieve a successful landing.
Musk has said that if rocket stages can be relaunched, space travel could become much more affordable.