In what is becoming an increasingly expected occurrence, SpaceX has successfully recovered the first stage of one of their Falcon 9 rockets. The company still considers the landing attempts to be ‘experimental’, and they do still encounter the occasional failure, but it’s undeniable that their accuracy is greatly improved.
As with several past landing attempts at sea, the video feed from the automated drone ship cut just as the stage approached the deck of the ‘Of Course I Still Love You’. While waiting for video confirmation of the stage’s fate, the official SpaceX Twitter account tweeted that the stage had, indeed, landed. This was quickly confirmed on the video feed, which showed the booster sitting nearly dead-center of the circular landing zone painted on the deck of the ship.
While many people are interested in the launch and landing attempts, the primary mission – the deployment of the JCSAT-16 satellite – was still underway at the time of the booster recovery. After a pause during the second stage’s coast phase, the hosted feed continued when the upper stage’s engine was re-ignited in order to place the satellite on the intended geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO), followed by the subsequent deployment of the satellite. All appeared to go well, and SpaceX can count this as another successful mission, both in its primary and secondary goals.
Though the company has recovered several boosters – some at sea and some returning to land – they have yet to re-fly any of the recovered vehicles. But that may soon change. SpaceX has recently been testing the booster recovered from the JCSAT-14 mission at their McGregor, TX testing facility in an effort to better understand the condition a booster may be in after such a high-energy flight profile.
There have been no shortage of customers interested in having their payload fly on one of the recovered boosters, with an executive from the large satellite operator SES stating that they would be keen to be the first company to do so. There have been reports that SpaceX has found a customer for this historic launch, though there has been no independent confirmation from the company about who that may be.
More news as it becomes available.