SpaceX Is Totally Gonna Land a Rocket on a Drone Boat Again. Right? Right?
SpaceX is a company on the move. To Mars, someday. But for now, 22,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. And then back again. That’s right, it’s time for another round of rocket vs. barge!
This time, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket is chauffering a pair of telecom satellites into geostationary transfer orbit. The 45-minute launch window is scheduled to start at 10:29 am Eastern on June 15. The bulk of the voyage will be powered by the Falcon 9’s massive first stage, which will fall back to Earth and—hopefully—land on a droneship about 420 miles east of the launchpad.
If the Falcon 9 makes it home safely, it will be the company’s fourth consecutive landing at sea (SpaceX has landed one other Falcon 9 on the ground). Each recovered rocket is a milestone towards proving that these landings are no flukes. Which is important, because landing these first stages saves the company about $60 million a pop. Once the company starts relaunching them, those savings will probably get passed along to their customers. Cheaper launches means more launches, more business, more space, and um … what more do you need?
The pair of satellites stacked inside the Falcon 9’s nose cone were manufactured by Boeing. One is owned by the Parisian company Eutelsat, and the other by Asia Broadcast Satellite. Once the second stage of the Falcon 9 delivers the pair to their destination, they will detach and begin their slow course to final orbit. For about six months, each satellite will fire ionized gas from plasma thrusters to adjust its orbit. Eventually, each will sit in a stationary position over the equator, looking down on an entire hemisphere below.
This is SpaceX’s twenty-sixth Falcon 9 launch (and the sixth this year). Founder Elon Musk has stated that he hopes to be relaunching successfully recovered Falcon 9s by late summer. His ambitions go even further: The company will shoot for an increased launch tempo by the end of the year. And Falcon Heavy—a monster rocket potentially capable of sending payloads to Mars—is tentatively scheduled to launch in November. They’re going to need a bigger boat.
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