Following a failed test launch, SpaceX redeems itself with twin successes – a 10-satellite deployment and perfect rocket landing.
Five months ago in September, the company’s attempt to launch Falcon 9 was curtailed when the rocket exploded on the launchpad shortly after a test launch in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Some had hinted on a probable sabotage but a thorough investigation had to be performed to confirm exactly what had gone wrong. SpaceX rockets had to be grounded pending the investigation.
Based on results of the investigation, a helium canister located in the rocket’s liquid oxygen vessel had exploded. SpaceX addressed the problem by adjusting both the rocket refueling process and canister design.
Elon Musk appeared to be in good spirits when the Rocket was relaunched on Saturday, January 14. On Twitter, he mentioned that the “Mission looks good” and assured that the “Rocket is stable”.
Procedures before and after the launch did take quite a long while to accomplish. The most awaited segments of the launch were the lift off which started at about 18:30 and the disengagement where the second stage of the rocket breaks off (from stage one) so it could start a journey to deploy 10 satellites into the earth’s orbit.
Another most awaited moment was the return of the first stage of the rocket. As it fell towards the Earth, it made a perfect touchdown on a waiting drone ship in the Pacific Ocean. Spectators were cheering and were all in a jovial mood.
The first stage of the rocket is actually a reusable part. Sending it back to Earth unscathed is vital. The company would be saving over US$60 million whenever it re-uses stage one for subsequent rocket launches.
This particular Earth landing feat isn’t new to SpaceX. Prior to this, it had successfully sent stage one back to Earth on four separate occasions and it had made a tremendous impact on cost savings.
Iridium, a telecommunications firm is the owner of the 10 satellites (called “NEXT”) successfully deployed by SpaceX into the Earth’s lower orbits.
SpaceX is bent on fulfilling a total of 70 rocket launch missions, a humongous task that’s worth US10 billion. For this year, about 27 rocket launches have been scheduled. Deployment of satellites, as well as cargo for the International Space Station, is part of the mission.
While it is true that SpaceX had its share of mishaps, they’ve taught valuable lessons on safer and more efficient rocket launches.
More importantly, it prepares the company for its grandest vision so far – exploring and conquering Mars.