|A long exposure of the launch and landing. |
Fortunately featuring no more fire than was absolutely necessary.
(Image courtesy space.com.)
It looked like this, and it was awesome.
As reported by the New York Times, the Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX for short) launched their Falcon 9 rocket yesterday from Cape Canaveral, Florida. At 8:29 in the evening, the rocket blasted off, with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk (as well as folks all along Florida's "space coast") watching intently to see if the Falcon would return safely to its nest, or lay an egg as it has done in the past.
"Egg", by the way, is a metaphor for exploding into little pieces.
|Swing and a miss.|
(Image courtesy cnn.com.)
After a disastrous attempt to ferry supplies to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Dragon several months ago, as well as two separate attempts to land a returning rocket on a barge (pictured above), the company revamped their rocket design and successfully stuck the landing this time. The rocket's liquid oxygen propellant was chilled 40 degrees cooler than usual (to -340 degrees Fahrenheit), and its kerosene fuel was chilled to 20 degrees (rather than 70.)
Musk tweeted that this chilling out was what significantly improved the rocket's performance, claiming, "Deep cryo increases density and amplifies rocket performance. First time anyone has gone this low for O2."
Yes, he's literally made this the coolest rocket ever. And it wasn't just to show off - the Falcon bore 11 mini data-relay satellites (commissioned by the Orbcomm company of New Jersey) into orbit, before doing a flip and returning to Cape Canaveral ten minutes later. The Falcon landed six miles away from the launch site, touching down at the former Atlas intercontinental ballistic missile launch site (now leased by SpaceX.)
|Fly, flip, float home. Here comes the future!|
(Image courtesy the American Institute Of Aeronautics and Astronautics.)
Such a landing had been attempted twice by SpaceX, with both rockets attempting to hit a barge serving as a landing pad. Both rockets hit their target, but a little too hard. One exploded after crashing due to a lack of enough hydrogen fuel, while the other rocket's booster tipped over while attempting to stick the landing. Musk referred to these mishaps as an "RUD - rapid unscheduled disassembly" and kept at work.
Now, the prospect of reusable rockets has opened many possibilities for spaceflight, due in tremendous part to the financial savings such an invention allows. While conventional rockets drop their fuel tanks once the supply has been expended, sending back a fireball of trash that is rarely recovered and never reused, the new rockets offer more of a round-trip approach that doesn't require a massive, expendable tank that requires replacing.
Though according to NBC News, the Falcon cost $60 million to build, fuel costs per mission are a mere $200,000 in comparison. That's a massive margin that could lead to many more missions launching from American soil, possibly even bearing astronauts to the ISS. As we're currently hitching rides on Russia's Soyuz spacecrafts to get to our orbital lab, this could be a major aid to America's space program.
|"Cool, huh? Oh yeah, and I'll get to the Hyperloop and those Tesla cars soon, too. |
I'M TAKING THIS COUNTRY INTO THE FUTURE,
WHETHER YOU ANTI-SCIENCE IDIOTS LIKE IT OR NOT!"
-Elon Musk, probably.
(Image courtesy universetoday.com.)
Musk explained, "If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred...A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space."
Here's what it looked like from a helicopter.
No, this is not a launch video in reverse!
SpaceX will continue to fire into the future with two more orbital deliveries in the next month (an ocean-monitoring satellite for NASA, and another commercial satellite.) They also intend to resume supply runs to the ISS beginning in February. If successful, SpaceX stands a strong chance of being one of the first corporations to help humans reach the planet Mars - and maybe even return them without worry. That's one of the best reasons in history to get fired up about the Falcon.
|Amazing, right? |
And we're happy if we complete a successful game of Lunar Lander!
(Image courtesy SpaceX.)