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SpaceX landed two of its three Falcon Heavy first-stage boosters

Posted in Hardware on 8th Feb, 2018 10:09 PM by Alex Muller

SpaceX has managed an incredible feat alongside its historic Falcon Heavy first test launch, landing two of its boosters at once. The first-stage rockets used during launch included two flight-proven Falcon 9 boosters previously used during missions for SpaceX, which landed at their intended destinations.


The side boosters landed, touching down at LZ-1 and LZ-2 at Kennedy Air Force Station, the designated landing pads SpaceX uses to recover its reusable rockets. But the core, middle booster, which attempted to land aboard “Of Course I Still Love You,” a drone barge that SpaceX uses as a mobile, ocean-borne landing pad stationed in the Atlantic for its flights departing from Florida, wasn’t recovered.


That core booster approached the platform as planned, but it unfortunately hit the water going 300 MPH and was lost, because some of its return engines failed to light. Video feeds of the attempted landing cut out upon approach, and in the live stream SpaceX provided of the launch, you could hear someone say “We’ve lost the core” but it wasn’t clear whether that indicated just the feed, or the booster itself.


Still, two out of three first stages recovered is a tremendous achievement, which acts as not only a demonstration of SpaceX’s progress when it comes to making sure its boosters can return smoothly from their flights, but also a key new proof of concept regarding Elon Musk’s vision of reusable spaceflight. Eventually, Musk hopes to be able to turn rockets around in less than 24 hours and have reflown boosters go up twice in one day.


Falcon Heavy, SpaceX’s heavy-lift space vehicle with a 140,000-pound cargo capacity for low-Earth orbit, will be crucial to establishing a near-Earth staging area for missions to Mars and beyond, and reusability will be key if Musk is ever going to achieve the cost reductions he’s looking for. Being able to land two of three Falcon boosters used for Falcon Heavy at once, on their first try, is a tremendous step in the right direction toward making that kind of reusability more feasible.


A former Pentagon official now advising SpaceX said that the Falcon Heavy may be compelling to the Defense Department given both its payload capacity and its low price.


“It’s really a game-changing capability,” said John Young, former undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, in a Feb. 6 interview prior to the launch. “The nearest peer competitor is the Delta 4 Heavy at roughly half the thrust and from four to as much as ten times the cost.”


There are deep space missions that were being planned for an eventual Space Launch System rocket. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy provides the super-heavy lift capability that would have taken five to ten years longer for an eventual Space Launch System. The SpaceX Falcon Heavy will cost ten to twenty times less than the $1 billion Space Launch System.


SpaceX is now focusing development efforts on the BFR, a much bigger reusable rocket capable of transporting large amounts of cargo to Mars.

Tags: spaceSpaceXElon MuskFalcon Heavyrocket

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