When the SpaceX Falcon rocket went back to the Florida spaceport in December last year, this feat was hailed as a key step in the strategy of the company's founder Elon Musk, who dreamed of developing an inexpensive and reliable reusable rocket. But it was only half the story.
A more complex and potentially revolutionary step was achieved on Friday, when the second Falcon rocket launched from a freighter to the International Space Station, and then turned around and landed on a platform gently swaying in the Atlantic Ocean.
“And they said that it was not possible to do (at least, no one has ever done it) until, of course, until we succeeded,” wrote former NASA shuttle manager Wayne Hale in a SpaceX greeting message on Twitter .
SpaceX chose to return its missiles back to the launch pad, saving time and costs to the control room of one of its floating platforms in the recovery ship fleet. But most of their satellite delivery missions could not provide enough fuel to refuel the rocket and send it back to the ground.
“I think it was a really important milestone for the future of space flight. I think this is another step towards the stars, ”Musk told reporters after landing. The Falcon rocket, which launched the Dragon cargo ship to orbit on Friday, probably could have brought it back to the launch pad, but SpaceX decided to use the mission again and check the possibilities of landing at sea. Four previous attempts to land a rocket on a barge, or what SpaceX calls an “unmanned ship”, were not successful.
“We decided that we wanted to descend on an unmanned ship and see if we could make a successful landing,” said Hans Koenigsman, vice-president of flight reliability for SpaceX before landing on Friday.
“The next two or three flights will be unmanned landings - we have no choice there ... This is a good chance for us to clarify the possibilities of landing our unmanned ship and to achieve a result. Because, ultimately, this is certainly something that we will have to demonstrate again and again in order to return the first stage to earth. ”
SpaceX - this is not the only company working out the landing of their missiles at sea. Jeff Bezos's space company, Blue Origin, received a patent for a missile landing system at sea bases, but SpaceX successfully challenged this item.
In an interview with Discovery News last month, Bezos and Blue Origin president Rob Meyerson declined to comment on whether they were expecting further patents, but Bezos said it was absolutely necessary to be able to return the missiles to the sea, rather than fly with additional fuel weight necessary to return to earth. Blue Origin declined to comment on Saturday, when SpaceX landed at sea.
The unmanned ship carrying the 156-meter first stage of the Falcon rocket, was to return to Port Canaveral, Florida, south of the launch site at Cape Canaveral, on Sunday or Monday.
If everything goes well, Musk wants to resell this rocket at a reduced price to a commercial client and launch it again in about two months.
“In order for us to truly open up access to outer space, we must achieve a full and quick return again,” said Musk. - The cost to refuel our rocket (it’s mostly oxygen on board) is only $ 200,000 - $ 300,000, but the cost of a rocket is $ 60 million ... You still have your own fixed costs, but at marginal cost it’s a saving in 100 times".
Dragon cargo ship was launched on Friday and reached the space station early Sunday morning. Its main load, an inflatable outer space for habitat, built by Bigelow Aerospace, is planned to be attached to the mooring connector at the station on Saturday.