After boosting a communications satellite into orbit, SpaceX's Falcon 9 reusable booster rocket performed a successful soft-landing on the Atlantic Ocean. Best of all? A camera strapped to the rocket captured it for our viewing pleasure. Rocket selfies are the best selfies.
SpaceX is working towards a cheaper future of spaceflight by making their rockets reusable. Instead of landing like a plane or the space shuttles, the Falcon 9 rockets are designed to perform vertical soft landings. SpaceX has conducted successful tests in controlled conditions, and even pulled off a soft landing on the ocean on their last mission, but due to untimely video corruption, this is the first time we get to watch what's happening.
After delivering six ORBCOMM satellites into orbit, SpaceX brought the Falcon 9 booster rocket home with enough fuel to test out the soft landing system for the reusable rocket. The onboard camera recorded every moment.
The video starts with a scorching reentry at hypersonic velocity, slowed by restarting the main engines. As ice builds up on the lens, the Falcon 9 deploys landing legs and continues to halt its plummet back to Earth. Finally, it slows almost to a stop before performing a soft touchdown at near-zero velocity on the Atlantic Ocean. As the final moments of the video close, the rocket slowly, gracefully topples over in its final water safing state. Yes, that final tip is a planned, deliberate move, because who doesn't end an epic mission by collapsing horizontally for a nap? SpaceX reports that the water impact caused a loss of hull integrity, but not before they got all the data they needed for the next round of test flights.
This was the second attempt at soft-landing the Falcon 9 on the ocean. Last time the video was disappointingly corrupted, but this time SpaceX captured everything for your viewing pleasure:
The video is both glorious and disappointing. While it's beyond awesome that SpaceX is pulling off soft landings in their efforts to create a truly reusable booster rocket, ice and other crud on the camera obscure the view. SpaceX agrees, and will be figuring out tricks to minimize buildup on the camera housing for future launches.
The next few Falcon 9 launches will use too much fuel to attempt a soft landing, but things will get interesting this fall. The Falcon 9 will tentatively attempt another soft landing in the Atlantic for its 13th mission in September. After completing its third ocean landing, the rocket can finally start soft landings on a solid surface for mission 14 in October and mission 15 in December. Yeah, yeah, we've seen the rocket touch down on land during test sequences, but to see it head to space, perform a mission, then come back home and await its next adventure? That will be a classic "Living in the future" moment, and I can't wait to see it happen!