Anyone who’s been keeping up with the modern space industry knows that commercial space companies like Blur Origin and SpaceX have been working on new kinds of rocket technology that allows launched rockets to land themselves upright after use so they can be re-fueled for more missions in the future.
Image Credit: SpaceX
Not only is this more cost-efficient, but it’s also more environmentally-friendly because the first stage of the rocket doesn’t get dumped into the ocean, rather it lands upright on land or on a barge.
Landing rockets has become somewhat of the norm for SpaceX, so the company tries to land their $16,000,000 rockets any time they can, but a Falcon 9 rocket was launched just this week that never had any intention of landing like so many before it have.
According to several news outlets, the rocket was carrying an extremely heavy payload from Echostar called the Echostar 23 satellite that needed to be put into a high-altitude orbit. Once the Falcon 9 was able to penetrate that deep into space above Earth’s surface, it wouldn’t have enough fuel to make the return landing.
Previous landing failures have proven that trying to land on insufficient fuel is an incredibly bad idea, as it leads to failed landings and explosions. That said, all the failures allowed SpaceX to build a baseline, and after learning what they could and couldn’t get away with in terms of how much fuel was needed for a landing, they determined that this landing wouldn’t have been possible.
As a result, the first stage of this Falcon 9 didn’t land upright, but landed safely in the Atlantic Ocean immediately following its completed mission.
It’s worth noting that the mission launched from NASA’s Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at around 2 A.M. EDT. This is the same place where the Apollo missions launched decades ago, and it's notably the first time that a commercial satellite mission ever launched from this location.
You can watch the launch below:
The company would have launched from their own pad in Cape Canaveral, Florida, had it not have been destroyed in the explosion just months ago.
SpaceX notes that they’re going to be improving the fuel capacities of future Falcon rockets, so this might just be one of the very last “expendable” rocket launches that the commercial space company ever performs.
Still, it’s always interesting to consider the circumstances behind each launch.