Spaceflight Insider

JCSAT-14 Falcon 9 first stage returns to Port Canaveral

Falcon 9 first stage JCSAT-14

The second Falcon 9 first stage to successfully land at sea on an ocean-going platform has returned to Port Canaveral. Photo Credit: Jacques van Oene / SpaceFlight Insider

The SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage that rocketed skyward last Friday, and successfully landed on SpaceX’s drone ship some 400 miles (644 kilometers) off-shore, has arrived back at Port Canaveral. The booster and ship, accompanied by tugboats, pulled into the port just before 11 p.m. EDT Monday night (03:00 GMT Tuesday morning).

Falcon 9 Port Canaveral

The Falcon 9 first stage, on top of the Of Course I Still Love You, moves into the Port Canaveral channel. Photo Credit: Jacques van Oene / SpaceFlight Insider

The drone ship, named Of Course I Still Love You, was pushed into the West Turning Basin just East of where the cruise ships are usually docked. According to Florida Today, in a process that could take up to a week, a crane will lift the 140-foot (42.7-meter) tall booster off the deck of the ship and the four landing legs will be removed The stage will then be lowered onto its side and transported back to a SpaceX hangar for inspection and tests.

The booster lifted out of Launch Complex 40 at 1:21 a.m. EDT (05:21 GMT) Friday, May 6, to deliver the Japanese commercial satellite, JCSAT-14, to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO). Due to the nature of the mission, the first stage was required to go much faster to allow for the second stage to finish the job of placing the spacecraft in its proper orbit.

As such, the Falcon 9 first stage was traveling nearly twice as fast as the one that launched the CRS-8 Dragon last month—which also resulted in a successful booster landing on Of Course I Still Love You.

This subjected the booster to higher heating during descent. Additionally, the rocket had very little fuel remaining for its landing burn on the drone ship. To compensate for that, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said on Twitter that this mission used a three-engine landing burn as opposed to the one-engine burn on all previous attempts.

“That’s important to minimize gravity losses,” he tweeted.

This was the third booster SpaceX has recovered: one on land in December, one at sea in April, and this one at sea with high velocity. Mastering all three of these landing scenarios will allow the company to regularly recover Falcon 9 first stages.

What SpaceX has yet to do, however, is refly a booster. Musk has stated that he believes the stage recovered last month, during the CRS-8 Dragon resupply mission, could be certified for relaunch as early as June.

The next SpaceX launch will also be out of Cape Canaveral. The Falcon 9 rocket with the Thaicom 8 payload is scheduled to lift off the pad at 5:40 p.m. EDT May 26. This mission will also deliver a payload to GTO, and thus require landing on a down-range drone ship at high velocity.

Video courtesy of SpaceFlight Insider


Derek Richardson is a student studying mass media with an emphasis in contemporary journalism at Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. He is currently the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also writes a blog, called Orbital Velocity, about the space station. His passion for space ignited when he watched space shuttle Discovery leap to space on Oct. 29, 1998. He saw his first in-person launch on July 8, 2011 when the space shuttle launched for the final time. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized that his true calling was communicating to others about space exploration and spreading that passion.

Reader Comments

It looks like the Falcon 9 had a excessive amount of heating compared to the last landing. I wonder how that would affect the structural integrity of the air frame ?.

Bill Simpson

One segment of at least one of the aluminum grid fins near the outer edge of the fin, got melted away. It looks like the edge of the aluminum side of part of the rocket body above the fin started to melt too.
Since it looked like the fuel tank still had some fuel in it at touchdown, they might be able to use a short burn to slow it down a little as it reenters the upper atmosphere wherever the heating is greatest. If not, I doubt the entire rocket can be reused from similar launches. The grid fins could be made from another light metal, so that they could be reused, even if some of the entire rest of the rocket couldn’t be.

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