JCSAT-14 Falcon 9 first stage returns to Port Canaveral
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).
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 has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.