Spaceflight Insider

Twice-launched Falcon 9 first stage returned to Port Canaveral

Falcon 9 core 1021 on Of Course I Still Love You after the SES-10 mission

The twice-launched Falcon 9 core 1021 is brought into Port Canaveral some five days after its SES-10 mission. The first stage successfully landed on Of Course I Still Love You about 8.5 minutes after leaving Kennedy Space Center to help power the SES-10 communications satellite toward orbit. Photo Credit: Tom Cross / SpaceFlight Insider

PORT CANAVERAL, Fla. — Just before 7 a.m. EDT (11:00 GMT) Tuesday, April 4, 2017, SpaceX‘s Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship Of Course I Still Love You entered the port carrying the first successfully reflown first stage of an orbital-class rocket, the Falcon 9.

About 2.5 minutes after the March 30, 2017, launch, the flight-proven first stage of the Falcon 9, core 1021, separated as planned from the second stage carrying the SES-10 communications satellite payload. It then did a series of controlled burns to bring it safely to the deck of the drone ship downrange in the Atlantic Ocean about 8.5 minutes after leaving Kennedy Space Center.

In a press conference immediately following the successful mission, Elon Musk, SpaceX’s founder and CEO, said he plans to offer the stage as a gift to the Cape, but did not specify where it would be displayed.

Musk also confirmed that the company attempted to recover the protective payload fairing at the top of the rocket. At least one of the two halves of the clamshell nosecone were recovered and could be seen on April 3 coming into port on the Go Searcher offshore tug. It is unclear what shape the fairing is in or if it can be reused or recycled.

Musk said he intends to not only reuse Falcon 9 first stages, but the rocket’s nosecone and, according to a March 31 Twitter post, potentially the second stage as well.

“Considering trying to bring upper stage back on Falcon Heavy demo flight for full reusability,” Musk tweeted. “Odds of success low, but maybe worth a shot.”

Falcon Heavy is a three-core version of the company’s Falcon 9 rocket. Its maiden launch has been delayed for many years for a number of factors including the complexity of strapping three cores together with a combined 27 first stage Merlin 1D engines.

“Falcon Heavy is one of those things that at first it sounded easy,” Musk said in the SES-10 post-flight press conference. “We’ll just take two first stages and use them as strap-on boosters. And like, actually no, this is crazy hard, and required a redesign of the center core, and a ton of additional hardware. It was actually shockingly difficult to go from a single core to a triple-core vehicle.”

The first flight of Falcon Heavy is expected to occur sometime no earlier than late summer 2017. It will involve recovery attempts of all three cores (the two side boosters will use two of the company’s previously-flown cores) as well as potentially the payload fairing, and now maybe the upper stage.

Core 1021 scorch marks after SES-10 mission

A close-up of the Falcon 9’s scorched grid fins. Photo Credit: Michael Howard / SpaceFlight Insider



Bart Leahy is a freelance technical writer living in Orlando, Florida. Leahy's diverse career has included work for The Walt Disney Company, NASA, the Department of Defense, Nissan, a number of commercial space companies, small businesses, nonprofits, as well as the Science Cheerleaders.

Reader Comments

– any sign of that new ” Roomba” deck droid that was set to drive out on the barge after landing and hook onto the rocket to secure it ?

It’s my understanding that SpaceX has actually been sending out a guy to literally weld the landing leg’s feet to the deck of the barge. The Roomba was supposed to do that chore a little more quickly and gracefully. And safely.

Dick Eagleson

The “Roomba” seemingly isn’t quite ready for prime time yet. It’s apparently supposed to be making its debut sometime during the remainder of this year. Based on the pictures of the thing that have appeared to-date, it doesn’t look like welding anything is part of its job. It’s got four articulated industrial-type robot arms on its top that appear intended to reach up and grapple the landing legs where they join the rocket body once the whole robot moves itself beneath the engines and more or less centers itself under the booster. The drive mechanism is probably very “battle-bot-ish” and driven by off-the-shelf Tesla electric drive motors. Power for the motors and the arms would come from off-the-shelf Tesla battery packs. After getting a grip, I suspect the “Roomba” will clamp itself to the metal deck of the ASDS magnetically, then pull its arms in a bit to compress the legs enough to be stable in whatever the wind and sea state happens to be. Published pictures of the “Roomba” show it to be quite large and low-profile. It would be easily possible for most of the underside of the vehicle to be fitted with mechanically-activated permanent magnet magnetic chucks of the kind routinely used to hold workpieces on industrial-scale surface grinders. For application to the “Roomba,” their “business ends” would simply be oriented downward instead of upward. Not only are magnetic chucks quite heavy – which would provide the “Roomba” with lift-truck-like stability while moving around on deck, the combined magnetic pull of many such chucks simultaneously activated could clamp the Roomba to the steel ASDS deck with tens of tons of force and maintain that grip without any need for electricity.

It is hard to believe that the heat hasn’t damaged that aluminum. We will know after a few more launches. If I were them, I wouldn’t push my luck with multiple reuse until I made some money.

I believe the grid fins get replaced at the moment. They actually burn a bit on reentry.

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