Twice-launched Falcon 9 first stage returned to Port Canaveral
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.
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.