Last week, SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket with the intention of deploying six ORBCOMM OG2 satellites to orbit. The launch’s other goal was to determine if the Falcon 9 was, in fact, reusable. In both aspects, the launch was a success.
ORBCOMM’s satellites were deployed to improve their existing satellite network, decreasing message delivery time, allowing for larger message sizes, and improving coverage for higher latitude locations. According to their website, they plan on deploying another 11 satellites to complete the satellite constellation.
After launching the satellites, the Falcon 9 rocket reentered the atmosphere and made a soft landing in the Atlantic. Unfortunately, after the successful soft landing, which occurred at “near zero velocity” according to SpaceX, the rocket tipped sideways as part of its water safing protocol, which ironically compromised the hull’s integrity and allowed water in.
Despite the damage to the rocket, SpaceX still says that it “received all the necessary data to achieve a successful landing on a future flight.” They now believe they can land the Falcon 9 on a ground launch site or even on a floating launch pad, which is incredible to say the least. They even claim that they’ll be able to “refly the rocket with no required refurbishment.” Can you imagine rockets landing and taking back off like airplanes do now? I can’t, but it sure would be amazing. Imagine the implications! Space tourism, supplying colonies on distant planets…the nerd in me is drooling.
But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves. Exiting and re-entering the atmosphere is extremely tough on the rocket components, and at the very least SpaceX will want to inspect the engine seals and turbines before re-launching. Recovery of the rocket is also impractical for high-velocity geostationary orbit missions according to SpaceX, though Near Orbit and Low Orbit launches can be recovered just fine.
Let’s hope for continued success from SpaceX, and the continued development of privatized space exploration. I’m still crossing my fingers for a Mars colony in my lifetime. Maybe someday I’ll ride a SpaceX rocket up there.