Elon Musk's SpaceX wrote history on Monday by successfully landing the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket, after successfully delivering 11 small OG2 satellites into low-earth orbit for Orbcomm's new satellite network! Recovering the rocket was the secondary objective of the launch, three earlier attempts failed but now SpaceX seems to be mastering this feat.
About eleven minutes after the launch of the rocket, SpaceX landed the booster of the rocket on solid ground at Cape Canaveral.
The very first Falcon 9 first stage has successfully landed at Landing Zone 1, formally Launch Complex 13, of Cape Canaveral after launching as part of the OG-2 return to flight mission from Space Launch Complex 40 just 10 minutes before landing.
The capability to reuse rockets may be a big boon for the space industry, if it really works it could significantly drive down all-in launch costs from the current $60 million for commercial launches and $90 million for government launches. Musk claims the Falcon 9 rocket costs about $16 million to manufacture, and points out that the cost of refueling is only about $200,000 per launch. If rockets can be successfully reused, the launch cost could come down substantially, opening up new markets and potentially paving the way for future manned Mars missions.
The first successfully recovered Falcon 9 first stage will never fly again though, Elon Musk told reporters that they will probably keep this one on the ground because it's the first one they've brought back.
The Verge reports the rocket will now be tested to confirm that the rocket systems are still in good shape, and to verify whether it can fly again.
The plan, Musk said, is to take the booster from Landing Zone 1 to SpaceX's other site at Cape Canaveral, Launch Complex 39A. There, the company will perform a static fire test — where the rocket is held down and the engines are fired at full thrust — on the launchpad to confirm that the rocket's systems are still in good shape. After that, the company will find out whether this particular rocket could fly again. But SpaceX won't try to fly a landed Falcon 9 again until "sometime next year," according to Musk.
A month ago Blue Origin, the space firm created by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, demonstrated the first successful test flight of a reusable space rocket. While that came as quite a surprise, it should be noted that the SpaceX effort is far more impressive because the Falcon 9 is a bigger, much more powerful rocket capable of delivering payloads into orbit. The rocket from Blue Orbit merely touched the edge of space, a less complex feat that requires far less energy and speed, and is not capable of delivering payloads into space.