High res video of landing from the helo https://t.co/G0Yq2V5J3m
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 22, 2015
The concept of landing a rocket on an ocean platform has been around for decades but SpaceX’s earlier attempts failed repeatedly forcing the space agency to limit its expectation at 50% on Dec. 21 when its Falcon 9 rocket successfully accomplished the target of re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere and softlanding on a sea-pad with accuracy.
The mission of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket delivered all the 11 satellites to low-Earth orbit for ORBCOMM, a leading global provider of Machine-to-Machine communication and Internet after its launch at 8:29pm ET on December 21, 2015 from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Though SpaceX said the re-entry and softlanding was the secondary objective, space scientists at the launch time were keeping their fingers crossed hoping the mission would open a window of hope to land a first stage rocket back on the surface.
The SpaceX was able to achieved the incredible event in space history almost a century after Wright Brothers set a plane fly. “Welcome back, baby!” tweeted SpaceX owner billionaire Elon Musk. He told reporters, “It’s a revolutionary moment. No one has ever brought a booster, an orbital-class booster, back intact.”
The 15-story leftover booster not only re-entered Earth’s atmosphere but was also able to land vertically Cape Canaveral, Florida, creating a history in space journey that may change the course of manned future missions to Mars and other asteroids.
The challenge was two-fold, first the Falcon 9 first stage must return safely to Earth after delivering the second stage and payload to orbit. Secondly, on reentering the first stage through Earth’s atmosphere and conducting precision landings on an autonomous spaceport drone ship at sea, and then eventually it lands.
In 2014, SpaceX twice reentered a Falcon 9 first stage from space and landed it in the Atlantic Ocean. Using lessons learned from those attempts, in January 2015 SpaceX attempted a precision landing on the drone ship, nicknamed “Just Read the Instructions”. The rocket made it to the drone ship, but landed hard. SpaceX attempted a second precision landing later in April 2015 on water, and the rocket impressively came within 10 meters of its target.