Saturday, April 9, 2016

SpaceX just made history and landed a rocket on a ship

 Video of landing

SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket Friday at 4:43 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida, sending 7,000 pounds of cargo and an inflatable room toward the International Space Station.
But the huge, history-making moment — causing everyone at SpaceX to lose their minds in a roar of applause during a live webcast — was when the company landed a rocket on a robotic ship at sea.
At mission control headquarters, everyone began chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" after the rocket gently touched down on the ship, which is inexplicably called "Of Course I Still Love You."
SpaceX, led by tech entrepreneur Elon Musk, has tried many times to do this, and all of the attempts ended in failure.
But this time it worked, and the feat could change everything.

Why sticking a rocket landing is a huge deal

The Falcon 9 rocket is a very odd bird.
Most rockets cost tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, yet are rendered as junk the moment they launch. Instead of being recycled, they crash into the ocean and sink to the bottom after lofting a payload into orbit.
spacexSpaceX on Flickr"Just Read the Instructions," a robotic platform designed to land the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket.
But after delivering Dragon into space on Friday, about half of the 229-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket fell back to Earth and tried to land itself on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX attempted this feat in earnest on three separate occasions in the past year, but all of those rockets crashed into a drone ship and exploded.
A fourth SpaceX rocket was equipped to land but never got the chance, since it blew up shortly after launch.
Those previous experimental failures didn't inspire much confidence.
In fact, SpaceX said in a press release for one of its launches that "a successful landing is not expected."
Translation: This is really, really hard and we think our rocket will probably explode into bits when it tries to land itself.
That didn't happen, of course, and the incredible consequences can't be ignored.
Each Falcon 9 costs about $60 million. That the company has proven it can now land even part of that hardware — to later clean it up and refuel it for a future launch — is a mind-boggling feat for the space industry.
Friday's successful landing stands to usher in an era of spaceflight that's radically less expensive. Practically speaking, that could mean humanity can ramp up its space exploration ambitions and realistically ponder colonizing the moon, Mars, and other worlds.
Musk has said that a 100-fold cost reduction of access to space is possible, should his rocket-recycling scheme prove as repeatable and reliable as flying an airplane.
The company still has a long way to go satisfy Musk's extraordinary ambition. First, they'll have to demonstrate the rocket stage can be reused without any problems. Then they'll have to land and reuse the rocket — over and over again.
However, Friday's rocket landing is a major step forward for SpaceX in proving that its revolutionary technologies work. And no one can take that away from the company.

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