The launch occurred at about 5:37PM PST today, at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The event was live-streamed via SpaceX’s webcast. The specific purpose of the mission was to deliver 11 ORBCOMM satellites into LEO (Low Earth Orbit).
This is huge, huge news for many reasons, and is likely to go down as an iconic moment in humankind’s push to explore space. You can watch the take off and landing of the first stage in the video below (the action starts at around 16:30):
Although the primary mission for today’s ORBCOMM-2 mission was to deliver the 11 satellites into orbit, the secondary—but revolutionary—goal was to land the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage, fully intact, back on land. The first stage of a rocket is, for anybody unfamiliar with the term, the bottom section of a rocket that is used to boost the rocket off of Earth’s surface and through its atmosphere. And up until today, every first rocket stage in history was dropped back to Earth’s surface upon completing its duty as a thruster, where it would be disregarded.
But SpaceX’s Falcon 9 first stage, using the same engines it used to launch itself off Earth’s surface, just landed itself perfectly back on land.
The reason this is considered to be revolutionary is because this is the first major step in making rockets reusable. This is extremely important in furthering general spaceflight because reusability brings the cost of space travel way, way down. According to Musk himself, reusability could reduce the cost of spaceflight by a factor of a hundred.
A good way to think about the benefits of such a huge drop in cost is to think about airplanes. If an airplane could only be used once, then a ticket to fly would cost millions of dollars (to cover the cost of the plane). But because planes are reusable, you can get a seat on board of one for (sometimes) as much as you’d spend on a Star Trek Blu-Ray.
This is especially important, as it is one of SpaceX and Musk’s stated goals to send humans to Mars not only to explore, but to colonize. In order to make the colonization of another planet realistic, travel has to be reasonably cheap.
Along with being a huge achievement in terms of bringing the cost of space travel down, landing the Falcon 9 rocket is notable because the feat was insanely difficult to pull off, and watching a rocket land itself after being used to send satellites into space is simply awesome.
It should also be noted that even though Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin had a successful landing of its New Shepard rocket earlier this year, that particular rocket did not go into orbit. It only went into “space.” The difference in energy requirements, as Musk pointed out via Twitter is a factor of one hundred.
The livestream of SpaceX headquarters during the launch and return of the first stage was electric, and throughout each phase of the mission (liftoff, clearing the towers, detaching the first stage, etc.) there were cheers from a large crowd of SpaceX employees and onlookers. After the first stage landed intact back on the ground, the crowd even started chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
Looking forward, SpaceX will likely task itself with refurbishing the first stage in order to be reused for a second mission, thus fully proving that reusable rockets are not only possible, but likely inevitable.
After the cheering, chanting, and hollering died down, one of the hosts of SpaceX’s webcast said, “The goal [for SpaceX] is Mars, because nobody wants to go back to Jakku.” Which shows that the folks at SpaceX are not only revolutionary space technologists, but also huge nerds.
What did you think of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket launch? Did you have your cosmic socks blown off while you watched the live stream? Do you want to be one of the first people to colonize Mars? Let us know in the comments section below!
Featured Image: SpaceX Webcast