SpaceX, Elon Musk’s space exploration startup, finally did the unthinkable. It launched a rocket in orbit and landed it on a pad, 1,000 meters from the original site. The company also deployed 11 commercial satellites during the process. If you’ve been following the group’s road to success, you’ll know that it was a very bumpy one. But even a couple of failed attempts and a flagship vessel explosion earlier this year couldn’t stop SpaceX from coming out and doing what they do best: launching large rockets.
“Landing a Falcon 9 rocket was a long time coming for SpaceX. The company used smaller test rockets called the Grasshopper to test the system. Gradually, over several launches, the smaller rocket reached new heights from several hundred feet to sub-orbit flight before returning to Earth and landing vertically,” wrote Matt Burns from TechCrunch.
Interestingly, the company documented their journey at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida very well. Musk regularly writes engaging blog posts on the official website, and they also have an active Flickr account that gets consistent updates. The latest round of pics consists of long-exposure shots from the historic event. Below are some images from the iconic collection.
What you’re looking at above is a light trail of the Falcon 9 after launch. The second strip of light is actually the rocket landing near the original launch pad. Yes, it’s true that Jeff Bezos completed a similar feat before Musk. But the vessel he used was smaller and it didn’t go as high as the Falcon 9. The New Shepard rocket reached 330,000 feet, which doesn’t come close to reaching the International Space Station for cargo missions. It did stick the vertical landing though!
This one is the Falcon 9 at the first stage landing. If you were watching the live broadcast of the event, this was when engineers were holding their breath and crossing their fingers. The crew jumped out of their seats immediately after, with paper flying in the air and people hugging each other left and right.
Here’s a closer look at Landing Zone 1, where the rocket landed. Musk has big plans for the future of space exploration. “It ushers in an era of space flight that’s more akin to air travel than to rather expensive fireworks shows. Reusable rockets could make getting to our neighborly vacuum downright cheap, bringing down the cost of satellite launches and opening the door to space tourism not solely reserved for the 1 Percent,” said Loren Grush from Popular Science.
The calm before the storm. This was taken a few days before the actual launch. Little did the crew know that their next attempt would raise the bar of space cargo missions to new heights. Staying humble, the company coined the landing portion as a “secondary test objective.”
The Falcon 9 inside the hangar, a couple of weeks before the event. Engineers were still running last minute tests in preparation for the epic launch. To see all of the photos from the launch, check out the SpaceX Flickr page.