For the first time, a single orbital-class rocket booster has been used for three missions, pushing a payload into space and then returning safely to Earth each time.
A SpaceX Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 10:34 a.m. PT Monday. The first stage landed on the company’s drone ship, called Just Read the Instructions, stationed in the Pacific Ocean about seven minutes later.
The same booster was used in the first Block 5 launch (the final version of the Falcon 9 designed to fly up to 100 times) in May and then again in August.
Reusing rockets over and over is key to Elon Musk’s vision of cheaper, more rapid launches to orbit.
This particular mission also pushed an unprecedented number of small satellites to space for a US-based rocket. The upper stage of the Falcon 9 is set to deploy a total of 64 cubesats and smallsats representing 34 different organizations and 17 countries. The ride share was put together by Spaceflight Industries, which purchased all the room on the rocket from SpaceX to resell for the mission it calls SSO-A SmallSat Express.
Just under eight minutes after blastoff the lower half of the Falcon 9, stained with soot from its three launches, made a perfect landing in the middle of the target on the drone ship.
SpaceX also says it’ll attempt to recover the fairing, or nose cone, of the rocket using its giant net-on-a-ship approach. The company has attempted to catch its fairings a handful of times but has yet to succeed. There’s no video feed of the fairing recovery attempt, but we’ll update this post when we hear how it went.
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