SpaceX flies Falcon 9 from Cape, lands on Atlantic ship – Florida Today

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SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket on Friday and, despite the odds, landed the first stage on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Posted May 6, 2016.

A SpaceX hangar at Kennedy Space Center may soon feel a bit crowded with used rockets.

A third Falcon 9 booster is on its way there after sticking a landing early Friday on a ship in the Atlantic Ocean, minutes after a 1:21 a.m. launch that delivered a Japanese communications satellite to orbit.

“Woohoo!!” CEO Elon Musk tweeted after the rocket’s first stage touched down on a ship about 200 miles off the Florida coast. “May need to increase size of rocket storage hangar.”

The landing was SpaceX’s second at sea in less than a month, and followed a first booster landing in December on a pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Last month’s feat, after several failed attempts, showed that it was possible to land on an unpiloted “drone ship” bobbing in the ocean.

But expectations Friday were low. SpaceX repeatedly said success was unlikely, while Musk offered even odds.

The reason: The Falcon 9’s first stage would drop back to Earth “a lot faster and hotter than last time,” Musk said, because the mission was flying to a much higher orbit.

VIDEO: SpaceX lands on Atlantic Ocean barge — again

About 10 minutes after liftoff, cameras on SpaceX’s “Of Course I Still Love You” ship showed a brilliant flash as the booster descended into the picture with several engines blazing.

Employees gathered to watch the launch at SpaceX headquarters near Los Angeles groaned, thinking the flash signaled the crash that many expected.

But when the flash faded and smoke cleared moments later, the 14-story rocket stage surprisingly appeared upright on its four landing legs, engines flickering in the darkness over an “X” marking the center of the ship’s deck.

The groans were replaced by a roar, then chants of “USA! USA!”

The accomplishment has even bigger implications than last month’s first sea landing for SpaceX’s goals to recover and reuse rockets, which Musk believes is the key to cutting launch costs and even enabling people to settle Mars someday.

About half of SpaceX’s launches fly trajectories for which only ocean landings are possible. If SpaceX was unable to land missions flown to high orbits like Friday’s — more than 20,000 miles up — then reusability’s promise would be limited.

Now Musk’s vision appears more achievable than ever — assuming the rockets return healthy enough to be launched again without major refurbishment, which has yet to be proven.

After the landing, crews boarded the ship and welded steel shoes over the booster’s landing legs to keep it from tipping over during the journey back to Port Canaveral.

The rocket stage should arrive in port within three or four days, if last month’s recovery operation serves as a guide. Then it may take days to offload the stage with a crane for trucking to SpaceX’s hangar at KSC, where it would join the two previously recovered boosters.

The first of those is expected to leave Florida this summer to go on display outside SpaceX headquarters, but Musk wants to re-fly the second as soon as possible.

Friday’s landing excitement again overshadowed the mission’s main purpose: launching the JCSAT-14 satellite for Tokyo-based SKY Perfect JSAT, Asia’s largest satellite operator with 16 now in orbit.

The Falcon 9’s upper stage deployed the more than $100 million satellite 32 minutes after liftoff, placing it on course for an orbit 22,300 miles over the equator.

The spacecraft built by Space Systems Loral will deliver high-definition TV and broadband Internet services for at least 15 years to parts of Asia, Russia and Oceania.

The successful launch was SpaceX’s fourth this year and fifth since December, when it returned the Falcon 9 rocket to flight after a failure last June.

A Falcon 9 could launch another commercial satellite from Cape Canaveral later this month, setting up another ocean landing try. An International Space Station supply run tentatively planned in June may present the next opportunity to return a booster to land.

Contact Dean at 321-242-3668 or And follow on Twitter at @flatoday_jdean and on Facebook at

[More: Space news by FLORIDA TODAY]

SpaceX flies Falcon 9 from Cape, lands on Atlantic ship – Florida Today

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