The Falcon Has Returned

Yesterday, Elon Musk wrote the following on the SpaceX website regarding their upcoming the ORBCOMM-2 mission and their first attempt to return a Falcon-9 booster from space and land it vertically near the launch pad.

The Falcon 9 rocket we are about to launch has higher performance than the prior version due mostly to increased boost thrust, deep cryo oxidizer and a much larger upper stage engine bell. It also has a number of reliability enhancements, such as a redundant stage separation system and greater structural safety margins.
This should, if all goes well, give us enough performance to deliver eleven satellites to orbit and bring the booster all the way back to Cape Canaveral to Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1).
T-zero in 15 minutes, so have to sign off. Apologies for any typos in the above. — Elon

SpaceX has done it. They returned the booster stage and landed at Cape Canaveral. They launched 11 satellites as well. I’ve set the video to begin at 30m23s, just as the booster stage begins its return burn and descent.

Update: Just released helicopter footage:

We are entering a new era of space access.

9 thoughts on “The Falcon Has Returned”

  1. Applied Physics is so much fun.

    Applied Physiology is surgery and Applied Pharmacology is internal medicine.

    Physics is still the best and the senior science.

  2. I am old enough to remember the launch of Sputnik and to me this is as momentous as Apollo landing on the moon, or the Space Shuttle. We are on the horizon of cheap space delivery.

    And to think it had very little national publicity.

  3. I was in college when the Soviets launched Sputnik and I remember well the argument that it couldn’t possibly be as heavy as they said it was. We were about to (fail to) launch a tiny satellite named “Vanguard” and could not believe the Soviets had such a big first stage rocket. It led to a lot of recalculations of the ICBM problem. I was an aeronautical engineer major.

  4. I am old enough to remember the launch of Sputnik and to me this is as momentous as Apollo landing on the moon, or the Space Shuttle. We are on the horizon of cheap space delivery.

    Agreed. 99% of the population has no idea how important and momentous as step forward this is. This is to cheap and easy space access what the first orbital shots were to access to space. Musk took on a much bigger and harder problem than Blue Horizon and solved it. This is a big deal.

    Notice also who did this. It was not the Lockheed-Boeing owned United Launch Alliance (ULA). It was not NASA. Both of which have enormous resources and staff and capability that could have been brought to bear on this. Both organizations are far too risk averse to make a technological leap.

    Very interesting to me also that two separate teams arrived at the goal within weeks of each other. You see that a lot. A technology or capability or understanding suddenly matures, there’s no more missing pieces, and different people in different places suddenly make a lot of progress against the same longstanding problem.

  5. This is your America 3.0.

    There’s even something in it for the Plutocrats – they can get 3.0 Americans into space. It’s still going to be far too much for the average small craftsman 3D printer and CAD or no.

    But together they’ll conquer the solar system.

  6. Interesting quotes from the Air & Space article:

    “After nearly a decade of struggling to reach this point, Musk isn’t about to reveal the finer details of how he and his privately held company have created the Falcon and Dragon. They don’t even file patents, Musk says, because “we try not to provide a recipe by which China can copy us and we find our inventions coming right back at us.”

    The Merlin engine itself has undergone a number of improvements, including reducing the number of parts and increasing its power and efficiency. According to Mueller, the 140,000-pound-thrust Merlin 1D, designated the production model for Falcon 9, has the highest thrust-to-weight ratio of any rocket engine ever made.

    Significantly, the Merlin engines—like roughly 80 percent of the components for Falcon and Dragon, including even the flight computers—are made in-house. That’s something SpaceX didn’t originally set out to do, but was driven to by suppliers’ high prices. Mueller recalls asking a vendor for an estimate on a particular engine valve. “They came back [requesting] like a year and a half in development and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just way out of whack. And we’re like, ‘No, we need it by this summer, for much, much less money.’ They go, ‘Good luck with that,’ and kind of smirked and left.” Mueller’s people made the valve themselves, and by summer they had qualified it for use with cryogenic propellants.

    “That vendor, they iced us for a couple of months,” Mueller says, “and then they called us back: ‘Hey, we’re willing to do that valve. You guys want to talk about it?’ And we’re like, ‘No, we’re done.’ He goes, ‘What do you mean you’re done?’ ‘We qualified it. We’re done.’ And there was just silence at the end of the line. They were in shock.” That scenario has been repeated to the point where, Mueller says, “we passionately avoid space vendors.”

  7. ^^^^^^^^^^^^^

    Pretty cool isn’t it Michael? Not your typical NASA subcontractor :-)

    One other thing I remember from that article – the reason for the super-high costs on some components from traditional vendors – made during a time they were given cost-plus contracts.

    In their defense they were the trailblazers and the guvmint was more interested in stuff on time and on schedule than saving money

    But they were developed with a different mindset, that’s for sure.

    And I think that is pretty smart about their not patenting their stuff…

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