Yesterday, SpaceX successfully launched and landed a Falcon 9 rocket on the drone ship named Just Read The Instructions. This is the 7th rocket that SpaceX has been able to recover after launch.
The launch was initially scheduled for January 8, but storms around the launch site at Vandenberg Air Force base forced them to push the date to January 14.
After a number of successes in the first half of the year, the Falcon 9 rockets gave SpaceX some issues at the end of 2016. In June, a Falcon 9 rocket crashed into a drone ship and was destroyed. In September, another Falcon 9 exploded on the launchpad, destroying a $200 million satellite.
However, this one survived just fine. It was carrying 10 small communications satellites for Iridium Satellite Communications, one of SpaceX’s customers. Iridium needs to undertake what is called a “slot swap,” by which its existing satellites will be replaced one-for-one with the new Iridium NEXT satellites that SpaceX delivers. Iridium claims that “[a slot swap] of this scale has never been attempted before” and that, if successful, this will represent “one of the largest ‘tech refreshes’ in history.”
Of course, SpaceX has to deliver on their contract first. The company is on the hook for seven total launches over the next 15 months, each with a ten-satellite payload. This launch was the first of those seven, and once Iridium confirms that the ten delivered satellites are up-and-running, it can be considered a total success.
For the rest of us, though, it’s enough just to get excited at another step toward low-cost space travel.
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