SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket booster survived a 'spicy' landing at sea after launching the first private moon mission

SpaceX/YouTubeThe Falcon 9 rocket seconds after landing on the drone ship.
  • SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket booster endured “a rather spicy landing” on Thursday night as it returned from a successful launch, a SpaceX engineer said on a livestream.
  • During the tense livestreamed landing, another SpaceX engineer said the rocket landed on a drone ship, a robotic landing platform in the Atlantic Ocean, “despite the challenging conditions.”
  • The SpaceX control room erupted in cheers as the rocket landed on the drone ship.
  • SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Highest reentry heating to date. Burning metal sparks from base heat shield visible in landing video.”
  • The rocket was returning from a mission to launch a trio of lunar craft, including a $US100 million lander from the Israeli nonprofit SpaceIL, the first private mission to the moon.

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket booster made “a rather spicy landing” on a drone ship on Thursday night after launching a trio of lunar craft into space, a SpaceX engineer said.

Falcon 9’s rocket booster – the largest and most expensive part of the rocket – fell back through the Earth’s atmosphere after releasing its triple payload: Indonesia’s Nusantara Satu satellite, a US Air Force Research Laboratory satellite, and a $US100 million lunar lander from SpaceIL, an Israeli nonprofit.

A livestream of the mission showed the moment the rocket landed safely back on a SpaceX drone ship, a robotic landing platform in the Atlantic Ocean called “Of Course I Still Love You.”

The Falcon 9’s booster, also called a first stage, landed eight minutes and 48 seconds after taking off from Space Launch Complex 40 in Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 8:45 p.m. ET.

‘A rather spicy landing attempt’

Spacex falcom9SpaceX/YouTubeFalcon 9 emerges from the smoke and fog on Thursday night.

On the livestream, a SpaceX manufacturing engineer, Jessica Anderson, said: “We do have a successful first-stage landing despite the challenging conditions there.”

In the video, the booster could be seen emerging from fog and smoke in one piece.

Read more:
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Kate Tice, a SpaceX program reliability engineer, later said the booster made “a successful landing, a rather spicy landing attempt, on our drone ship ‘Of Course I Still Love You.'”

Waves in the Atlantic Ocean crested at about 10 feet high during the landing attempt, according to SpaceXFleet Updates, which independently and closely follows the company’s booster landing attempts. That’s not ideal for capturing a building-size piece of aerospace hardware, contributing to the difficulty of the feat.

Spacex drone shipElon MuskSpaceX’s drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Air Force had said there was about a 20% chance that the launch would be delayed because of bad weather. But the 23-story Falcon 9 rocket lifted off on time on Thursday.

After the booster’s landing, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted: “Highest reentry heating to date. Burning metal sparks from base heat shield visible in landing video.”

You can watch the mission and landing, narrated by SpaceX staff, here, though this clip shows the booster’s heat shield burning off.

SpaceIL’s “Beresheet” mission, the first private moon-landing attempt, was started by a Google Lunar X Prize team backed by the Israeli-South African billionaire Morris Kahn. It’s expected to reach the moon on April 4 and land on April 11.

If the mission survives its trip to the lunar surface, it will make Israel the fourth country to land on the moon.

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