On Wednesday, SpaceX crash landed its sixth rocket of the year after launching not one, but two, satellites into an extremely high orbit.
Musk released video of it on Twitter, saying that a depletion of propellant caused the engine to shut down, which resulted in the rocket’s rough landing.
Although the landing was not as fast as SpaceX thought, it did a fair amount of damage to the rocket — enough to “accordion” its engines.
Turns out the landing was not as fast we thought, but still hard enough to destroy the primary airframe and accordion the engines
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 17, 2016
SpaceX launched the rocket on schedule at 10:29 am ET. Things looked good at first as the rocket made its way to drop off the two satellites into orbit.
The first stage successfully separated from the second stage and it headed back towards the drone ship, a couple hundred miles off the coast.
SpaceX attempted to land the first stage on the drone ship. The landing was masked in a thick cloud of smoke at first, making it unclear if it had successfully landed, but it was later announced that the first stage was lost in this attempt.
SpaceX was, however, still able to gather a lot of valuable information from the attempt.
Musk tweeted that 2016 was going to be a “year of experimentation” for SpaceX, and the company expects to land about 70% of its rockets.
As mentioned at the beginning of the year, I’m expecting ~70% success rate on landings for the year. 2016 is the year of experimentation.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 17, 2016
The second stage continued to carry and successfully deploy the two satellites out to geostationary transfer orbit more than 22,000 miles above the equator. As the earth rotates, these satellites will stay above same regions of the planets. Eutelsat 117 West B will provide coverage to Latin America while ABS will provide services to portions of Asia and Africa.
The rocket launched out of SpaceX’s launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida, travelling twice as fast as a speeding bullet. It is carrying Paris-based Eutelsat’s 117 WestB and Bermuda-based Asian Broadcast Satellite’s (ABS) 2A satellites into orbit.
The Eutelsat satellite will provide Latin America with video, data, government, and mobile services and the ABS satellite will enable “direct-to-home” mobile, TV, and maritime signal across almost all of the Eastern world, Inverse reports.
These satellites will communicate with electromagnetic waves, such as light and radio waves. Eutelsat will communicate in the Ku band portion, which is at the 12-18 gigahertz portion of the microwave spectrum. For comparison, your home microwave operates at 2.45 gigahertz.
This launch follows a rapid and, so far, wildly successful string of launches and landings for the private spaceflight company.
SpaceX landed its first rocket on land in December. In April, for the first time ever, SpaceX managed to land at sea. The company has only been getting better at sea landings, nailing one on May 6 and another on May 27.
If SpaceX had successfully landed this rocket, it would have been the fifth rocket the company landed and retrieved. According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, one of these retrieved rockets could launch again as early as September. Reflying these rockets could cut the cost of spaceflight by as much as 30%, SpaceX says.
Although SpaceX says that these rockets are not technically reusable, its goal is to eventually refly them. During the launch, the ultimate finish line is to land the first stage.
When it lands a rocket, the drone ship then carries it to port where it is loaded on a truck and taken back to the launch site to be reflown.
At the launch site the rocket is refueled and, the hard part, retested to see if it will be able to go back up to space. The engineers need to make sure the rocket wasn’t jostled in flight or deformed from the extreme heat conditions when reentering the atmosphere.
After Wednesday, the company might not launch again until mid-July when a Falcon 9 will carry the 11th Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.
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