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SpaceX’s second Falcon 9 landing in a row is even more impressive than the first

SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket made a successful landing on a drone ship less than a month ago, the first time that’s been completed successfully. We didn’t have to wait long for the second. Without the hype from the last landing attempt, SpaceX just landed its second Falcon 9 in a row on its unmanned sea platform. This is becoming routine, and paradoxically, that’s really exciting.

The Falcon 9 was launched overnight on Friday to carry a Japanese commercial satellite into a geosynchronous orbit. The satellite had successfully deployed into orbit by the second stage, but that’s not the most interesting thing about the mission. SpaceX downplayed the chances of this landing being a success as it was a much more difficult procedure than the one it completed last time.

The April landing was a fantastic technical achievement, but it was just a NASA resupply mission to the International Space Station. That means the rocket only had to launch the payload to low-Earth orbit. The rocket that just landed was launching a satellite to geosynchronous orbit at an altitude of 20,000 miles — the ISS orbits at about 250 miles. Thus, the latest rocket was traveling twice as fast as the ISS resupply mission, which complicated the landing. That’s a lot more speed that has to be bled away before the rocket can successfully set down on the ship. Musk noted on Twitter that it took three engines firing to decelerate the rocket for landing, whereas the last only needed one.

You can catch the landing at about the 29-minute mark in the video above. The landing happened at night, so we won’t get the same awesome video of this landing as we got of the last one. There’s a flash, and the rocket is on the deck. It’s even a little more centered than the last one. Musk joked on Twitter that SpaceX might need to get a bigger rocket storage hangar.

Of course, the goal is to reuse those rockets to save money. Refueling and refurbishing the first stage is considerably cheaper than building a new one for every launch. A single Falcon 9 costs about $60 million, but the fuel for a launch is only $200,000. SpaceX thinks when you account for refurbishment costs, it can cut launch costs by about 30% .

trajectory

This launch was the fourth of more than a dozen planned flights this year. Several more flights are planned in the next month or so, and people are going to be watching closer than ever to see if SpaceX can keep this streak going.

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