SpaceX just made history by launching the world’s first reflight of an orbital rocket and landing its first stage on a barge again. The booster wasn’t the only part of the rocket the company recovered from the SES-10 mission. SpaceX also managed to land Falcon 9’s $6 million nose cone for the first time ever.
A rocket’s nose cone, found at its very tip, protects its payload and makes sure it offers minimum aerodynamic resistance. Elon Musk announced its recovery during the post-launch press conference, calling it “the cherry on the cake.”
The SpaceX chief has revealed that the company used thrusters and steerable parachutes to guide two halves of the 16-foot-diameter cone back home. Elon Musk and his team are hoping reusable rockets can make spaceflight a lot more affordable, so the more parts that can be reused, the better. Now that they’ve proven Falcon 9’s first stage is reusable, they’ve set their sights on another goal: to relaunch a rocket within 24 hours of its last flight.
Incredibly proud of the SpaceX team for achieving this milestone in space! Next goal is reflight within 24 hours.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 30, 2017
About SpaceX Falcon 9
Falcon 9 is a family of two-stage-to-orbit launch vehicles, named for its use of nine first-stage engines, designed and manufactured by SpaceX. The Falcon 9 versions are the Falcon 9 v1.0 (retired), Falcon 9 v1.1 (retired), and the current Falcon 9 Full Thrust, a partially-reusable launch system. Both stages are powered by rocket engines that burn liquid oxygen (LOX) and rocket-grade kerosene (RP-1) propellants. The first stage is designed to be reusable, while the second stage is not. The Falcon 9 versions are in the medium-lift to heavy-lift range of launch systems. The current Falcon 9 (“Full Thrust”) can lift payloads of up to 22,800 kilograms (50,300 lb) to low Earth orbit, and up to 8,300 kilograms (18,300 lb) to geostationary transfer orbit.
The Falcon 9 and Dragon capsule combination won a Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract from NASA in 2008 to deliver cargo to the International Space Station (ISS) under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program. The first commercial resupply mission to the ISS launched in October 2012. The initial version 1.0 design made five flights before it was retired in 2013. The version 1.1 design made a total of 15 flights beginning in 2013 before it was retired in January 2016.
SpaceX has been flying an improved version with 30 percent higher performance —Falcon 9 Full Thrust—since December 2015 on the 20th Falcon 9 launch. This followed the 2013 upgrade which was 60 percent heavier —Falcon 9 v1.1—that flew from September 2013 on the 6th Falcon 9 launch, through January 2016 on the 21st Falcon 9 launch. Falcon 9 Full Thrust will be the base for the Falcon Heavy launch vehicle. SpaceX intends to complete testing in order to achieve certification for the Falcon 9 to be human-rated for transporting NASA astronauts to the ISS as part of a Commercial Crew Transportation Capability contract, also using the Full Thrust version.
Elon Musk announced that there will be a final upgrade to the Falcon 9, Falcon 9 Block 5 (previously known unofficially as Falcon 9 1.3). This upgrade will mainly increase the thrust on the engines to the maximum they can produce and will make some improvements to the landing legs. There will also be some minor improvements to help recovery and reuse, among other smaller things.