SpaceX has successfully landed another Falcon 9 rocket after launching the vehicle into space this evening from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Shortly after takeoff, the vehicle touched down at SpaceX’s Landing Complex 1 — a ground-based landing site that the company leases at the Cape. It marks the second time SpaceX has pulled off this type of ground landing, and the fifth time SpaceX has recovered one of its rockets post-launch. The feat was accomplished a few minutes before the rocket's second stage successfully put the company's Dragon spacecraft into orbit, where it will rendezvous with the International Space Station later this week.
It's the fifth time SpaceX has recovered one of its rockets post-launch
It’s also the first time this year SpaceX has attempted to land one of its rockets on land. For the past six launches, each rocket has tried landing on an autonomous drone ship floating in the ocean. That’s because drone ship landings require a lot less fuel to execute than ground landings (something we explain here). If a rocket has to accelerate super fast during launch — such as those going to high orbits or ones carrying heavy payloads — it uses up a lot of fuel during the initial takeoff. That leaves less fuel for the rocket to land back on Earth, which means a drone ship landing is sometimes the only option. But for this launch, the mission requirements allowed for a successful landing on ground.
Dragon on its way to @Space_Station, Falcon on its way home pic.twitter.com/EpfUKBmoWi— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 18, 2016
This landing brings SpaceX’s total number of recovered rockets to five. SpaceX has been storing its landed rockets in a hangar at Launch Complex 39A, a spaceport the company leases from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. But the hangar can only store up to five Falcon 9 rockets at a time. SpaceX moved two of the rockets out of the hangar in June, but once this landed rocket moves in, the hangar will have three landed rockets.
That hangar will need to be cleared out soon to make way for SpaceX’s next big rocket, the Falcon Heavy, which will be pieced together at the 39A hangar. For now, SpaceX has the option of transporting some of its landed rockets to the company’s test facility in McGregor, Texas. But Hans Koenigsmann, vice president for flight reliability at SpaceX, noted that the company is looking for other storage options at Cape Canaveral. "I don’t know exactly what our options are; I know the team is working on that," said Koenigsmann. "I believe we are looking at different hangars in the vicinity."
As for when one of these reusable rockets will actually be reused — that’s supposed to happen sometime this fall. CEO Elon Musk said the first landed Falcon 9 to fly again will happen sometime in September or October. For that first launch, SpaceX plans to use the rocket it landed in April — the first vehicle to land successfully on one of the company’s drone ships.
Correction July 19th 2:09AM ET: A previous version of this article stated that the hangar at 39A had four landed rockets. The hangar only houses two at the moment, and the article has been updated.