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SpaceX successfully lands its third Falcon 9 rocket on solid ground

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That’s eight landings now out of 14 attempts

SpaceX

SpaceX pulled off another successful rocket landing this morning — and this time during the day on the coast of Florida. A Falcon 9 rocket successfully touched down at SpaceX’s ground-based landing zone at Cape Canaveral after launching to space. It’s the third time that SpaceX has landed its rocket on solid ground post-launch, but the first time a ground landing has been done during the daytime. The success means that the company now has eight landed Falcon 9s in its possession.

The Falcon 9 took off from the Cape at 9:39AM ET, lofting the company’s Dragon cargo capsule into space for NASA. The Dragon is filled with nearly 5,500 pounds of supplies and science experiments for the astronauts on the International Space Station. The Dragon reached its intended orbit, and it will slowly make its way toward the ISS over the next two days before it’s captured by the space station’s robotic arm on Wednesday. The astronauts on board the station will then use the arm to attach the capsule to the Harmony module.

Today’s launch was a big milestone for SpaceX, as it was the company’s first launch from Launch Complex 39A. It’s a historic launch site at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center that hosted numerous Apollo Moon missions, as well as the first and the last flight of the Space Shuttle program. The pad at 39A hasn’t see much action since the final Shuttle mission in 2011. But in 2014, SpaceX signed a lease agreement with NASA to refurbish the 39A pad so that the company’s Falcon 9 and future Falcon Heavy rockets could launch from the site.

The biggest modifications made the pad revolved around the ground propellant systems, according to CEO Elon Musk. Prior to SpaceX’s lease, the pad was made to support Space Shuttle launches, which used liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen for propellant. SpaceX’s Falcon 9 also uses liquid oxygen, but its kept much colder than what the Shuttle used, and it uses a refined form of kerosene known as RP-1.

SpaceX’s first liftoff from pad 39A.
SpaceX

SpaceX wasn’t expecting to launch from 39A for this resupply mission, though. The original plan was to launch last year from the company’s other pad at Launch Complex 40, which is overseen by Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. However, SpaceX was forced to switch to the newly refurbished 39A pad after a rocket explosion in September badly damaged the pad at LC40.

The launch was ultimately rescheduled for Saturday, February 18th for 10:01AM ET. During the countdown, SpaceX said it was working two issues with the rocket, including a problem that affected steering in the upper portion of the vehicle. That issue caused SpaceX to abort the launch just 13 seconds before lift off and reschedule it for today.

Now that SpaceX has finally launched from 39A, it’s possible the company could dramatically up its frequency of Falcon 9 missions this year. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said earlier this month that the company is aiming to launch every two to three weeks in 2017. And SpaceX’s stockpile of landed rockets may finally see flight again. Originally, the first reusable rocket was supposed to fly again last fall, but that plan was changed after the September 1st explosion. Now, the first landed rocket could launch again in March, according to Shotwell.


WATCHING SPACEX LAND A FALCON 9 ROCKET LAST SUMMER