News‎ > ‎

Private aerospace company makes big launch in Florida

posted Apr 22, 2016, 4:57 AM by Jeffrey Wolf

By: Korey Alder, Photography Editor

Posted April 22nd, 2016

April 8th, 2016 marked an important milestone in the history of spaceflight, as the private aerospace company SpaceX landed one of their Falcon 9 liquid fuel boosters on an automated drone barge in the Atlantic. The flight, CRS-8, was contracted by NASA to supply the International Space Station with almost seven thousand pounds of supplies, and was a complete success.

At 3:43 PM (CT), the Falcon 9 took off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying a SpaceX Dragon Capsule with ISS experiments and hardware onboard. The rocket had a flawless launch, with the primary stage separating a bit under three minutes after liftoff, and the second stage separating around eight minutes later. The Dragon Capsule proceeded to the ISS, delivering among other things16 CubeSats and a BEAM module. CubeSats are miniature satellites capable of performing simple research functions, but are cheaper and easier to get into orbit than larger scale satellites. The BEAM (Bigelow Expandable Activity Module) is a lightweight inflatable module constructed by Bigelow Aerospace, and it will be attached to the ISS for the next two years to undergo testing. Bigelow hopes to construct a fully functional space station from expandable modules such as this, and the ISS is the perfect place to experiment. The use of the Dragon to carry the BEAM also seems fitting, as Bigelow will be dependent on commercial spacecraft to supply any station they may construct.

The real achievement of CRS-8 was the experimental landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on SpaceX’s drone barge. Recovering rocket stages is nothing particularly new, as NASA and others often parachute main stages into the ocean for reuse. The problem with this is that recovering the engine requires huge amounts of effort and cost, only to have to go to great lengths to make the stage functional again. By vertically landing the rocket under its own power, the cost of recovery is significantly reduced, and the rocket can be quickly set up for another launch. SpaceX managed, to the great surprise of the aerospace industry, to successfully set down a first stage on their landing pad using nothing but the craft’s main engines in 2015. After several failed attempts to do the same thing at sea, the company finally succeeded in landing a first stage engine on a barge during the CRS-8 flight. This happened after the recent third successful landing of a rocket by SpaceX competitor Blue Origin, though the Blue Origin landings were on a smaller and simpler scale.

Click the following link to watch the impressive video of the SpaceX stage landing on their YouTube channel: