Commercial spaceflight company SpaceX has made its third successful recovery of a booster rocket and shown the world how it’s done, with a spectacular point-of-view video.
In the ‘space race’ of the 1960s and 70s the first stages of multi-stage rockets fell back to earth and were burned up in the atmosphere, making spaceflight severely expensive, even by national budget standards. The privately developed Falcon 9 returns its first stage to earth in a controlled descent, which is controlled by jets and fins, and arrested by retro rockets. The first stage can then be reused.
SpaceX, a private company founded by internet e-commerce billionaire Elon Musk is developing a lower cost, reusable launch vehicle that has already delivered supplies to the International Space Station, and is planned to be the basis of manned launches to the space station.
Time-lapse footage released by SpaceX shows the Falcon 9 descending from a geostationary orbit, more than 35,000 km above Earth’s equator.
The rocket uses nitrogen jets rotate and point its main engines into the direction of motion, then uses a re-entry burn to slow from orbital speed, and atmospheric drag to slow itself further.
Technologies that have had to be developed to allow for a re-usable rocket include, re-ignitable, throttleable liquid fuel rocket engines, attitude control technology, hypersonic grid fins for steering and landing gear.
SpaceX has made three successful flights of recoverable Falcon 9 rockets in two months, on 8 April, 6 May and 27 May. The next launch is planned for 16 June. SpaceX has made 25 launches over five years, with 23 of them being successful.