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After several unsuccessful attempts, SpaceX finally made a perfect touchdown with its Falcon 9 rocket on the drone ship, aptly named: ‘Of Course I Still Love You.’

The two-stage Falcon 9 rocket blasted off at 4:43 p.m. EDT (2043 GMT) on 8 April from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX streamed live video of the historic rocket landing during the launch, a feat that capped a smooth cargo launch for NASA:

SpaceX (@SpaceX) April 8, 2016 The drone ships are capable of maneuvering autonomously, using GPS information for precision positioning, but they can also be remotely controlled by an accompanying support ship with a crew of technicians standing by.

But with an ocean landing the drone can place itself down range, in the ideal place to catch the rocket booster on a more natural path when it comes down, decreasing how much fuel it needs to maneuver for a safe landing.

SpaceX CRS-8

It was the 23rd flight of a Falcon 9 rocket, the tenth flight of a Dragon cargo spacecraft and the eighth operational mission contracted to SpaceX by NASA under the Commercial Resupply Services program.[6]

The capsule carried over 3,100 kilograms (6,800 lb) of cargo to the ISS including the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM), a prototype inflatable space habitat delivered in the vehicle's trunk, which will be attached to the station for two years of in-orbit viability tests.[7]

After boosting the payload on its orbital trajectory, the rocket's first stage re-entered the denser layers of the atmosphere and landed vertically on the ocean landing platform Of Course I Still Love You nine minutes after liftoff, achieving a long-sought-after milestone in SpaceX reusable launch system development program.[8]

The rocket first stage separated around 2 minutes 40 seconds after liftoff, and the second stage separated around ten minutes 30 seconds after liftoff.

Nine minutes after liftoff, at 20:52:10 UTC, the booster landed vertically on the autonomous spaceport drone ship Of Course I Still Love You, 300 kilometers (190 mi) from the Florida coastline, achieving a long-sought-after milestone for the SpaceX reusable launch system development program.[8]

As part of a multi-month multi-vehicle test process to reuse Falcon 9 boosters, another first stage — from flight 24 which carried JCSAT-14 — was designated a 'reference vehicle' for further testing, because it encountered 'extreme temperatures during its reentry into Earth atmosphere' in May 2016 from a more energetic GTO trajectory.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk explains why Falcon Heavy’s center core missed the drone ship

Some 12 hours after Falcon Heavy successfully completed what Elon Musk described as the SpaceX’s “most difficult launch ever”, the CEO took to Twitter to offer some insight into the mission’s only sad note – an unsuccessful center core recovery attempt.The second Falcon Heavy Block 5 center core built by SpaceX, B1057 suffered an untimely demise shortly after its first (and last) launch, failing to successfully land aboard drone ship Of Course I Still Love You (OCISLY).

The booster’s landing target was drone ship OCISLY, stationed a record-smashing 1240 km (770 mi) off the coast of Florida – almost 30% further than any previous recovery attempt.Sadly, SpaceX either chose not to broadcast the center core’s onboard camera during reentry or the booster could not maintain a downlink connection during the ordeal.

However, based on basic info that was included in the webcast, B1057 completed its boost burn and separated from the upper stage and Space Test Program-2 (STP-2) payload some 3 minutes and 40 seconds after lifting off from Pad 39A.

Described by Musk himself, back-of-the-envelope analysis of available telemetry apparently indicated that that spectacularly fast and hot reentry either burned through B1057’s heavy titanium heat shield or broke through the smaller heat shield surrounding its M1D engine bells.

Falcon Heavy

It is derived from the Falcon 9 vehicle and consists of a strengthened Falcon 9 first stage as the center core with two additional first stages as strap-on boosters.[8]

The Falcon Heavy has the highest payload capacity of any currently operational launch vehicle, the second-highest capacity of any rocket ever to reach orbit, trailing the Saturn V, and the third-highest capacity of any orbital-class rocket ever launched (behind the Saturn V and Energia).

The Falcon Heavy was designed to carry humans into space beyond low Earth orbit, although as of February 2018[update], Musk does not plan to apply for a human-rating certification to carry NASA astronauts.[11]

number of factors delayed the planned maiden flight by 5 years to 2018, including two anomalies with Falcon 9 launch vehicles, which required all engineering resources to be dedicated to failure analysis, halting flight operations for many months.

The initial test flight for a Falcon Heavy lifted off on February 6, 2018, at 3:45 pm EST, carrying its dummy payload, Musk's personal Tesla Roadster, beyond Mars orbit.[4]

Various solutions using the planned Falcon 5 (which was never flown) had been explored, but the only cost-effective, reliable iteration was one that used a 9-engine first stage — the Falcon 9.

By April 2011, the capabilities and performance of the Falcon 9 vehicle were better understood, SpaceX having completed two successful demonstration missions to LEO, one of which included reignition of the second-stage engine.

In the same year, with the expected increase in demand for both variants, SpaceX announced plans to expand manufacturing capacity 'as we build towards the capability of producing a Falcon 9 first stage or Falcon Heavy side booster every week and an upper stage every two weeks'.[20]

By May 2013, a new, partly underground test stand was being built at the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas, specifically to test the triple cores and twenty-seven rocket engines of the Falcon Heavy.[23]

In July 2017, Musk discussed publicly the challenges of testing a complex launch vehicle like the three-core Falcon Heavy, indicating that a large extent of the new design 'is really impossible to test on the ground' and could not be effectively tested independent of actual flight tests.[16]

Operational GTO missions for Intelsat and Inmarsat, which were planned for late 2017, were moved to the Falcon 9 Full Thrust rocket version as it had become powerful enough to lift those heavy payloads in its expendable configuration.[39][40]

On December 28, 2017, the Falcon Heavy was moved to the launch pad in preparation of a static fire test of all 27 engines, which was expected on January 19, 2018.[44]

However, only one of the three engines on the center booster that were intended to restart ignited during its descent, causing it to hit the water next to the droneship at a speed of over 480 km/h (300 mph).[50][51]

The Heavy configuration consists of a structurally strengthened Falcon 9 as the 'core' component, with two additional Falcon 9 first stages acting as liquid fuel strap-on boosters,[8]

Falcon Heavy has more lift capability than any other operational rocket, with a payload of 64,000 kilograms (141,000 lb) to low earth orbit and 16,800 kg (37,000 lb) to trans-Mars injection.[53]

The upper stage is powered by a single Merlin 1D engine modified for vacuum operation, with a thrust of 934 kN (210,000 lbf), an expansion ratio of 117:1 and a nominal burn time of 397 seconds.

To control the descent of the boosters and center core through the atmosphere, SpaceX uses small grid fins which deploy from the vehicle after separation.[57]

Immediately after the side boosters separate, the center engine in each burns for a few seconds in order to control the booster's trajectory safely away from the rocket.[56][58]

The Falcon Heavy includes first-stage recovery systems, to allow SpaceX to return the first stage boosters to the launch site as well as recover the first stage core following landing at a Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship barge after completion of primary mission requirements.

Excess propellant reserved for Falcon Heavy first-stage recovery operations will be diverted for use on the primary mission objective, if required, ensuring sufficient performance margins for successful missions.

The nominal payload capacity to a geostationary transfer orbit (GTO) is 8,000 kg with recovery of all three first-stage cores (the price per launch is $90 million), vs.

The partially reusable Falcon Heavy falls into the heavy-lift range of launch systems, capable of lifting 20 to 50 metric tons into low Earth orbit (LEO), under the classification system used by a NASA human spaceflight review panel.[61]

With just the core booster expended, and two side-boosters recovered, Musk estimates the payload penalty to be around 10%, which would still yield over 57 metric tons of lift capability to LEO.[68]

SpaceX has indicated that the Falcon Heavy payload performance to geosynchronous transfer orbit (GTO) will be reduced due to the addition of the reusable technology, but the rocket would fly at a much lower price.

Falcon Heavy was originally designed with a unique 'propellant crossfeed' capability, whereby the center core engines would be supplied with fuel and oxidizer from the two side cores until their separation.[74]

Operating all engines at full thrust from launch, with fuel supplied mainly from the side boosters, would deplete the side boosters sooner, allowing their earlier separation.

Instead, the center booster throttles down shortly after liftoff to conserve fuel, and resumes full thrust after the side boosters have separated.[3]

Scientists at Purdue University thought it was the 'dirtiest' man-made object ever sent into space, in terms of bacteria amount, noting the car was previously driven on Los Angeles freeways.

This $1,100 per kilogram ($500/lb) goal stated by Musk in 2011 is 35% of the cost of the lowest-cost-per-pound LEO-capable launch system in a circa-2000 study: the Zenit, a medium-lift launch vehicle that can carry 14,000 kilograms (30,000 lb) into LEO.[84]

The published prices for Falcon Heavy launches have changed somewhat from year to year, with announced prices for the various versions of Falcon Heavy priced at $80–125 million in 2011,[62]

In 2011, SpaceX stated that the cost of reaching low Earth orbit could be as low as $2,200/kg ($1,000/lb) if an annual rate of four launches can be sustained, and as of 2011 planned to eventually launch as many as 10 Falcon Heavies and 10 Falcon 9s annually.[65]

In late 2013, SpaceX had projected Falcon Heavy's inaugural flight to be in 2014, but it did not occur until February 2018 due to limited manufacturing capacity and the need to deliver on the Falcon 9 launch manifest.[90][91]

The process includes three successful flights of the Falcon Heavy including two consecutive successful flights, and the letter stated that Falcon Heavy can be ready to fly national security payloads by 2017.[144]

But in July 2017, SpaceX announced that the first test flight would take place in December 2017, pushing the launch of the second launch (Space Test Program 2) to June 2018.[38]

In May 2018, on the occasion of the first launch of the Falcon 9 Block 5 variant, a further delay to October 2018 was announced, and the launch was eventually pushed back to June 25, 2019.[37]

The proposed science objectives were to detect biosignatures and to drill 1 meter (3.3 ft) or so underground, in an effort to sample reservoirs of water ice known to exist under the surface.

SpaceX 2015 estimation was 2,000–4,000 kg (4,400–8,800 lb) to the surface of Mars, with a soft retropropulsive landing following a limited atmospheric deceleration using a parachute and heat shield.[151]

SpaceX Falcon Heavy's pulls off most difficult launch ever but loses core booster

SpaceX's most difficult launch yet proved to be as complicated as CEO Elon Musk predicted.  After a picture-perfect nighttime launch went off without a hitch, the Falcon Heavy was on its way.

A number of complex maneuvers were scheduled to take place, including four separate upper-stage engine burns, three separate deployment orbits and a total mission duration of over six hours.

During Falcon Heavy's second flight, SpaceX pulled off its first center core landing -- but the booster eventually toppled into the sea because the droneship lacked adequate clamps for the Heavy core.  This time around the center core booster didn't make it onto the droneship.

'RUD' is a rocket science term for 'rapid unscheduled disassembly'.  SpaceX's disappointment was short-lived, as it hit another milestone approximately an hour later when it captured one half of the payload fairing -- the nose cone that protects the payload bay during launch -- with the Ms.

total of 24 different payloads were deployed during the STP-2 mission including the crowdfunded Lightsail 2, a solar-sail test mission promoted by science star Bill Nye and the Planetary Society, NASA's Deep Space Atomic Clock, which could be used to help spacecraft navigate the cosmos, and a handful of cremated remains, including those of Apollo 11 support astronaut Bill Pogue.  Of particular note were payloads for the Department of Defense, which is currently looking to contract two spaceflight providers for launches over the next four years.