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  • SpaceX has finally done it! After launching its Falcon 9 into space, the company successfully

  • landed the majority of the rocket on a floating drone ship at sea. It’s the second time

  • SpaceX has landed its rocket post-launch, and the first time the company has pulled

  • off an ocean landing.

  • This is another big milestone for SpaceX. In December, the company made history when

  • it successfully landed its Falcon 9 for the first time at a ground-based landing site

  • at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Sure Blue Origin has also launched and landed its own rocket,

  • but that vehicle can’t really be compared to the Falcon 9. And now SpaceX has shown

  • it is capable of landing its rockets both on solid ground and at sea.

  • But why land on a floating drone ship when you can land on land? It’s definitely easier

  • to touch down a rocket on a large, expanse of ground, rather than a ship floating on

  • moving water. Plus, all the previous times SpaceX has tried to land the Falcon 9 at sea,

  • the results have beenexplosions.

  • The reason has to do with fuel. When the Falcon 9 reaches a certain altitude in space and

  • separates from the top of the vehicle, it uses leftover fuel to reignite its engines

  • and come back to Earth. The engines are lit in a series of burns that get the vehicle

  • in the right position for entering Earth’s atmosphere and landing.

  • Different landings require different amounts of fuel to pull off. It’s because the Falcon

  • 9 doesn’t launch straight upward, but follows a curved path up and away from the launch

  • pad. For a ground landing, the rocket needs extra fuel to slow down on that arc, completely

  • flip around, and then retread all the horizontal and vertical distance it has covered to make

  • it back to solid ground.

  • But for ocean landings, the drone ship can position itself down range of the rocket,

  • or in the ideal place to "catch" the vehicle on a more natural path back to Earth. That

  • decreases the distance the rocket needs to travel and the amount of fuel needed to maneuver

  • the Falcon 9 for landing.

  • Not all of SpaceX’s missions are even capable of performing ground landings, since some

  • use up way more fuel than others. Rockets that launch heavy payloads or go to a high

  • orbit need extra speed for the initial launch. And extra speed requires extra fuel. So for

  • Falcon 9 vehicles that accelerate much more rapidly during ascent, there’s not as much

  • fuel leftover for the landing. That’s when the drone ship is the bestif not only

  • option for recovery.

  • SpaceX expects to land about one-third of its rockets on land, and the rest in the ocean.

  • So it’s definitely going to need to perfect those sea landings in order to recover and

  • reuse more rockets in the future. The company’s president Gwynne Shotwell, expects reusing

  • the Falcon 9 will lead to a 30 percent reduction in launch costs. Those savings will only start

  • to benefit SpaceX with the more rockets they land, and the faster they land them.

SpaceX has finally done it! After launching its Falcon 9 into space, the company successfully

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