Land ahoy! SpaceX successfully and safely lands Falcon 9 rocket

22 Dec 2015

The Falcon 9 rocket (from the earlier, DSCOVR mission) landed successfully this morning, via SpaceX

SpaceX has just made history, finally, by landing an unmanned rocket, upright, perhaps ushering in a whole new era of space travel, both private and public.

After several failed attempts throughout the year, Elon Musk’s company nailed it in the early hours of this morning at Cape Canaveral.

A plethora of gems

Among the countless interesting points surrounding the landmark is the fact that this was the first attempt to land on actual land, with previous attempts having been on a floating barge out at sea.

The barge, called Just Read the Instructions, saw two failed landings, the first exploding on (heavy) impact, the second landing just too hard and breaking the base legs off.

Another cool point in this stunning success is the fact that the mission was delayed by 24 hours because, as SpaceX puts it, there was a “10pc better chance of a successful landing”. Margins.

The Falcon-9 took off, delivered 11 satellites into orbit, and flawlessly landed the rocket (the most expensive part of the entire project) to the delight of Musk, who wrote a detailed, nervy post 15 minutes prior to takeoff.

Call it intuition

“A lot about how things work in space is counter-intuitive, as all of our intuition is gained from daily experiences where the air is thick, gravity doesn’t seem to change and movement is relatively slow,” said Musk, highlighting the flaws that had held back his landing project in the past.

Everything from naivety, luck and reaching just that little too far conspired against SpaceX, but eventually led to this festive success.

“We do see lots of movies about space, but, unless you’re watching an IMAX documentary, they vary from slightly wrong, like The Martian (good movie!), to mostly absurdly wrong, like Red Planet (don’t watch this, it will hurt your brain), which also doesn’t help intuition,” he added.

This was the first mission from SpaceX – which has a €1.47bn contract with NASA to send supplies to the ISS – since the disastrous attempt in June, which saw the Falcon 9 explode 150 seconds after lift-off.

To be honest, had we seen rockets landing like this in films prior to this year, this week even, we too would have thought it stretched the truth a little.

Boys will be boys

Of course, this is all played out on the back of a wonderful little rivalry between Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, whose New Shephard rocket landed last month, although under rather different circumstances, to put it mildly.

At the time, Musk somewhat belittled the achievement of the New Shephard ‘suborbital’ rocket with a couple of Musksplaining Tweets, something Bezos responded to in style this morning.

It’s grand lads, you’re both doing fine work. And here, the Falcon 9 landing captured on camera, is all you need to see.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic