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Three-peat! SpaceX sticks another drone ship landing

Posted by Jason Davis

27-05-2016 18:03 CDT

Topics: commercial spaceflight

SpaceX continued its impressive string of first stage recoveries today, sticking a Falcon 9 drone ship landing during the successful launch of THAICOM 8, a communications satellite.

That's three sea landings in a row, and the company's fourth overall since returning a rocket stage to Cape Canaveral last December.

THAICOM 8 drone ship landing


THAICOM 8 drone ship landing

I don't have a lot to say beyond the excellent coverage you'll find at space news outlets like Spaceflight NowSpace News and, as well as what Elon Musk says on Twitter. It sounds like Musk is a little concerned about the rocket making it safely back to shore:

After the last drone ship landing, I collected some video screenshots from every successful recovery attempt, right at the moment of main engine cutoff and first stage separation. The screenshots are sequential from ORBCOMM-2 all the up to today's THAICOM 8 launch:

Falcon 9 first stage velocity and altitude comparisons


Falcon 9 first stage velocity and altitude comparisons
These four screenshots show Falcon 9 velocity and altitudes at the approximate moment of main engine cutoff, just before stage separation. From top: ORBCOMM-2, CRS-8, JCSAT-14, and THAICOM 8.

This gives you an idea of how much the difficulty level has increased with every landing success. These screenshots aren't perfectly accurate—and this also assumes the displayed telemetry matches what's happening in the video—but it's close enough to illustrate how much faster the Falcon 9 has been traveling during the last two flights. Those payloads were headed to geostationary transfer orbits, which requires a lot more speed and energy than low-Earth orbit launches. Here are the numbers:

Payload  Destination Speed at MECO/separation, km/h (estimated) Altitude, km (estimated)
ORBCOMM-2 LEO  5993 75.9
CRS-8 LEO  6622 70.4
JCSAT-14 GTO 8302 65.1
THAICOM 8  GTO  8313 68.5

The table also shows you how launch trajectories vary depending on orbital destinatination. Notice how the first stage burn for low-Earth orbit puts the rocket at a slightly higher altitude.

As far as THAICOM 8 is concerned, you can be sure SpaceX has more pretty pictures and video on the way. Keep an eye on their Flickr and Twitter accounts for more.

See other posts from May 2016


Or read more blog entries about: commercial spaceflight


GaryChurch: 05/28/2016 09:45 CDT

Going back to 1976 and comparing the plans being proposed then, the Musk circus does not impress. A legion of snarky toxic cyber-groupies that troll into oblivion any critics- and an endless infomercial- are the salient features. The NewSpace flagship company has in reality consistently under-performed and accomplished zero in terms of Human Space Flight Beyond Earth Orbit.

Karen : 05/28/2016 03:34 CDT

This was a total twilight zone experience for me. I tuned into the webcast on Thursday and it started up, and I watched as the countdown hit zero, it launched, then landed. I cheered and went to bed happy that they landed another GEO mission. Then the next day I see people cheering the mission that had *just landed* . Huh? But I watched it yesterday... I swear! Thinking back to it, I think that due to some sort of bug they replayed the JCSAT-14 video when I watched it. :Þ It was night time, launched from the west coast, and I remember them mentioning Japan.

Torbjörn Larsson: 05/29/2016 04:28 CDT

Good show! @GaryChurch: "A legion of snarky toxic cyber-groupies that troll into oblivion any critics- and an endless infomercial- are the salient features." Nice trolling, including the ironic "troll", a non-referenced claim of internet behavior, and trying to make unrelated internet groups "salient" for a space company and its recent space launch/landing. I know that it is meaningless to respond to a troll, but I did notice that the article did not describe human space flight, or 'NewSpace' whatever that is. (And as far as I know, SpaceX has no BEO human space flight program.) Why not enjoy a success?

GaryChurch: 05/29/2016 06:41 CDT

"-the article did not describe human space flight, or 'NewSpace' whatever that is." Snarky, toxic, disingenuous troll branders. Thanks for proving my point.

Karen: 05/30/2016 03:20 CDT

Gary, please calm down. There are better ways to express disagreement than name calling.

GaryChurch: 05/30/2016 04:57 CDT

"-it is meaningless to respond to a troll,-" I am calmly pointing out who is doing the name calling. NewSpace sycophants are the ones expressing disagreement here, I am just stating my opinion. Take your own advice- I don't need it.

Karen: 05/31/2016 03:38 CDT

There you go again. Calling anyone who disagrees with you a "sycophant". Are you not mature enough to talk with people you disagree with without calling them names?

GaryChurch: 05/31/2016 07:04 CDT

The word "sycophant" entered the English and French languages in the mid-16th Century, and originally had the same meaning in English and French (sycophante) as in Greek, a false accuser. Today, in Greek and French it retains the original meaning.[7] The meaning in English has changed over time, however, and came to mean an insincere flatterer.

Squirreltape: 06/02/2016 10:55 CDT

@Torbjörn and @Karen, Sure is something to see isn't it! I get a thrill everytime SpaceX lands one of these... I show my young kids the youtube footage (of the landings) and they get a kick out of it too... amazing and all the more poignant being English and an Iain M Banks fan. Go SpaceX!

Bob Ware: 06/04/2016 10:58 CDT

Congratulations again SpaceX! Watch out Mars we humans ourselves are coming soon. One piece of hardware and software needed at a time. In this business knowing what the top looks like does not mean you can start there. If you try that then you don't know what you are doing.

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