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.
Crush core is aluminum honeycomb for energy absorption in the telescoping actuator. Easy to replace (if Falcon makes it back to port).— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 27, 2016
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:
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)|
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.