The SpaceX steamroller continues to roll on, and the company’s recent launch of KT Sat’s Koreasat 5A satellite is no exception. The 16th Falcon 9 of 2017 took flight from Kennedy Space Center on October 30 and successfully placed its payload into a high-energy geostationary transfer orbit.
Before the satellite had even separated from the second stage of Falcon 9, first stage 1042 had already successfully landed aboard SpaceX’s East coast drone ship OCISLY. The floating landing pad extinguished a small fire that was seen creeping up the booster.
Barely 72 hours later, the drone ship and its Falcon 9 cargo arrived back at Port Canaveral, docking soon after. Launch photographer Tom Cross was on scene to capture the booster’s return home.
Closeup shots serve as evidence of booster 1042’s apparent burn trauma, although it is almost certainly worse than it looks. A number of common operations follow each booster landing, and one of the most important sequences involves emptying residual propellant and depressurizing the rocket’s fuel tanks. This is accompanied by the expulsion of remaining TEA-TAB reserves, a volatile compound used to ignite Falcon 9’s Merlin 1D engines during launch and recovery. TEA-TAB is pyrophoric, meaning it spontaneously catches fire when exposed to your run of the mill air, a decidedly human-unfriendly feature. The fires that occur after successful landings are thus best described as intentional and (mostly) controlled, and SpaceX’s drone ships are equipped with water guns in the event that things get a bit too spicy.
Despite the small fire, the booster looks to be in great condition.
Tom waited patiently as the the sun set and tugboats swarmed to dock the unwieldy drone ship. The dock’s powerful night lights came into full effect and provided an opportunity for some final beauty shots of the gritty booster and industrial surroundings.
After a brief nap aboard OCISLY, SpaceX’s recovery crew wasted no time craning the toasty Falcon 9 core onto dry land, where workers began removing landing legs to prepare the rocket for transport.
Another landing leg removed. It appears that this might the 4th one to come off. pic.twitter.com/QSYdlAR4NQ
— NASA Nate (@NASA_Nerd) November 3, 2017
SpaceX is clearly building confidence with their recovery procedures, and 1042’s journey has been exceptionally fast and efficient. With 19 successful recoveries now under the company’s belt, the company’s growing expertise is readily apparent, and the clockwork-like nature of their refined processes will benefit SpaceX immensely as it pursues ever-higher launch cadences. With multiple major SpaceX customers expressing newfound interest in reused rockets in the last two weeks alone, the demand for recovered boosters will likely continue to grow, and every successful recovery and commercial reuse is a concrete step along the path to rapid and complete reuse.