TIME space travel

SpaceX: Controlled Falcon 9 Soft Landing a Success

The Falcon 9 rocket used a powered descent to soften its landing in the Atlantic Ocean, the first time the technique has been used on a mission. Controlled descents could greatly reduce spaceflight's costs by removing the need to manufacture new rockets for each launch

A SpaceX rocket successfully completed a soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean this week, company CEO Elon Musk said Friday. The Falcon 9 rocket, however, may not be recoverable because of damage sustained in rough seas.

The landing was notable as the Falcon 9 used a powered descent to soften its landing after a resupply trip to the International Space Station. SpaceX has tested the soft landing procedure before but had not, until this week, used it as part of an actual space mission.

Musk, who is also the CEO of electric automaker Tesla, said Friday afternoon that the information relayed from the Falcon 9 during its descent into the Atlantic showed that it completed a stable upright landing.

“We have sensors on each individual leg [of the rocket],” Musk said, and “GPS units. They all agree [that it landed stably]. If we recover it from the ocean it’ll probably take a couple of months to refurbish for flight.”

Controlled rocket descents could greatly reduce spaceflight’s costs by removing the need to manufacture a new rocket for each launch. “You don’t have to keep rebuilding your rockets, there’s certainly a sustainability element there,” Musk said.

Here’s what it looks like when SpaceX successfully soft-lands a Falcon 9 rocket, as seen in earlier test footage:

Musk also announced Friday that SpaceX is filing suit against the U.S. Air Force to encourage competition for national security-related rocket launches. A joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin provides all rocketry for USAF space launches. Musk said that arrangement is expensive, outdated and doesn’t allow new independent bidders to compete for procurement deals.

“This is not SpaceX protesting saying these launches should be awarded to us. These launches should be competed, and if we compete and lose that’s fine,” Musk said.

The suit was filed in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

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