Yesterday, SpaceX launched their 8th mission of the year to deliver Bulgaria’s first national communications satellite to orbit, and in doing so tied their own personal record for number of launches flown in a single year – in just the first 6 months of 2017.
But the successful launch, and offshore landing on an autonomous drone ship that followed minutes later, also marked the second flight for a previously-flown Falcon 9 rocket, as well as the first time a rocket has launched missions from both sides of the United States; Kennedy Space Center in Florida and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The booster previously launched the first wave of ‘Iridium NEXT’ satellites last January from Vandenberg AFB, and coincidentally, another Falcon 9 is currently getting ready to launch the second wave of 10 ‘Iridium NEXT’ satellites from Vandenberg tomorrow, June 25, at 1:25 pm PDT.
“Rocket is extra toasty and hit the deck hard,” tweeted Elon Musk. “Used almost all of the emergency crush core, but otherwise good.”
Tomorrow’s ‘Iridium-NEXT 2’ launch from CA will also attempt an offshore landing on another company drone ship off San Diego.
With the exception of three drone ship landing failures in January, March and June 2016, seven returning rockets have now landed successfully offshore, with the most recent before BulgariaSat-1 being March 30th for the SES-10 mission.
Drone ships (SpaceX has two) are used when the mission being launched requires so much fuel there isn’t enough left for a landing attempt back near the launch site.
SpaceX has also successfully landed rockets back at Cape Canaveral’s “Landing Zone (LZ) 1” four times now, in four attempts; the most recent being after launching the CRS-11 mission for NASA on June 3. That mission also employed the company’s first reused Dragon spacecraft, flown previously on the CRS-4 mission in the fall of 2014.
Looking ahead, the company is aiming to launch several more commercial satellites this summer, both from Florida and Vandenberg. At the same time, preparations for their highly-anticipated inaugural launch of the mammoth Falcon Heavy rocket, a triple-barreled version of their current Falcon 9, are well underway, with testing on the individual rocket cores being conducted at SpaceX’s proving grounds in McGregor, TX.
Liftoff of “Iridium NEXT-2” is scheduled for Sunday at 1:25pm PDT, you can watch it live HERE.