SpaceX is landing rockets on concrete pads now, which might not sound too amazing until you check out the 4K footage of the company's first Falcon 9 rocket to land on solid ground intact.
It's as if you're watching a rocket launch in reverse: a massive jet of exhaust flames spews from the bottom of the Falcon 9 as it slowly approaches the center of the landing pad in Cape Canaveral, Fla., from a slight angle. You can even see top-mounted thrusters straighten the rocket just before it touches down, and marvel as the exhaust kicks giant debris away from the pad, resulting in a cloud of dust and smoke that billows out until the end of the 30-second video.
The landing, which concludes the CRS-11 mission to resupply the International Space Station, is a significant milestone for the space startup founded by serial entrepreneur Elon Musk. While it's not the first time a Falcon 9 rocket has returned to land (there have been several successful touchdowns both at Cape Canaveral and on seaborne landing pads), it marked the first reuse of a SpaceX Dragon cargo vessel. In this case, the Dragon was previously used on the CRS-4 mission in 2014.
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The ability to reuse rockets and cargo craft is essential for SpaceX's viability as a contractor for NASA's first Commercial Resupply Services program, which is split between Musk's company and Orbital One and scheduled to conclude with the CRS-12 mission. Last year, NASA ordered a second set of CRS flights to run through 2024, which will involve each company performing a minimum of six resupply missions.
Meanwhile, SpaceX is also seeking other government contracts, including an agreement with the US Air Force announced on Wednesday to launch the fifth X-37B space plane mission in August, Reuters reports. The X-37B project is ostensibly designed to test reusable space technology, though rumors suggest that the Air Force is also using it to spy on China. The X-37B's previous flights were conducted using rockets from Boeing and Lockheed Martin.
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