SpaceX successfully launched its rocket and just missed the catch

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, over Lompoc, Calif., from Vandenberg Air Force Base, in the company's first West Coast launch of the year. The launch, which had been delayed three times since Saturday, went off as scheduled at 6:17 a.m. Thursday from VAFB's Space Launch Complex-4. (Len Wood/The Santa Maria Times via AP)

SpaceX successfully launched its enormous Falcon 9 rocket on the morning of Feb. 22. Although getting it up there was smooth sailing, its return down proved more of a challenge. The head of the rocket hurtled back down toward the ocean eight times faster than the speed of sound.

SpaceX strives to achieve its money-saving goal of rocket reusability by making sure that every part of the rocket in the launch can be used more than twice. This can lower the cost of sending people and objects into space because the company wouldn’t need to purchase new materials to build new rockets. You can only imagine the cut in spending it would provide.

So the heat was on when Falcon 9 launched into space that Thursday morning. Elon Musk, SpaceX founder and CEO, wrote on his instagram, “It (the nose cone of Falcon 9) has onboard thrusters and a guidance system to bring it through the atmosphere intact, then releases a parafoil and our ship, named Mr. Steven, with basically a giant catcher’s mitt wielded on, tries to catch it.”

It would be splendid if the nose cone—also called the giant fairing and costs around $6 million—would remain intact and reusable. This launch was the first time SpaceX attempted to catch the nose cone. Unfortunately, however, Mr. Steven turned out to be a bit off the designated area of the falling nose cone, and the spaceship tip landed in the water. Musk tweeted, “Missed by a few hundred meters, but fairing landed intact in water. Should be able catch it with slightly bigger chutes to slow down descent.”

Turns out it was easier in theory. Eight times the speed of sound was too much in the end. Musk tweeted that they’d fish it out. If they don’t fish it out, it could wash up on the beach and be discovered by some lucky beachgoers, just like what happened to a nose cone in 2015.

Part of Falcon 9’s mission objective was to carry a satellite called PAZ. A very expensive tool developed by the Spanish company Hidesat, this highly advanced satellite can capture 100 richly detailed images of earth. These images can even be seen through the planet’s thickest clouds. The satellite will capture these images as it rotates around the planet fifteen times a day.

Another part of the rocket contained two smaller experimental satellites that can produce fast internet during low orbit. So, with all that in mind, despite missing the falling target, SpaceX had more successes in the mission than failures. Besides, launching the biggest rocket in human history like Falcon Heavy into space with two of its boosters self-landing on a designated landing area is quite an achievement in itself. Not to mention, there’s also the launch of the iconic Starman. This dummy in a spacesuit is driving his black Tesla into orbit for the next millions of years. This spectacle was carried up to space by the Falcon 9 and made history as the first car to be driving along the eternal black void of space.

If anything, this launching of Falcon 9 only inspired more impressive possibilities. Many who watched the Falcon 9’s launch now believe we’re moving toward transporting human beings to other planets. With our durable and reusable rockets travelling back and forth and with space-travelling cars, science fiction could become nonfiction sooner than we think.


Joseph Frare is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joseph.frare@uconn.edu