SpaceX’s Latest Falcon 9 Rocket Landing is Key Step to Going to Mars

Damn, Space X. Back at it again with the refurbished rocket launches.

On Wednesday evening, SpaceX pulled off its 18th successful landing in a row. This is the company’s second mission in three days, as well as the third time SpaceX has successfully reused a rocket used in a previous launch. Both are key steps forward in SpaceX’s push toward truly reusable rockets — and, by extension, Elon Musk’s plans to take humans to Mars.

After the Falcon 9 rocket deployed a communications satellite into geostationary orbit, its previously-flown booster successfully landed on the company’s Of course I Still Love You drone ship in the Atlantic off of Cape Canaveral, Florida. Because SpaceX timed the launch within five minutes of the sunset, video footage of the company’s latest success was particularly breathtaking.

The moments following the Falcon 9’s successful launch,

For SpaceX missions, executing a safe landing in which the rocket comes home intact is hugely important. That’s because reusability is one of the key areas in which company founder and CEO Elon Musk aims to stake the company’s reputation. Being able to make frequent flights is also critical to get lots of humans and supplies into Earth orbit as part of its future plan to settle Mars.

The evening launch is the third time the company has reused a booster from a previous launch. The specific booster used in this launch was first deployed back in February to get a massive payload of food and exercise equipment to the ISS. The eight-month turnaround between launches is the fastest of any of the booster reuses so far, though Musk has said his ultimate goal is to get a rocket back on the pad within 24 hours of use.

The first stage of the Falcon 9 following a successful landing.

“SpaceX believes rocket reusability is the key breakthrough needed to reduce the cost of access to space and enable people to live on other planets,” the company’s website reads.

Musk also wants to achieve reusability of the second stage of the rocket, though so far the company has not attempted to recover one. In March, he tweeted the company might attempt to recover the second stage during its inaugural Falcon Heavy launch, though when that will even happen remains uncertain.

Not only does Musk want to make sure his company’s landings are successful, he also wants to prove that he can execute them at a rapid pace. That’s why he scheduled this mission — originally slated for October 7 — so close to the one that occurred on Monday. Similary, the company pulled off two launches in three days as part of a double header back in June.

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An artist’s rendering of the SES-11, which this mission put into orbit.

In addition to helping Space X achieve these milestones, this mission served as a means of getting a satellite from the companies EchoStar and SES satellites into orbit. The payload is the commercial telecommunications satellite Echo Star 105/SES-11, and it will be used for providing U.S. states and parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean with HD television.

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