SpaceX accomplished another re-flight mission on Friday with the BulgariaSat-1 satellite launching from NASA’s historic Launch Pad 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The satellite will be operated by Bulgaria’s only satellite operator, BulgariaSat, providing high-definition television services to the Baltic region of Europe for the next 15 years.
The Falcon 9 rocket that sent BulgariaSat’s device into supersynchronous transfer orbit was last used in January of this year from the west coast’s Vandenberg Air Force Base for a satellite mission contracted with Iridium. The reused first stage booster landed on SpaceX’s “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship floating in the Atlantic Ocean, and is expected to trot back to shore this Monday.
Similar to the first re-flown Falcon 9 booster, which will be exhibited somewhere in Cape Canaveral, it’s unlikely that Friday’s Falcon 9 will fly for a third time. From his Twitter, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted that the first stage booster would be experiencing overwhelming pressure and heat upon reentry burn, hindering any chances for a third re-flight. He even speculated a landing failure; an unexpected taboo many fear would jinx such a risk rocket maneuver.
No such jinxing happened, nonetheless. The rocket landing was particularly suspenseful due to a dodgy live video feed from the drone ship's blast-proof cameras. Seconds before touchdown, the feed went black, sending many into a panic believing the rocket had exploded or missed the mark on the platform. However, the feed ultimately came back to life after only a few seconds of fright, revealing a safely landed Falcon 9 booster standing tall, slightly off-center of the platform.
Vertical landing capabilities used to be one of the most inspiring traits of a SpaceX launch — landing the rocket’s first stage after sending its payload into space has proven to save millions in launch costs, and the booster’s atmospheric reentry is always a stunning sight to witness. Unsurprisingly, these massive boomerangs were always meant to be reused.
The next SpaceX launch will be from California's Vandenberg Air Force Base this Sunday for the Iridium Next 11-20 mission. If all goes as planned, the company will have succeeded in a first ever "double header" launch manifest; two launches within three days, just about 48 hours apart. This crazy turnaround time epitomizes SpaceX's haste in creating more routine launches.
The next SpaceX launch from Cape Canaveral will be the Intelsat 35e mission, slated for July 1.