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Private space firm SpaceX launched another Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday, delivering a commercial satellite to geostationary transfer orbit. But, as usual, it was the company’s Earth-based endeavours that attracted more attention…
The company managed to successfully land the rocket’s first stage on a drone barge, marking the fourth successful landing at sea. However, the landing was even tougher than normal due to the orbit needed, resulting in the first stage being subjected to “extreme velocities and re-entry heating”, SpaceX wrote.
Geostationary orbit occurs at an altitude of over 30 000 kilometres, being the preferred orbit for many satellites. On the other hand, missions to the International Space Station take place in Low Earth Orbit, at an altitude of less than 450-kilometres.
In other words, geostationary and geostationary transfer orbits require far more speed and propellant than Low Earth Orbit, leaving less propellant and more speed for the first stage landing, a SpaceX representative explained.
It’s not the first time that SpaceX has managed to land a first stage during a geostationary/GTO mission, having done so for the first time in May 2016.
Want to watch the launch and landing in full? The company has you covered with the archived webcast, below. Skip to 16-minutes to watch the rocket launch, while those wanting to check out the landing should skip to the 25-minute mark.