back to article Watch it again: SpaceX's boomerang rocket lands on robo-sea-barge

The remarkable engineering achievement of landing a rocket on a ship was repeated for a second time earlier today – and under more difficult circumstances. While delivering a comms satellite to a geosynchronous orbit at 22,000 miles above the Earth, SpaceX succeeded in landing the lower stage of the rocket safely on its barge …

  1. toxicdragon

    Not sure what else I can say beyond this is seriously cool.

    1. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

      I feel like I'm living in the future.

      I wonder if JeffyPoooh's happy now

      1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
        Pint

        "I wonder if JeffyPoooh's happy now?"

        LOL.

        Regretfully, I missed the 'live' stream this time, but the YouTube version seems to indicate that the live video stream from the barge remained connected even while the booster landed.

        Exposure was rubbish, but that's not Comms and thus not my department.

        So congratulations; the SpaceX Comms people managed to do Comms successfully this time, which is very nice. So yes, I'm happy.

        So what changed this time? Did they use Floaty McFiberOptic Cablesface? A different perhaps L-band SatCom link? A UHF or L-band RF link to the Mothership? So many solutions. They found one. Apparently.

        By the way, last month's landing was 'broadcast' with live streaming video from a helicopter. ...Which made me smile. An 'interim solution' while the new Booster-Landing-resistant Comms system was commissioned.

        1. SkippyBing Silver badge

          Re: "I wonder if JeffyPoooh's happy now?"

          I suspect the live helicopter feed is only a daytime option rather than being an interim measure while they sorted out the comms link from the barge. Yes you can fly helicopters over the sea at night but, having done it lots, there are plenty of reasons not to if it's not a matter of life and death.

        2. Sorry that handle is already taken. Silver badge

          Re: "I wonder if JeffyPoooh's happy now?"

          By the way, last month's landing was 'broadcast' with live streaming video from a helicopter. ...Which made me smile. An 'interim solution' while the new Booster-Landing-resistant Comms system was commissioned.

          Some of their very earliest live landing attempts had chopper/UAV footage so I don't think it's an interim solution

          1. Vulch

            Re: "I wonder if JeffyPoooh's happy now?"

            All but one of the landing attempts that have been recorded from the air used a NASA aircraft which is only available when it's a NASA flight.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "I wonder if JeffyPoooh's happy now?"

          They lose the comms link because a rocket exhaust chucks out masses of ionized gas which is opaque to radio frequencies. I guess it held up better this time because the very fast landing meant there was less ionized gas blocking the transmission path.

          1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: "I wonder if JeffyPoooh's happy now?"

            AC "They lose the comms link because a rocket exhaust chucks out masses of ionized gas which is opaque to radio frequencies."

            SpaceX is very high tech, but they're not using 'Plasma Drives' for their boosters. Chemical rockets aren't hot enough to ionize their exhaust. If this did occur, then the SpaceX Falcon booster, descending through its own rocket exhaust, wouldn't be able to receive GPS signals; but it obviously does. Apollo era CM reentry is not similar to this.

            The better theory is that they were naively trying to use Ka-band satcom with very narrow beamwidth antenna. The antenna tracking couldn't keep up with the barge movement, or the mount vibration, and the links was lost.

            If you try to judge the timing, beware the latency of digital video. Apparent cause-and-effect can be inverted by several seconds due to latency. When such a link is dropped, you'll lose several seconds of digital video in the various buffers. On any digital video time scale, the cause might not appear in the successfully transmitted video.

            What this means is you can't look at the live streaming video and say, 'See, as soon as the rocket enters the video frame...', because when the link is dropped, the latency consumes additional duration of buffered digital video. This detail can confuse the unwary.

      2. Mark 85 Silver badge
        Pint

        If he's not, that's not our problem. They did a successful "up" and then brought it back intact. That's more important that video, IMO. Well done SpaceX. Tall, cold ones are in order for this.

        Edit.. I guess I posted this at the same time he posted his. This good all around then. Have a cold one JeffyPooh.

        1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
          Pint

          "That's more important than video, IMO."

          "That's more important than video, IMO."

          Yes, but...

          Humanity works better if we don't restrict ourselves to doing only 'the single most important thing' well...

          ...or even correctly.

          Cheers.

    2. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

      Congratulations on a job well done.

  2. Anonymous Curd
    Pint

    It won't be long until this is positively boring.

    And that is excellent.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Sorry - have to disagree...

      'Boring' is what was allowed to happen to the Apollo program.

      And what happened to that was definitely not 'excellent'.

  3. Aslan

    Much better view here

    Much better view here, fullscreen, with several more camera angles and technical chatter.

    https://youtu.be/1lYZLxr3L4E?t=29m18s

    Everyone's right, getting that bright it did initially look like a crash, but I think the key is instead of one booster doing about a three second burn, I believe it was 3 doing a 5 second burn? Much brighter than previous landing burns, much later giving the cameras less time to compensate. Looking at it live last night, the rocket came down over the barge in a cloud of fire so bright nothing could be seen. Then suddenly the cloud went out and in the inky blackness was the silhouette of the rocket. I was amazed.

    1. Roo
      Windows

      Re: Much better view here

      Thanks for the link. I can't help but wonder if my sense of awe & wonder was akin to what people felt watching the Apollo programme footage back in the day. It's good for the soul. :)

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Much better view here

        "I can't help but wonder if my sense of awe & wonder was akin to what people felt watching the Apollo programme footage back in the day. "

        As someone old enough to have seen the Apollo launches I can say with some confidence "YES IT BLOODY WELL IS!!!!!!!"

        The bit I still can't quite get over is the full HD live (FFS, LIVE!!!) coverage of the entire launch all the way to the "top". With the Apollo and earlier craft we got to see sometimes poor coverage of the launch and then nothing else until, maybe, there might some grainy black & white coverage from orbit.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Much better view here

          Whilst I feel the same as you I think we are in the minority. In the Apollo days (well up to Apollo 14) everyone watched. I know I was riveted to the TV when a mission was on and I don't think I was that much more of a geek then. Now people want and get a new thrill every day (cute kittens on the internet) so this doesn't captivate most people that much.

          The pictures this time round are so much better, but what they don't convey is the size of that booster standing on the deck. It was only when I showed my daughter a picture of a person standing beside a 50 meter tall recovered booster that she got the sense of scale and said wow.

        2. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
          Pint

          Re: Much better view here

          "...full HD live (FFS, LIVE!!!) coverage..."

          Essentially live.

          If you watch the same 'Live' video stream via two different sources, then you might find cases where there's huge differences in the latency.

          We once watched some newsworthy rocket launch via 'Live' streams. Because it was interesting, I backed up the PC with an iPhone using mobile data. Two independent sources, networks, codecs and devices. Delta latency (just the delta!) was more than 45 seconds. The launch was up and away and arcing over, while the other 'Live' stream was still counting down.

          It can be informative to watch 'Live' streams of New Year's countdowns, sitting beside a carefully calibrated clock.

          As a student of 'The Axis of Time', it's ever so slightly annoying how much latency is built into some communications systems.

        3. rh587 Bronze badge

          Re: Much better view here

          The bit I still can't quite get over is the full HD live (FFS, LIVE!!!) coverage of the entire launch all the way to the "top". With the Apollo and earlier craft we got to see sometimes poor coverage of the launch and then nothing else until, maybe, there might some grainy black & white coverage from orbit.

          This. I am very much not old enough to remember Apollo (my mum was in her last year at primary school, which bought it's first television especially for the kids - and the rest of the village - to view the Apollo 11 Landing).

          Nevertheless, I got chills during Tim Peake's docking. I watched the launch at work, and later was sat watching a Soyuz capsule docking with a space station in orbit in real-time on my phone pulled up in a car park. That was fucking cool.

      2. Anonymous John

        Re: Much better view here

        Definitely. I'm old enough to have seem manned space-flight go from science fiction to reality. But rockets landing on Earth on a pillar of fire remained science fiction. Until now.

        And for the first time since Apollo, there are serious plans to leave Earth orbit.

  4. Harvey Trowell

    Was it repeated for a second time?

    Or was this the first repeat?

    Never mind, carry on, big up the rocketeers...

    1. WonkoTheSane

      Re: Was it repeated for a second time?

      One if by land, two if by sea.

  5. Mikel

    Not bad

    I could watch these all day. Boring? Bore me!

    Exciting times my friends, and for once it's a good thing.

  6. ian 22

    Wait, what?

    Are you all sure this isn't another NASA moon landing hoax? And if not, why not?

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Wait, what?

      Nasa couldn't fake a water landing - that's a totally different government agency with a different union

      1. ian 22

        Re: Wait, what?

        Thank you. I understand now. I think....

    2. Anonymous John
      Joke

      Re: Wait, what?

      A conjuring trick. A bright flash of light so you don't see that the first stage emerged though a trap door in the deck of the barge.

    3. Dr. Mouse Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Wait, what?

      "Are you all sure this isn't another NASA moon landing hoax?"

      I'm absolutely certain it isn't. It doesn't look remotely like the moon!

    4. DropBear Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Wait, what?

      Oh, of course it's all Photoshop. The shadows are all wrong...

  7. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge
    Pint

    Looks like they're getting the hang of it... cheers!

  8. MrT

    Landing just before the 30-minute mark...

    ...sound of someone laughing in the background just after as if the announcer was totally surprised to see the rocket on the pad and nearly forgot to announce it!

    Was this a new S1 or a relaunch of the one that made the last drone-ship landing?

    Either way, well done!

    1. Gene Cash Silver badge

      Re: Landing just before the 30-minute mark...

      Yeah, from the flare, it looked like just another crash explosion so the announcer sounds really disappointed, then things cleared and they're "holy crap, it's landed! in one piece!"

      This is a new 1st stage. They haven't gotten around to test-firing the other recovered stage yet, as (I think) they're still taking it apart for engineering analysis.

      I don't know if that's a bad thing ("oh crap, look at all the broken stuff") or not...

      1. waldo kitty
        Boffin

        Re: Landing just before the 30-minute mark...

        This is a new 1st stage. They haven't gotten around to test-firing the other recovered stage yet, as (I think) they're still taking it apart for engineering analysis.

        actually, they have test fired the previously ship-landed S1 vehicle... it is reserved for a test flight that may carry something into space but what that is hasn't been determined yet...

  9. Geoff Johnson

    Great film of the last one here.

    Found this while checking out the link above.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDK5TF2BOhQ

    One of those draggable 360 degree videos, so you can see the rocket approach. Worth watching if you like this kind of thing.

  10. John Deeb
    Black Helicopters

    Bravado?

    When seen from an engineering perspective this development is impressive, very impressive. But so was the Space Shuttle program...

    From a scientific and economical point of view however, the quintessential American approach of SpaceX might be more bravado than being actually viable or interesting on the longer term. Simply because of the harsh realities of time scales needed to develop the technology and track record needed for safety and repeatability, any investor patience and what happens if other solutions, even with their flaws and limitations, become available way earlier and possibly cheaper.

    Viability and pricing has a lot to do with track records in this business, like a >95% success record which becomes meaningful after 50 sequential launches at the minimum but need really 500 to establish any real market value. Since SpaceX operates with private money, these consideration will start to count at a global market place.

    The criticisms of a few famous US astronauts and many others have been centered around this aspect: can we afford the time needed to reach that level without massive government funding to foot that sky-rocketing bill? It becomes a matter of faith. Good luck SpaceX, sincerely!

    1. Trollslayer Silver badge

      Re: Bravado?

      Economics - it is expected to reduce launch costs by 30% and the risk is in the landing not the launch so a good approach.

    2. notowenwilson

      Re: Bravado?

      I'm curious about your thinking here.

      There are only a finite number of satellites that need to be put into orbit in any given year so you can't short-cut the time to statistically significant failure data unless you want to just punch a bunch of rockets into orbit for the fun of it. Which no-one is going to do. Because it's a really bad idea.

      Currently SpaceX have launched 23 (including ISS missions), of which 22 were successful. So anyone who comes up with something newer and better, even if they manage to do it today, are 23 behind already.

      The only chance there is of someone beating SpaceX to the super-cheap-reusable-launcher prize is if someone figures out how to alter an Atlas 5, Ariane V, Proton or Soyuz rocket in such a way that; it is reusable AND it doesn't change the rocket so much that it invalidates the rocket's reliability statistics (i.e. no changes to major parts or control systems) AND it doesn't add so much weight so as to drop the rocket into a lower class.

      That's a pretty massive ask.

      Also, let's remember that the US government IS funding SpaceX. They pay SpaceX, (and ULA etc) for launch services, because they don't have any capability to do it any other way. In fact, they pay Russia for launch services to ferry astronauts to the ISS. So SpaceX aren't just doing all of this out of Mr Musk's bank balance (or any other investors for that matter), they are providing a service for a price and using that money to develop their systems.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Bravado?

        "There are only a finite number of satellites that need to be put into orbit in any given year "

        That's mostly restricted by the cost to do so for LEO, so you can expect the rate to increase as costs decrease.

        What's _really_ needed for GEO work is the ability to put large birds up there (reliably, and keeping them reliable). The bigger they are the more stationkeeping fuel they can carry and the more services they can operate, etc.

        Clarke and friends envisioned football-field size GEO birds with human staff. With Falcon XX on the way, orbiting complexes of that size do seem viable but the staffing would most likely be waldos or fully autonomous robots.

        GEO is _crowded_ and one of the bigger problems is keeping birds at nominally the same position from bumping into each other. If they could be attached to a giant flying truss then this problem essentially goes away (modules for something like this would only need sufficient fuel to rendezvous/attach/detach at end of life, with fuelling pods handling the navigation work). It'd also pretty much eliminate the issue of zombie (dead) sats slowly precessing through the belt requiring everything in their path to get out of the way and (perhaps) allow the possibility of keeping something up there to capture and anchor the things.

    3. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Bravado?

      John Deeb "...[any given rocket booster] need really 500 [successful launches] to establish any real market value."

      If I understand your logic, leaving the Soyuz-U (with 763 successes and 21 failures) as about the only rocket booster with enough launches to earn any John Deeb-certified "market value".

      Oh, but production has stopped. Too bad.

      You actually intended the count of "500" in the context of rocket boosters? That doesn't really make much sense...

    4. GettinSadda

      Re: Bravado?

      Erm.... wut?

      So, the Space Shuttle program (135 launches over 30 years, average of 4.5 per year) was a success. But Falcon 9 (24 launches over 6 years, average of 4 per year and increasing rapidly) is a failure. But one of your main gripes about SpaceX is they haven't yet has 500 launches?!

  11. Trollslayer Silver badge

    So which one

    is the rocket ship?

  12. Killing Time

    If you think this is impressive...

    How about when the Heavy is launched and they pull this off in triplicate.

    My boyhood spaceflight dreams are back on track with an aggressive timescale again.

    Space X rock!

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Happy

      Re: If you think this is impressive...

      To properly fulfill boyhood dreams, they need more fins and to paint everything silver.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I can't help thinking that Musk is a real-life Hugo Drax

    Very similar personality traits.

  14. The Mighty Spang

    wow super creepy presenter

    look at the guy on the left about 28:40 for about 15 second he forgets how to smile and just bares his teeth, almost snarling at one point! its like he's just shat himself but is trying to grin through it....

    1. notowenwilson

      Re: wow super creepy presenter

      Or like an engineer who got told to smile but doesn't really know how to.

    2. Mephistro Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: wow super creepy presenter

      Or it's just some poor Spacex employee with stage fright!

  15. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

    And dead centre as well..

    Not only did the thing land perfectly, but also nicely in the middle. Brilliant.

    This is the kind of engineering I like :)

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: And dead centre as well..

      Yes, that was pretty amazing. By eye and from a poorly lit video, it looked like a perfect bullseye.

  16. frank ly Silver badge

    Landing Barges

    I like the way they name the landing barges after Culture minds/ships. Or maybe the barges named themselves. In case anyone missed it in the video, that one is called 'Of Course I Still Love You'. I think a previous barge was named 'Just Read The Manual'. Never mind Gravitas, let's have some fun.

    1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Landing Barges

      "I like the way they name the landing barges after Culture minds/ships."

      'Bargey McBargeface'

      You're welcome.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Landing Barges

        I could imagine Musk doing that just for laughs!

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Landing Barges

      They aren't barges.

    3. Hopalong

      Re: Landing Barges

      Just Read the Instructions is the west coast based barge.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Landing Barges

        It's not a barge.

  17. Kaltern
    Trollface

    I just wish they'd stop chanting USA USA USA like they're proud of their accomplishments or something. It's disgraceful.

    Can you possibly imagine Oxford University graduates chanting UK UK UK? At least not so loudly as to not spill their glasses of Chardonnay?

    1. Alan Brown Silver badge

      "Can you possibly imagine Oxford University graduates chanting UK UK UK?"

      No, but I could imagine Alan Bond's staff doing it if they ever get SABRE flying.

    2. Barry Rueger Silver badge

      Sadly, every time that I hear that - and I'd wager it's a pretty international workforce at SpaceX, which makes it more annoying- I immediately hear "Team America! Fuck Yeah!"

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Exactly the same thought. It's an extreme turn-off - rampant racism generally is - to what otherwise would be an excellent engineering group.

        1. Jeff Cook
          FAIL

          Seriously?

          It's not racism, it is nationalism which isn't necessarily the same thing. And given the number of people shouting I would say it appears to be a majority of Americans working there and it is an American company. Let them enjoy their moment and go be a wet blanket somewhere else.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Seriously?

            Meh, they sound extremely redneck.

      2. Dani Eder

        > I'd wager it's a pretty international workforce at SpaceX

        You would lose the bet. From their job application page:

        "To conform to U.S. Government space technology export regulations, applicant must be a U.S. citizen, lawful permanent resident of the U.S., protected individual as defined by 8 U.S.C. 1324b(a)(3), or eligible to obtain the required authorizations from the U.S. Department of State."

        It's that way across the aerospace industry. Most space technology is classed as "munitions" because of ballistic missiles and spy satellites. So "export" is restricted, and that includes hiring foreign workers. It even applied to the Space Station program, which was international by design. Those of us at Boeing couldn't talk to our counterparts in partner countries. Stupid but true.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I just wish they'd stop chanting USA USA USA like they're proud of their accomplishments or something. It's disgraceful.

      There may have been *some* external considerations there. There is no real way you can get a crowd to repeatedly chant "Space X" without it immediately sounding like "space sex", which would not have worked so well in publicity terms :)

  18. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge
    Alien

    Alien Space Bat at 54:19

    I guess it's not, but I'm no rocket scientist ...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lYZLxr3L4E&t=54m19s

    1. Alister Silver badge

      Re: Alien Space Bat at 54:19

      Yes I saw that, and couldn't decide whether it was a small thruster firing, and then ice building up round the nozzle, or whether something was being vented deliberately, or it was in fact an unintentional leak.

      I'd be curious to know.

      1. Hopalong

        Re: Alien Space Bat at 54:19

        Most likely venting unused LOX as a part of the procedure to safe the stage. You do not want the stage to explode due to over-pressure of oxygen as the remaining LOX boils off. Especially in a Geostationary transfer orbit.

        1. Alister Silver badge

          Re: Alien Space Bat at 54:19

          So if they vent off the LOX, will there be a vent port on each side of the vehicle?

          Otherwise, won't the venting cause a thrust vector which will affect the craft?

          1. Vulch

            Re: Alien Space Bat at 54:19

            It's quite often done by just turning on the engine but not lighting the blue touchpaper. Rotate the stage through 180 degrees so the engine points along the orbit, open the valves and you get a bit of thrust slowing it but without the risk of toasting the expensive payload that has just been dropped off.

            1. Alister Silver badge

              Re: Alien Space Bat at 54:19

              @Vulch

              Thanks, but in the video you can clearly see a nozzle of some kind with ice crystals forming round it as it vents, so it's not venting through the engine bell.

              If there isn't a similar vent the other side, I would expect that to cause a sideways movement of the craft.

  19. Cynicalmark
    Happy

    NASA

    Funny how using as many off the shelf components exhibits reliability. I wouldn't want to be the NASA over engineers right now. Well done to a hard working common sense bunch of people who have done what was said to be impossible by the no-sayers of the Cape.

    1. JeffyPoooh Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: NASA

      Cynicalmark, "...off the shelf components..."

      What percentage of the booster is built from "off the shelf components"?

      1. cray74

        Re: NASA

        What percentage of the booster is built from "off the shelf components"?

        A new rocket stage with new tank designs, new engines, and (of course) new landing gear? Not much. You'd probably find some off-the-shelf hardware in the avionics since no one likes to make their own microchips anymore - software's another matter. And I'd bet you'll find a bunch of aerospace-grade fasteners (rivets, bolts, associated hardware like nut plates, etc.) in the Falcon 9 are off-the-shelf. With such a wide range of fastener standards you can usually find anything you want.**

        **Usually. 1-inch diameter, 6-inch long bolts made of MP35N are not regularly stocked and vendors lose interest quickly when you only want a dozen, but that's a predicament we backed ourselves into by using a weird bolt.

  20. TimeMaster T
    Thumb Up

    Building a rocket is not new. Its just doing the math, drawing some blueprints and building it.

    What is impressive as all Hells to me is the programming needed to pull this off.

    I used to teach real time embedded programming and from a RTOS programmers standpoint this is just Freaking incredible.

    Serious Kudos to the SpaceX team that wrote and tested the code.

  21. ecofeco Silver badge

    And THAT'S how you do it

    Seems they've got the hang of it now. Beautiful.

  22. Timpatco

    What's the betting it is about as re-usable as the Boeing 777 from MH17?

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Joke

    Bottom line

    So, has that barge paid for itself yet?

  24. MisterNineThousand
    Trollface

    Typical SpaceX puff piece.

    The real story is Elon's anti shipping missiles have only work like one out of three times in 2016, and still hasn't even managed to sink anything...

    If I had 75 tons of rocket fuel going Mach 6, then things would be different!

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