December 8, 2023

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Launch footage shows how SpaceX recovers its rockets

SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket Put on an impressive fireworks display on Sunday evening while a heavy lifter was hauling two government payloads into space. Roughly eight minutes later, spectators received a double landing of the rocket’s two side boosters at Cape Canaveral.

Acoustic booms exploded overhead as the 163rd and 164th successful return landings marked SpaceX’s booster recoveries. The rocket core was dumped into the ocean due to the fuel requirements needed to deliver the payload into orbit.

One spectator in particular captured incredibly detailed footage of the carefully crafted Falcon Heavy orbital dance that helps each rocket stabilize its descent.

SpaceX rockets consist of four main components: the first stage, the second (or upper) stage, and the interstitial stage that connects the two together, in addition to the payload structure, which houses any payload or satellites carried by the rocket.

Two of those components, the first stage and half-payload, are designed to be reusable and together account for nearly 70 percent of a rocket’s cost, according to SpaceX.

After a SpaceX rocket launches, it goes through a series of steps designed to ensure that the payload reaches its intended orbit. But after the first and second stages separate, the second stage continues with the payload, while the first stage prepares to return to Earth where it will land either on land or on a floating platform in the ocean.

Once the first stage has separated, the booster begins a sort of orbital ballet as it flips around in mid-air, firing three of its engines as part of the booster burn, which will orient itself for descent. This coup maneuver can be seen in detail In launch footage from Astronomy Live.

The boost burn is the first of three landing burns required to slow the rocket down so it can avoid a crash landing. Next, the booster will deploy a set of titanium mesh fins that are used to help guide the missile. The craft then lights its engines again briefly for an entry burn, when it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.

The booster is then directed to its landing spot with the help of net fins before its engines light up one last time, as it comes in perfectly for landing.

SpaceX has been recovering rockets this way since 2015, when it recovered its first booster at Cape Canaveral.

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