SpaceX celebrated on Tuesday after nailing the landing of a Falcon 9 rocket for the 100th time.
The milestone was reached during a resupply mission for the International Space Station and came six years to the day since SpaceX aced its very first booster landing.
SpaceX’s rocket blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and, after deploying the Cargo Dragon spacecraft into orbit, descended to perform a perfect landing on the Just Read the Instructions droneship waiting in the Atlantic Ocean just off the Florida coast.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk later tweeted confirmation of an achievement that firmly cements the company’s reputation as the primary provider of a reusable and reliable space transportation system for orbital missions.
Though a number of SpaceX’s first-stage boosters have now made multiple flights over the years, the one used for Tuesday’s mission was flying for the first time.
The Falcon 9 is used not only for cargo missions to the ISS, but also for astronaut missions to and from the station, as well as satellite launches for SpaceX’s Starlink internet service and also private contractors.
In the early years of testing, autonomously landing a slim vehicle more than 50 meters in height proved so challenging that some of the boosters — 11 to date — toppled over and exploded shortly after touching down.
The video below shows one such calamitous landing that happened in April 2015, seven months before SpaceX made its first successful touchdown following three years of testing.
Every failure provided SpaceX engineers with valuable data that enabled them to refine the complex landing technology before finally nailing it. SpaceX is yet to share any footage of its 100th landing, but here’s a clip showing one of its boosters touching down successfully on land in 2020.
Falcon 9 first stage lands at Landing Zone 1 to complete this booster’s fourth flight pic.twitter.com/tUtAcKmIFn
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) August 31, 2020
SpaceX is now working on its next-generation reusable rocket system comprising the Starship spacecraft and Super Heavy rocket that the company says is the most powerful launch vehicle ever developed.
The Starship also acts as a second-stage booster and could one day touch down on the moon and Mars. SpaceX engineers are applying knowledge gained from the Falcon 9 to the design of landing technology for the more complex Starship, with only one successful landing of the new vehicle so far achieved out of several attempts. Next month SpaceX is hoping to perform the first orbital test flight of the Starship, with the Super Heavy powering it to space.