SpaceX launches, lands Falcon 9 in their closest attempt at a fully-reusable launch so far

SpaceX’s boats — Ms Tree and Ms Chief — weren't able to snap up the rocket’s nose cone with giant nets.


SpaceX wrapped up one of its final launch missions of 2019 with the successful launch of a dual-use communications satellite called JCSAT-18/Kacific1. The company also managed to recover more pieces of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle during this mission than in previous launches, after a liftoff.

The Falcon 9 rocket left the launchpad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station for a geostationary (orbit) altitude of 22,000 miles (35,400 kilometers) at 7.10 pm ET on 16 December (5.40 am IST, 17 December). SpaceX managed to land the Falcon 9 boosters on its drone ship 'Of Coure I Still Love You!' in the Atlantic Ocean. That said, SpaceX’s boats, Ms Tree and Ms Chief, weren't able to catch the rocket’s nose cone with giant nets. SpaceX has fished out the two fairing halves, and still plans to use them during another launch if possible.

 SpaceX launches, lands Falcon 9 in their closest attempt at a fully-reusable launch so far

Falcon 9 launches JCSAT-18/Kacific1 to geostationary transfer orbit. Image: SpaceX

SpaceX has been fairly consistent with the landing of its Falcon 9 boosters after flights, but the company has only recently started seeing success with recovering the rocket's nose cone (a.k.a. the payload fairing). So far, SpaceX has only caught part of the fairing (one half) successfully at the end of the launch. With this (albeit unsuccessful) attempt, SpaceX is a step closer to getting its technology and gear on point to recover much of the Falcon 9, minus the core rocket itself.

This is also because SpaceX, until recently, had one vessel to recover its fairing. Starting with the JCSAT-18/Kacific1 mission, SpaceX said it will work in tandem to catch both fairings roughly 45 minutes after the liftoff.

The JCSAT-18/Kacific-1 satellite just after it arrived at Cape Canaveral for final pre-launch processing. Image: Kacific

The JCSAT-18/Kacific-1 satellite just after it arrived at Cape Canaveral for final pre-launch processing. Image: Kacific

The JCSAT 18/Kacific 1 satellite weighs close to 7,000 kilograms with its propellant tanks fully loaded, making it one of the heaviest satellites SpaceX has launched till date. JCSAT-18 is meant to provide communication coverage (using its Ku-band capacity) to support mobile and broadband services over Japan, the Asia-Pacific, and parts of eastern Russia for Sky Perfect JSAT.

The Kacific1 portion of the satellite is hoping to provide similar communications coverage for areas in Southeast Asia and the Pacific Islands, in regions where access to the internet might be scarce.

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