The Dragon has landed
April 8, 2016 2:09 PM   Subscribe

Space X has successfully returned the first stage from their Dragon rocket! This is link to the video clip of the landing, here's a link to the launch.

It was the eighth mission to the International Space Station for Space X and their fifth attempt to return a first stage back to Earth. This main objective, putting the Dragon Spacecraft into orbit was successful and it'll dock with the ISS on Sunday.

Returning the stage back to Earth is part of a plan to bring the cost of spaceflight down in price, making it more economical.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (76 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
Amazing achievement. Can't wait to see what Space X do next.
posted by welovelife at 2:11 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Was watching live as part of a company event. Boy those SpaceX folks went wild when they landed on the barge. It really looked like a perfect landing, even with all this dust in my office getting into my eyes.
posted by blurker at 2:13 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Not to nitpick, but the rocket is called "Falcon." The Dragon is the capsule on top, which is (presumably) still in orbit.
posted by fifthrider at 2:15 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Well, that's great and all but it's not rocket scien...
posted by dazed_one at 2:15 PM on April 8, 2016 [7 favorites]


Boy, Elon Musk is kind-of a steely-eyed missile man.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:15 PM on April 8, 2016 [8 favorites]


Not to nitpick, but the rocket is called "Falcon." The Dragon is the capsule on top, which is (presumably) still in orbit.

That nitpick is fine and you're right, I blame it on excitedness. Thanks!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:17 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]




Not to nitpick, but the rocket is called "Falcon." The Dragon is the capsule on top, which is (presumably) still in orbit.

I assume that Cortex's "Dreegon" capsule is still earthbound.
posted by hippybear at 2:20 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Elon is having a good week.
posted by gwint at 2:24 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


I watched this as it was happening, assuming that it would be another awesome fireball, and when it landed I swear I teared up a little. I just wasn't expecting it to be quite that amazing, but it is. For whatever reason, that landing just doesn't look possible. It is frankly one of the most astonishing things I have ever seen, and I just this morning saw a monkey in a snowsuit who is also a Russian goat farmer.
posted by The Bellman at 2:25 PM on April 8, 2016 [35 favorites]


Is there any projection on how much could be saved with a reusable rocket? It's an awesome achievement, but I'm not sure I've ever seen a breakdown of the potential savings. The boosters for the Space Shuttle were "reusable", but really required extensive rebuilds between every firing, so the savings wasn't all that much. The Falcon rocket won't be full of salt water at least, so that's better, but I'd imagine it's still going to need a significant overhaul before they can use it again.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:29 PM on April 8, 2016


Is there any projection on how much could be saved with a reusable rocket?

Not that I'm aware. At this point, I think they've just been trying to get an intact first stage back so they can examine it and see how flight worthy it is/how much work it would need to be made flight worthy again. They'll probably need several successful returns before they can get a good idea.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:31 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


It makes me so happy they are using a Banksian name for the landing platform.
posted by Eddie Mars at 2:39 PM on April 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


I assume that Cortex's "Dreegon" capsule is still earthbound.

Hey, it's mispronounced "DRAYgun".
posted by cortex at 2:39 PM on April 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


Is there any projection on how much could be saved with a reusable rocket?

A Falcon 9 launch currently costs around $60 million. They hope that with a reused first stage, it'll be closer to $40 million.
posted by Mr. Pokeylope at 2:46 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Thanks that's exactly what I was looking for. 40mil for a complete launch is incredible.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:52 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


It just looks insane when you watch it landing, like how can this be happening? It looks wrong. Or, I just invented a new conspiracy theory, where SpaceX filmed the Falcon taking off from the barge some other time, then played the footage backwards!! Its out in the ocean where there are no witnesses, so it could all be fake maaan!
posted by Joh at 3:03 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


For whatever reason, that landing just doesn't look possible.

It's eerily graceful. I think we simply aren't used to seeing a rocket move backwards in a gentle arc while slowing down. It runs completely counter to our expectation of how rockets should behave.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:03 PM on April 8, 2016 [11 favorites]


counter to our expectation of how rockets should behave.
posted by dephlogisticated at 3:03 PM on April 8 [+] [!]


Ahem. It is EXACTLY how the rockets landed in all the Warner Bros cartoons I grew up watching.
posted by Thistledown at 3:06 PM on April 8, 2016 [28 favorites]


It just looks insane when you watch it landing, like how can this be happening?

I was watching it live, expecting to a fireball and let out a "HOLY SHIT" when it zoomed into view and just, boop, landed, like "yeah I got this, whatcha worried about". Look at the ocean, that is is not a calm sea at all and the Falcon landed off center. Another 15-20 feet and it would have toppled into the ocean. Hell, it looks like it fall based on the up and down motion of the sea. Damn incredible.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 3:09 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


That is incredible. Well done to all involved - incredible achievement.

Did I mishear, or is the landing drone ship really called "Of course I still love you"?
posted by Diag at 3:15 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is amazing. Aside from the general complexity of the landing, I think one reason it seems impossible is because it looks like it's gracefully landing against propulsion going in the opposite direction. So it looks like a recording of a takeoff being played in reverse.
posted by SpacemanStix at 3:16 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


Its incredible how the cheering cannot get any louder as it touches down, because everyone had already screamed their heart out when it stabilized itself in the air.
posted by ethansr at 3:18 PM on April 8, 2016


Did I mishear, or is the landing drone ship really called "Of course I still love you"?

That's what it's called. (They have a second drone ship on the west coast, called Just Read the Instructions.)
posted by Mr. Pokeylope at 3:18 PM on April 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


I won't be happy until they name one Drony McDroneship.
posted by hippybear at 3:19 PM on April 8, 2016 [14 favorites]


Hell, it looks like it fall based on the up and down motion of the sea.

I thought that too. And then I noticed that it has little (probably not at all little, given that it's 70 meters tall) stabilizer jets all around the top that are constantly burst firing to keep it upright like a baseball bat balanced on your palm. Incredible. Just incredible.
posted by The Bellman at 3:28 PM on April 8, 2016


This is basically the next awesome thing after the Space Shuttle 35 years ago.
posted by rhizome at 3:37 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's too bad that Mr. Banks isn't around to see this success.
posted by srt19170 at 3:43 PM on April 8, 2016 [10 favorites]


I just this morning saw a monkey in a snowsuit who is also a Russian goat farmer.

you don't say
posted by Zerowensboring at 4:02 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Holy shitbeans. That was unreal.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:08 PM on April 8, 2016


Look what we can do

(so, anytime i see anything just amazing, that means humans have taken one more step into the future, this goes through me mind. It is from a scene in the TV show sportscenter where one of the tv personality main characters is watching a clip of person summitting Everest turns to someone standing nearby and say this, apropos of nothing, just what goes through my mind when I see this).
posted by bartonlong at 4:09 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


Hell, it looks like it fall based on the up and down motion of the sea.

I thought that too. And then I noticed that it has little (probably not at all little, given that it's 70 meters tall) stabilizer jets all around the top that are constantly burst firing to keep it upright like a baseball bat balanced on your palm. Incredible. Just incredible.
posted by The Bellman at 5:28 PM on April 8


I was also curious about that when I saw how choppy the ocean was. I wonder if it is something like you describe or if it's merely the fact that center of mass on that rocket stage is so damn low.

I mean, you have the engines and remaining fuel all at the bottom and basically a hollow aluminum (I'm guessing. Whatever it is, you know it's built to be as light as possible.) tube above that.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 4:18 PM on April 8, 2016


basically a hollow aluminum (I'm guessing. Whatever it is, you know it's built to be as light as possible.) tube

Reverse-engineered materials from the Roswell crash, obviously.
posted by hippybear at 4:27 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


The cost savings are potentially huge. Imagine if every time you drove across town you had to buy a whole new $30,000 car which would be destroyed in the process. Expect it's a $40 million rocket with $200,000 of gas.
posted by humanfont at 4:34 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


It must be nice to know that your day to day job is advancing humanity, rather than just making another retrograde wannabe authoritarian asshole richer.
posted by aramaic at 4:37 PM on April 8, 2016 [12 favorites]


So it looks like a recording of a takeoff being played in reverse.

That's what it should look like -- the speed curves from acceleration and deceleration curves are the same. In a very real sense, the rocket is accelerating to match its velocity to the approaching Earth.

While hitting a moving target on the surface.

And compensating for unpredictable forces from wind and ocean.

And doing it all at high speed and high precision.

(This is an amazing feat of engineering.)

It must be nice to know that your day to day job is advancing humanity, rather than just making another retrograde wannabe authoritarian asshole richer.

I'm more than a little tempted to go apply to SpaceX.
posted by reventlov at 4:46 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


The jets you see firing at the top are part of the reaction control system that steers the first stage in orbit, it makes perfect sense to use the same system to help stabilize the rocket on touchdown.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:48 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]




I'm pretty sure I'm qualified for this opening.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:50 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


I honestly did not know we were so far along with our development of ion propulsion that we needed to start hiring Production Automation Engineers for those systems.
posted by hippybear at 4:53 PM on April 8, 2016


Some friends were at the launch live and I'm pretty jealous.

OTOH, some of their engineers were at my work a few weeks ago trying to use our equipment to increase payloads, so I'm not really super jealous of my friends.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 5:28 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Gah the thing about that landing isn't just that the barge is pitching in what look like 1-1.5m swells, but it's also blowing at least 25 knots. How that empty tube stays upright is indeed some special sauce. I guess empty the CG must be about 2m off the deck.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:04 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


I wonder why they choose to land on the barge on the rolling waves vs solid ground. It would seem to increase the level of difficulty for no benefit.
posted by humanfont at 6:21 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think it probably has at least a little to do with a rocket landing on solid ground being essentially a bomb.
posted by rhizome at 6:27 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's mainly because you can sail a barge into almost any position, and thus they can land rockets that take off in all sorts of trajectories and with all different loads. Turning around to put down on land is much more limiting.
posted by tavella at 6:31 PM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Well, they could launch from the center of Kansas... that would provide a lot of land to land on.
posted by hippybear at 6:33 PM on April 8, 2016


I'm sure the CG is pretty far down, like an eggshell with a lead weight at the bottom. Part of their special sauce is likely these fins, and a whole crapload of sensors, and some well-applied ancient control theory, and the will to try it.

They have to provision extra fuel to land back at KSC, which means less payload. Last launch they went with the barge because the customer needed that extra fuel.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:39 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, the reason they don't lauch from Kansas is to make sure debris from a failed lauch doesn't rain down on the next nearby friendly town...
posted by SAnderka at 6:40 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Video of the fins from today's launch courtesy of @SpaceX.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 6:42 PM on April 8, 2016 [3 favorites]


Those fins are really interesting. Extra draggy for the given area with all the honeycomb.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 7:06 PM on April 8, 2016


Cool, but my money's still on Bezos
posted by wobumingbai at 7:15 PM on April 8, 2016


Isn't it just fantastic that there are multiple non-governmental organizations doing ground breaking work to get us off this ball of dirt!
posted by sammyo at 7:23 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Extra draggy for the given area with all the honeycomb.

You want more drag -- you're trying to brake, after all! The honeycomb is probably just there for weight reduction. Guessing they've run the math to achieve the sweet spot of max drag to min area and mass.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:29 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


@SpaceX: 4K footage from chase plane

(I can't tell if it's 4K, but it's pretty sweet)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:40 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


Gah the thing about that landing isn't just that the barge is pitching in what look like 1-1.5m swells

It's bigger than it looks. The 70 metres mentioned above is the height of the entire rocket, the first stage alone is only ~40m. Dividing that into eighths by eye, I'd say the sea is more like 3-4m high.
posted by sfenders at 7:50 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


The honeycomb is for turbulence reduction [pdf].
posted by Confess, Fletch at 7:50 PM on April 8, 2016 [5 favorites]


Grid Fins.

They have several advantages for missiles and rockets. They can be stowed flat easier than traditional fins, and with a shorter chord they put less torque on the actuators, allowing for a smaller, lighter overall package.
posted by Combat Wombat at 7:53 PM on April 8, 2016 [4 favorites]


It runs completely counter to our expectation of how rockets should behave.
Speak for yourself! "The landing was the way God and Robert Heinlein intended."
posted by roystgnr at 8:26 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


breaking work to get us off this ball of dirt!

the least hospitable corner of the earth (outside of active calderas I suppose) is streets ahead of any other spot of space you can find in this solar system.

you want a close simulation of life in a space colony, bury a double-wide 10-20' underground and go live in it...

I'm all for unmanned exploration, but manned is a pipe dream, and, paradoxically, increases the probability of a mass-extinction event happening here (we need machines and not people up in space to defend the planet from unpleasant collisions).
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 8:32 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


And it's difficult to launch from Kansas, partly due to populated area but also because for geosynchronous orbits you want to launch as close to the equator as possible. Florida wins on both counts.

They have successfully landed back on land once, give fuel requirements, weather, and permission they'll probably do it again. But this is a good fallback when land is hard to reach. For the Falcon Heavy they hope to land all three cores eventually.

And it's not that big of a bomb, it's practically out of fuel by landing. They've hit the barges several times and exploded when it hit or tipped over, and each time they were able to repair the barge. Not something I'd want to happen over my house, but not as bad as a fully fueled rocket.

I did Eastern to Central wrong in my head, but realized 30s before launch and brought up the webcast. It was incredible watching it land.
posted by beowulf573 at 8:33 PM on April 8, 2016 [2 favorites]


And it's difficult to launch from Kansas, partly due to populated area but also because for geosynchronous orbits you want to launch as close to the equator as possible.

Not only that, but you can only launch into orbits with an equal or higher inclination angle than your latitude. (Run your finger along a globe and see why this is the case). Which is why ISS is at a 51.6 degree inclination, so that Russians can intercept it and avoid passing over China on the way there.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:57 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Landing a Falcon is actually pretty different velocity-wise than a takeoff because the thrust to weight ratio of the thing with the single engine at landing weight is well above one. Merlins only throttle to something like 60% of full thrust so hovering, or even taking your time in the landing process is impossible. No gradual deceleration here...

They just gotta drop it like a rock over the barge, light off the engine in the last few seconds before the impending crash and make sure the burn is executed such that v=0 a millimeter or so above the deck. It's even harder than it would seem at first glance. But it still somehow looks easy when there are only 10 seconds between the rocket coming into frame and hitting the deck of the barge.
posted by wierdo at 9:08 PM on April 8, 2016 [6 favorites]


They finally did it! Would love to see the control theory details that made this possible.
posted by Standard Orange at 9:38 PM on April 8, 2016


Watched it live in the office and was freaking out when they landed it about a minute after emphasizing how it was "just an experiment" and they would be fine with it blowing up on the droneship.

Rewatched it when I got home, that landing still looks impossible. And I will never get tired of SpaceX employees freaking out about major launch milestones—they were deafening right after the landing, was really glad the broadcasters were able to keep it together.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:04 PM on April 8, 2016 [1 favorite]


Would love to see the control theory details that made this possible.

It wasn't control theory that made this happen. As the presenters said, Dragon to ISS is the primary goal. A huge explosion on landing would be great, as long as they got good data on what happened.

This wasn't done by Control Theory. It was done by incremental improvements on a series of epic, amazing Control Failures.

The last four ship landings have ended in explosions. SpaceX learned and adapted the system every time.

There was a successful recovery of the first stage a few months ago - they landed back to the launch pad.

This is not Rocket Science. It's Rocket Engineering.

Try, fail, learn, think, adapt, try again. But, never try again until you understand why you failed.

Rocket engineering is hard because of the incredible cost of each test.
posted by Combat Wombat at 5:27 AM on April 9, 2016 [6 favorites]


wierdo: I think that last minute high acceleration ending exactly at the deck is why it looks so unnatural. It looks superhuman.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 5:33 AM on April 9, 2016 [1 favorite]


These are popping up now, the landing video mashed up w/I'm On A Boat (NSFW).
posted by ZeusHumms at 7:22 AM on April 9, 2016 [4 favorites]


This is awesome in that space age way of things that were long expected to happen. Not as awesome as making the minor modification in the 70's that would have allowed boosting all 135 space shuttle external fuel tanks into orbit for nearly free and using them for hydroponics, but still awesome.
posted by joeyh at 9:24 AM on April 9, 2016


boosting all 135 space shuttle external fuel tanks into orbit for nearly free and using them for hydroponics

This is one of the persistent myths of the space access movement, but it turns out that when you study the idea it's not quite as simple as that.

TL;DR version: unless you left the ET in a uselessly-low orbit from which it would quickly have decayed (at random rather than over a safe disposal area) it would not have been 'for nearly free' but actually would have involved sacrificing most of the shuttle's payload capacity. To be useful an ET would have required substantial extra equipment to stabilise it and make it an actual spacecraft rather than a huge bit of space debris. The ET wasn't designed to be easy to modify in orbit, and making it easier to modify in orbit would have compromised its safety in its prime role. Finally, once in orbit it would rapidly have started shedding insulation, creating a huge debris hazard.
posted by Major Clanger at 10:09 AM on April 9, 2016 [2 favorites]


boosting all 135 space shuttle external fuel tanks into orbit for nearly free and using them for hydroponics

Outfitting a giant gas tank to be used for some sort of living or growing space never sounded like a good idea.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:14 AM on April 9, 2016


How would one clean the rocket fuel residue out of the tanks to make them safe for growing food, anyway?
posted by hippybear at 10:21 AM on April 9, 2016


Outfitting a giant gas tank to be used for some sort of living or growing space never sounded like a good idea

In fairness that's what Skylab was. But - and it's a big 'but' - Skylab was a very heavily modified S-IVB stage that was fitted out on the ground and launched as the payload of a two-stage version of the Saturn V. In fact it would be more accurate to describe it as a space station that was built using a rocket stage as the basic structure.

(The original plan had been to launch it as the second stage of a Saturn IB and fit it out on orbit, but once NASA worked out just how difficult this would be that 'wet workshop' plan was replaced by the 'dry workshop' I've just described.)
posted by Major Clanger at 10:24 AM on April 9, 2016


hippybear, in fairness that would have been one of the less difficult bits of the 'put an ET in orbit' plan. The Shuttle's ET contained liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, and cleaning it out without any residue would just have been a matter of venting the tanks to space. The tanks were scrupulously clean inside - you do not put LOX into anything that isn't! - and evaporating gasses don't leave anything behind.

Doing this in a controlled manner that didn't push the ET out of the desired orbit or set it tumbling would have been harder; indeed, propellant venting was used to ensure that ETs did tumble after separation from the Shuttle orbiter so as to help ensure they broke up thoroughly during re-entry.
posted by Major Clanger at 10:28 AM on April 9, 2016


As a lurker, I don't have relationships here. However, I saw this happen and thought of Brandon Blatcher immediately as one of my people who was also probably really happily thrilled by this moment.
Somehow I wanted to high-five you...we did it! Wow!
Thanks Brandon, thanks Metafilter.
Also, I watched the entire "on a boat" video and it seems oddly as if the song was just waiting for a good reason to exist.
posted by metasav at 2:47 AM on April 10, 2016




The Shuttle's ET contained liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, and cleaning it out without any residue would just have been a matter of venting the tanks to space. The tanks were scrupulously clean inside - you do not put LOX into anything that isn't! - and evaporating gasses don't leave anything behind.

As a non-engineer used to only pumping gas into my car, I'm having trouble wrapping my mind around this. Not that I don't believe you, just saying I'm too ignorant to know better.

But assuming it's possible, humans just have slipped inside an External Tank in orbit and not smelled anything or been in danger from fumes or chemicals? We'll ignore the lack of life support systems from to even out temperature/pressure etc.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:24 AM on April 10, 2016


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