SpaceX recently launched the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply (CRS-3) mission. Prior to the launch, the Falcon 9 rocket was equipped with a set of landing legs in hopes of performing a splashdown and recovery in the Atlantic Ocean.
The CRS-3 mission launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on April 18, and the Dragon spacecraft arrived at the ISS on Easter Sunday. The Dragon spacecraft was attached to the Falcon 9 rocket. For the launch, the rocket was equipped with a set of landing legs. SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk wanted to test the legs with a re-entry burn and soft landing in the Atlantic Ocean.
Prior to the launch, SpaceX estimated a 30 percent to 40 percent chance of success of recovering the Falcon 9 rocket. But during a news conference at the National Press Club on April 25, Musk said the rocket achieved a successful landing in the Atlantic Ocean.
“I’m happy to confirm we were able to do a soft landing of the Falcon 9 boost stage in the Atlantic and all the data we received back shows that it did a soft landing and was in a healthy condition after that,” Musk said.
Rough seas made it impossible to recover the Falcon 9. For Musk, the soft landing paves the way for a reusable rocket. SpaceX demonstrated the capability of the Falcon 9 to land on Earth after launching to a height of 250 meters in a test flight on April 18.
Musk also said at the news conference that SpaceX plans to sue the U.S. Air Force over the secret spy satellite launch contract awarded to United Launch Alliance, a partnership between Boeing and Lockheed. The Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle isn't open to competition. In 2015, the Air Force will open bidding for seven launches, while ULA will receive 36 launches as part of a block buy. Musk wants to at least compete for the contract.
In a statement on Monday responding to the SpaceX lawsuit, ULA said that it is "the only government certified launch provider that meets all of the unique Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle (EELV) requirements that are critical to supporting our troops and keeping our country safe. That is the case today, when the acquisition process started in 2012 and at the time of the contract award in December 2013."
Prior to the Atlantic Ocean splashdown, SpaceX released video from the Falcon 9 onboard camera, which can be viewed below. The company is seeking the public's help to clean up the source file and has released the raw data for repair.