SpaceX's Leaning Rocket Tower Comes Ashore (Photos)

SpaceX's Leaning Falcon 9 Rocket Stage
The leaning first stage of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket nears port in Florida on June 2, 2016. (Image credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX's latest landed booster survived its ocean journey without toppling over and has now joined its three companions in the company's reusable-rocket repository.

On May 27, the first stage of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket helped launch the Thaicom 8 commercial communications satellite from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, then came back to Earth on a robotic "drone ship" stationed a few hundred miles offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.

The successful touchdown used up the energy-absorbing "crush core" in one of the Falcon 9 stage's four landing legs, causing the booster to tilt noticeably on the ship's deck.

The first stage of the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched the Thaicom 8 communications satellite comes into port in Florida on June 2, 2016. (Image credit: SpaceX)

At the time, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk expressed a bit of concern that the booster might tip over during the lengthy trip back to shore at Port Canaveral, even though the rocket was welded to the drone ship's deck. But everything turned out OK.

"Yay, baby made it home!" Musk said on June 3 via his Twitter account, @elonmusk.

The booster has since been transported to a hangar at Launch Complex 39A, which is part of NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The building now houses all four of the Falcon 9 first stages that SpaceX has brought back to Earth during orbital launches.

The four Falcon 9 rocket first stages that SpaceX has landed sit in a hangar at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. (Image credit: SpaceX)

"Fantastic four," SpaceX tweeted yesterday (June 6), along with a photo of the four rockets, which are part of the company's effort to develop fully and rapidly reusable launch systems.

The first successful Falcon 9 landing occurred in December, during the launch of 11 satellites from Cape Canaveral for SpaceX customer Orbcomm; the Falcon 9 first stage came back down on terra firma.

The other three touchdowns — on April 8, May 6 and May 27 — all occurred on the drone ship, which SpaceX named "Of Course I Still Love You," after a sentient starship in the novels of Iain M. Banks. (The company would ideally like every rocket to touch down on land, to make reprocessing and reflight more efficient. However, some liftoffs use so much fuel that boosters can't make it back to the launch site and must land at sea.)

The Falcon 9 that landed in December will go on display at SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. But the company aims to refly the booster from the April 8 launch, perhaps as early as this summer, Musk has said.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.