Yesterday (4/14/14) SpaceX successful delivered its Dragon capsule into orbit carrying supplies for the ISS. Later this week Dragon will dock with the space station for final delivery. This will mark Falcon 9 + Dragon’s 6th successful delivery. While this itself is a great milestone, the arguably more exciting and important one is not about going up, its about saving what comes down.
The Falcon 9 rocket is designed so that the first, and most expensive, stage can land and be reused. The first attempt was partially successful as the first stage made it back to the the floating drone ship which is itself a difficult feat. That attempt ended in a spectacular explosion seen below.
The second attempt yesterday was not a 100% success, but it was an improvement. The rocket made it back to the drone ship and was vertical, the retrorockets fired properly and the rocket did land on the platform. The excessive lateral velocity seen in the video below caused the rocket to tip over after it landed.
The fact that the landing was hard and the rocket was not recovered is sad, but SpaceX came much closer this time. This means that in the foreseeable future they will have a rocket that can be reused making trips to space 100x cheaper than ever before.