After heavy seas swamped out a previous attempt to record video of a Falcon 9 test-landing in the Atlantic Ocean, SpaceX today released video of this month's trial. After launching a series of satellites for ORBCOMM, the first stage of the rocket turned its engines back on for a controlled descent back to the surface. The video, seen below, picks up partway through this return. Once reaching the surface, the Falcon 9 gently touches down before tipping over into the sea. Although the rocket lost its structural integrity after tipping over (CEO Elon Musk described this process as "KABOOM"), data collected before its destruction confirmed a successful touchdown.
This is a big milestone for SpaceX's goal of building a reusable rocket. For their next test, they plan to improve the camera design so that ice doesn't build up and obscure a view of the descent. These ocean touchdowns will continue until the company can demonstrate reliable and accurate landing, at which point they can begin attempting to return rockets to the land. Elon Musk hopes his firm can take this step by next year. Once rockets are safely returned to the launchpad, engineers can begin studying them to better understand the stresses the vehicles experience during operation. This will allow designers to reinforce and redesign the Falcon 9 for repeated use.
SpaceX hopes to leverage reusability to reduce the already-low launch cost of the Falcon 9 by up to 90%. With the costs lowered and liftoffs happening more frequently, both science and commerce will face unprecedentedly small hurdles to reaching orbit.