This Is How SpaceX Unloads A 15-Story Rocket Off A Drone Ship

Photos from Port Canaveral

falcon 9 at port canaveral
After landing on a drone ship on Friday, Falcon 9's first stage arrived at Port Canaveral on Tuesday, April 12. The booster is about 15 stories tall. Now SpaceX is working on getting it back to Cape Canaveral for testing and possible reuse in flight.Copyright Kyle Brown

On Friday, SpaceX made history by landing its Falcon 9 rocket booster on a drone ship. The move will help the company recover and reuse more rockets after they launch, and the achievement was a long time in the making--SpaceX tried for more than a year to stick the drone ship landing, suffering many explosive failures along the way. They've finally done it! Now they just need to get that thing back to Cape Canaveral.

The drone ship "Of Course I Still Love You" brought the Falcon 9 back to port a little later than expected. It was supposed to arrive on Sunday, but actually docked in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The unloading process has taken several days so far, and is expected to last at least another day or so. Understandable, since we're talking about a 15-story rocket stage with potentially hazardous chemicals onboard.

During a press conference last week, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said,"We're a little bit like the dog that caught the bus--what do we do now?" It's the first time the company has had the opportunity to attempt the unloading procedure, and it will doubtless go more smoothly if/when these drone ship landings become more frequent.

Once it can get the rocket lying down horizontally on a transport vehicle, SpaceX is hoping to bring the used Falcon 9 to Cape Canaveral for testing and, if all goes well, will relaunch in a couple of months.

falcon 9 gets lifted
The port's 273-foot crane lifted the booster off of the drone ship, setting it down onto a cradle (not visible here).Copyright Kyle Brown
workers attach a cable to the Falcon 9
Before the crane could lift it, a fixture had to be installed on top of the booster. Here, workers are attaching a cable to the top of the Falcon 9. Since this photo was taken yesterday, two more tethers have been attached, possibly to guard against wind tipping over the booster.Copyright Kyle Brown
crane next to falcon 9
It's a really tall crane.Copyright Kyle Brown
workers at the base of the rocket booster
After the drone ship touchdown, workers welded steel shoes over the rocket's landing legs to make sure it wouldn't tip over on the way to port. Here, those shoes have been removed, but workers appear to be inspecting the base of the rocket. Later, when it comes time to load the rocket onto a truck, the landing legs will either be folded up or removed for horizontal transport.Copyright Kyle Brown
vulture flies around falcon 9
A vulture meets a Falcon.Copyright Kyle Brown

Our photographer is still at the docks watching the unloading process--we'll add more pictures here if we see anything noteworthy.