SpaceX Will Try To Land A Rocket After Reentry For The First Time Friday

Giuseppe Macri Tech Editor
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Amid a month of milestones for space exploration, private vehicle manufacturer and launch contractor SpaceX will attempt to land its reusable Falcon 9 rocket on a floating sea platform after reentry for the first time on Friday.

After launching SpaceX’s Dragon resupply capsule to the International Space Station for NASA from Cape Canaveral Friday, the company will attempt to vertically land its rocket for reuse for the first time — a goal SpaceX has a 50-percent chance of achieving.

“The odds of success are not great,” the company said in a statement released Wednesday. “However this test represents the first in a series of similar tests that will ultimately deliver a fully reusable Falcon 9 first stage.”

According to SpaceX, stabilizing the Falcon 9 for reentry and landing on the company’s new autonomous spaceport drone ship will be like “trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm.” (RELATED: Elon Musk Shows Off SpaceX’s New ‘X-Wing’ Rocket, Sea Drone Landing Platform)

The Falcon 9’s 14-story first stage will be traveling around 1,300 meters-per-second (almost 1 mile-per-second) after propelling the Dragon into orbit and reentering the atmosphere. Coupled with that, the Falcon 9 will have to execute a precise landing on the 300-by-100-foot deck of the drone on the rocket’s 70-foot landing legspan — meaning SpaceX will be aiming for a target window within 10 meters, despite only achieving a window of 10 kilometers on previous launches. (RELATED: Watch SpaceX’s Reusable Rocket Fly Back To Earth)

To attempt the monumental task, Falcon 9 will execute a series of three engine burns — one to adjust the angle of the rocket, a second to help slow it down to about 250 meters-per-second and a third in preparation for a soft touchdown, during which the landing legs will deploy and the rocket’s decent will slow to around 2 meters-per-second.

SpaceX is counting on the Falcon 9’s new hypersonic “x-wing” grid fins introduced last month to give the rocket more maneuverable precision than on previous launches. The fins, which move independently for pitch, roll and yaw, will help guide the rocket to the drone, which uses repurposed thrusters from deep-sea oil rigs to maintain a stationary position within 3 meters.

“The concept of landing a rocket on an ocean platform has been around for decades but it has never been attempted,” the company said in the statement. “Though the probability of success on this test is low, we expect to gather critical data to support future landing testing.”

SpaceX is confident that Friday’s test will lead to a successful at-sea landing and eventually, touchdown on solid ground and rocket reusability — a milestone critical for achieving a significantly reduced spaceflight cost.

Friday’s launch — SpaceX’s fifth resupply mission to the ISS — is scheduled for 1:22 p.m. EST Friday. NASA predicted a 70-percent chance of favorable weather conditions for launch on Wednesday.

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Tags : spacex
Giuseppe Macri