SpaceX is to continue its quest to slash the cost of space travel with another rocket landing attempt.
The company made a successful landing on solid ground in December, and now it wants to make a landing at sea. With each successful landing SpaceX moves further to being able to reuse rockets for multiple missions and dramatically reduce the cost of space flights.
SpaceX attempts sea landing but doesn’t expect success
This will be the fourth time that SpaceX tries to land its Falcon 9 rocket on a floating dock in the ocean. However the company says that “a successful landing is not expected” due to the demands of the flight.
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The rocket will be delivering a satellite to a unique geostationary orbit. It will provide communications coverage for 20 Asia-Pacific nations, and provide in-flight WiFi for air travelers in the region.
SpaceX will launch the rocket at 6:45 p.m. ET Thursday at Cape Canaveral in Florida. The launch of the SES-9 satellite was supposed to take place on Wednesday but was delayed.
Delayed launch expected to go ahead Thursday
The company scrubbed the launch “out of an abundance of caution,” but the Falcon 9 rocket “remains healthy.”
“Out of an abundance of caution, the team opted to hold launch for today to ensure liquid oxygen temperatures are as cold as possible in an effort to maximize performance of the vehicle,” said SpaceX.
SES spokeswoman Nita Wright said that the launch is expected to be successful. “There is a confidence in the launch because (preparation) is done now,” she said. “Now, everything is go, go, go until launch.”
Successful landing could revolutionize space travel
If SpaceX can land the rocket at sea it could reduce the cost of space travel by a factor of one hundred. Up until now conventional rockets have burnt up in the atmosphere, meaning that they are only good for a single use.
However the Falcon 9 has been designed to withstand the heat of reentry and land vertically. The rocket that made a successful landing in December is free from damage and can be used in future missions, says SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
The problem is that not every mission can land on solid ground. The company uses so-called drone ships for what Musk calls “high-velocity missions” that take payloads like satellites into higher orbits.
Drone ships are used when it is “just not physically possible to return to launch site,” said Musk. SpaceX attempted a landing at sea in January and almost made it. Unfortunately one of the four legs did not lock completely and the rocket fell over before exploding on the deck of the ship.
A successful relanding would allow more space missions due to reduced costs.
“One of the limiting factors to a more-robust space program is the cost of getting payloads into orbit,” said Rob Salonen of Florida Institute of Technology. “If SpaceX can make it less expensive to do that, it lowers the cost of that orbit.”
Although SpaceX does not expect today’s launch to be a success, it seems that it is only a matter of time before a Falcon 9 is brought safely down onto a drone ship. When that happens we could see new areas of space programs opened up and a larger number of launches taking place.