SpaceX Will Attempt to Land a Rocket on a Barge Tomorrow

Posted on January 5, 2015

SpaceX will attempt to land a rocket on a barge in the ocean tomorrow. The mission is scheduled for a 6:20 a.m. launch time from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. SpaceX estimates it has about a 50% chance - at best - of landing its 14 story tall Falcon 9 rocket on a 300 by 170 feet floating platform (pictured above) in the Atlantic Ocean.

The landing attempt is part of a cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS). The rocket will turn back to Earth after helping send its Dragon cargo spacecraft to the ISS. SpaceX's goal with attempting to land the rocket is to be able to reuse costly rocket parts.

SpaceX has tested a first stage reentry in the ocean twice. A video of a prior test is embedded below. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk told the New York Times, "We've been able to soft-land the rocket booster in the ocean twice so far. Unfortunately, it sort of sat there for several seconds, then tipped over and exploded. It's quite difficult to reuse at that point."

SpaceX says it has added four hypersonic grid fins in an X-wing configuration on the Falcon 9 rocket for the barge landing. The steerable fins can move independently of each other. SpaceX says these finds "combined with the engine gimbaling" will allow for precision landing on the barge and eventually on land once SpaceX succeeds with the land attempt on a floating platform.

The SpaceX rocket attempt tomorrow may fail but SpaceX is determined to find a way to reuse and refly rockets instead of having them burn up on reentry. The company says, "The concept of landing a rocket on an ocean platform has been around for decades but it has never been attempted. Though the probability of success on this test is low, we expect to gather critical data to support future landing testing."

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