SpaceX attempts to land first ever ‘reusable rocket’ on ocean drone platform –

Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2015

“A fully and rapidly reusable rocket – which has never been done before – is
the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space
access,” said a company statement.

The attempt will come after the Falcon 9 launches from NASA pad early Tuesday,
carrying the unmanned Dragon cargo vessel which is packed with supplies and
equipment for the six astronauts living at the International Space Station.

The rocket will separate, as it usually does, allowing the second stage to
continue propelling the spaceship to orbit.

But this time, SpaceX will relight the engines on the 14-story tall Falcon 9
first stage.

Then, three separate engine burns should guide and slow the rocket down so it
can land upright on the 300 by 100 foot (91 by 30 meter) platform, which
SpaceX is calling an “autonomous spaceport drone ship.”

Extra fins have been added to the rocket to help it maneuver.

“The grid fins are super important for landing with precision,” Musk wrote on

“The aerodynamic forces are way too strong for the nitrogen thrusters. In
particular, achieving pitch trim is hopeless. Our atmosphere is like
molasses at Mach 4!”

The company has already shown in two tests that it could execute some control
over the return the first stage of the Falcon 9, slowing it down to a hover
before allowing it to splash into the ocean.

This time, no personnel will be within a distance of about 10 miles from the
landing platform, said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president for Mission
Assurance at SpaceX.

He also said that real-time updates are not likely even though there are
cameras on the rocket to capture the experimental landing.

“It is very difficult to hit a platform of that size,” he said at a NASA
briefing on Monday.

“If you look at it from almost 150 miles up in suborbit, it looks like a very
small place to land on.”

SpaceX had described the challenge as going from a landing accuracy of 10
kilometers in past tests to 10 meters in this attempt.

In the final moments, gravity should help the rocket set itself down on the

“The center of gravity is pretty low for the booster, as all the engines and
residual propellant is at the bottom,” Musk wrote.

The launch was initially supposed to take place last month. But SpaceX
postponed it on December 18 after a launchpad static test fire was a “tad
short” and the team decided to exercise caution and postpone until the New
Year, Koenigsmann said.

If the company’s fifth contracted launch with NASA to the ISS goes ahead as
planned Tuesday – and weather is 70-percent favorable for launch – the
Dragon cargo ship should arrive at the ISS on January 8.

The supply ship is carrying its heaviest load yet – 1.8 pressurized metric
tons of “much-needed cargo,” said ISS program manager Mike Suffredini.

“The SpaceX folks have used quite a bit of ingenuity to help us put items in
all the little cracks and crevices as we kind of lean on the Dragon vehicle
to supply ISS here for the next little while until the Orbital folks are
flying again,” he told reporters.

SpaceX has a $1.6 billion contract with NASA for 12 missions to supply the
space station and return cargo to Earth.

Orbital Sciences also has a $1.9 billion contract with NASA to supply the
space station.

However, an engine failure on Orbital’s Antares rocket in October cost the
company $200 million in lost parts and postponed its remaining launches
until further notice.


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