The private spaceflight company SpaceX will attempt the ultimate space double-header today (Feb. 8) with the launch of a space weather observatory followed by an ambitious rocket landing attempt on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) into orbit from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:10 p.m. EST (2310 GMT). You can watch the SpaceX rocket launch live online beginning at 3:30 p.m. EST (2030 GMT), courtesy of NASA TV.
If all goes well, once the launch is complete SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket will attempt to land on "Just Follow the Instructions" — an autonomous spaceport drone ship parked about 370 miles (595 kilometers off the Florida coast. It is the second time that SpaceX is attempting to land a Falcon 9 rocket first stage on the drone ship. A Jan. 10 attempt ended with the booster landing hard, smashing into the landing platform and exploding. SpaceX CEO and founder Elon Musk said that try was "Close, but no cigar."
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket equipped with landing legs is seen in this image from the private spaceflight company's website. SpaceX will attempt to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on an ocean platform on Feb. 8, 2015 after launching the Deep Space Climate Observatory, a space weather satellite, for NASA and NOAA.
SpaceX's autonomous spaceport drone ship, called "Just Read the Instructions, " is designed to be an offshore landing pad for the company's Falcon 9 rocket. The drone ship is named after the sentient colony ship from the novels of science fiction author Iain M. Banks.
Credit: SpaceX via Elon Musk, Twitter
"We ran out of hydraulic fluid shortly after the landing burn started, so it was close, " Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president for mission assurance, told reporters on Saturday of the January attempt. "I feel like last time was really an enormous accomplishment."
This time, SpaceX hopes to do better, but Koenigsmann still put the chances of success for the novel test at just 50 percent.
The 14-story Falcon 9 rocket first stage has been loaded with 50 percent more hydraulic fluid for the four grid steering fins that control the booster during its hypersonic atmospheric re-entry. But the rocket will also be coming in twice as fast and landing further offshore than the one used in the Jan. 10 landing attempt due to the nature of the DSCOVR mission, Koenigsmann added.
"We hope it will go well this time, " he said.
The Deep Space Climate Observatory space weather satellite is prepared for its Feb. 8, 2015 launch atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The satellite will is an early-warning system for solar storms, but will also observe the Earth.
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
While SpaceX has been pursing rocket landing and reusability technology in the hopes of lowering to costs of spaceflight, Koenigsmann stressed that today's landing attempt is not the company's main objective. Successfully sending the DSCOVR space weather satellite into orbit is the primary mission.
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