The next Falcon 9 rocket, scheduled to blast off in March on a space station resupply flight, will sport a landing gear to take the next leap in making the commercial launcher reusable, according to SpaceX officials.
Photo of one of four landing legs attached to the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage inside the SpaceX hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Photo credit: SpaceX/Elon Musk via Twitter
Ground crews are attaching a set of landing legs to the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage inside a hangar at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, according to Elon Musk, SpaceX's chief executive.
When the rocket takes off March 16, engineers will program the first stage to guide itself to a soft splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, where a recovery team will try to pluck the spent rocket from the sea several hundred miles northeast of Cape Canaveral.
The rocket's second stage will continue into orbit with a Dragon cargo craft heading for the International Space Station.
SpaceX's ultimate objective is to fly the first stage back to a vertical landing near the launch pad, but Musk said Sunday on Twitter that the Falcon 9 will return to water landings until the company can prove "precision control from hypersonic [through] subsonic regimes."
Musk has said a reusable Falcon 9 rocket would slash SpaceX's launch costs. The company's advertised launch prices already undercut domestic and international competitors.
The first stage will carry four landing legs designed to deploy after separation from the Falcon 9's second stage a few minutes after liftoff. Made of carbon fiber with aluminum honeycomb, the legs are stowed along the side of the rocket during launch and extend down and outward for landing, according to information posted on SpaceX's website.
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