Rocket landing experiment on tap after SpaceX cargo launch

February 27, 2016 – 04:09 am

An aerial view of SpaceX's rocket landing barge, named the Marmac 300 and unofficially christened theSpaceX hopes to take a giant leap forward in rocket technology a few minutes after Friday’s scheduled launch of a Falcon 9 booster taking up 2.5 tons of critical supplies and experiments to the International Space Station.

Burning leftover liquid fuel in its propellant tanks, the Falcon 9 rocket’s first stage will fly back to Earth after finishing a nearly three-minute burn to send SpaceX’s Dragon commercial cargo craft toward the space station. The descent of the first stage will occur just as the Falcon 9’s single-engine upper stage puts the Dragon supply ship into orbit on course for a resupply run to the six-person space station crew.

Friday’s launch is scheduled for 1:22 p.m. EST (1822 GMT), roughly the moment the International Space Station’s orbital track passes over Cape Canaveral.

The 14-story rocket booster will plunge back through the atmosphere at hypersonic speed, firing a subset of its nine Merlin 1D engines three times to a controlled vertical landing on a barge positioned about 200 miles northeast of the Falcon 9’s launch pad at Cape Canaveral.

Other rockets are designed to be expendable and are destroyed during their fall back to Earth.

Nothing like it has ever been tried before. Rocket engineers from several companies — including SpaceX’s rocket team — have flown vertical takeoff and landing testbeds on short hops, and the space shuttle’s solid rocket boosters parachuted to Earth for retrieval by ships in the Atlantic Ocean.

SpaceX has also flown Falcon 9 boosters to two successful soft water landings in the Atlantic after space launches in April and July.

What SpaceX is trying on Friday’s launch is more dicey, and company officials are circumspect when talking about probability of pulling off the feat on the first attempt.

“Returning anything from space is a challenge, but returning a Falcon 9 first stage for a precision landing presents a number of additional hurdles, ” SpaceX said in a post on its website Tuesday. “At 14 stories tall and traveling upwards of 1300 m/s (2, 900 mph), stabilizing the Falcon 9 first stage for reentry is like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm.”

“It’s probably not more than a 50 percent chance or less of landing it on the platform for the first time, ” said Elon Musk, SpaceX’s CEO and chief technology officer, in remarks at a colloquium held in October at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Source: spaceflightnow.com

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