UPDATE: Due to technical and weather concerns, the launch and upright return is now scheduled to take place today, Feb. 11, at 6:03pm EST. Watch it all right here!
Following an explosive first attempt, Elon Musk's private rocket company, SpaceX will try again at engineering greatness this afternoon.
Today's mission will deliver NASA's Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) into orbit, but the real interesting stuff will be a lot closer to Earth. After the DSCOVR observatory is dropped off in the heavens, the SpaceX team will again attempt an upright landing of its 14-story first-stage rocket onto an unanchored 300-by-100-foot "autonomous spaceport drone ship" floating in the middle of the ocean. This may sound like a sizeable target, but keep in mind that the rocket has a 70-foot legspan, so there's not a lot of room for error here.
(And let's also not forget that the rocket will attempt to plant itself on this floating target from space.)
Last month's Falcon 9 mission successfully sent an unmanned package to the International Space Station. Unfortunately, while the Falcon 9 rocket did successfully make impact with the drone ship, it landed a bit too hard and exploded, as you can see in Vine below (turn on the audio for the full effect):
Today's liftoff is tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. EST and we have embedded the livestream above. Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. EST.
The Falcon 9 rocket has to delicately land its first stage rocket on its end, however it has only acheived a "soft landing" into the ocean with a targeted landing accuracy of 10 km (around 6 miles). For today's mission, the SpaceX team is targeting a landing accuracy of within 10 meters (a little less than 33 feet for you Americans, or just over 10 yards if you're into football).
Here's footage of a Falcon 9 mission from August in which the first-stage rocket returned from space and slowly descended fully upright into the Atlantic Ocean:
There are no easy parts of today's mission. After propelling its payload into space and separating from the second stage rocket, the large first stage rocket will begin its descent back to Earth. The tricky part here is stabilizing the rocket as it goes to battle with the atmosphere (if you recall Felix Baumgartner's chaotic, spintastic space jump from 2013, you might remember some of the forces the rocket will be facing). The SpaceX team likens stabilizing the rocket to "trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm."
This straightening-out will be achieved (if all goes according to plan) through a number of "retro propulsion" burns that, along with the natural drag of the atmosphere, will slow the vehicle's descent speed from 1, 300 m/s to just 2 m/s (or from just under 3, 000 mph to just over 4 mph).
And then, keep in mind that the unanchored platform is itself a moving target that will shift and shimmy with the ocean waves.
NASA Commercial Crew Human Spaceflight Program for Transport to the International Space Station (ISS): SpaceX Dragon and Boeing CST-100 Contracts, Safety Reviews, History and Update Reports
eBooks (Progressive Management)
You might also like:
NASA's Commercial Orbital Transportation Services: A New Era in Spaceflight - History of International Space Station (ISS) Cargo and Crew, SpaceX, Orbital Sciences, Bigelow
eBooks (Progressive Management)
Spacex Year Of The Dragon Mouse Pad / Mouse Mat / Mousepad / Mousemat
Office Product (ACESR)
Samsingl Women Spacex Dragon Capsule Flip-flop 5.5 B(m) Us Rubber Colorful
iPhone 6 Plus Case, Spacex - Year Of The Dragon Iphone Customize Photo Case for iPhone 6 Plus 5.5inch with TPU Black Border