WATCH LIVE: SpaceX will try landing its Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship again Tuesday [Updated]

February 19, 2016 – 03:23 am


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Update 4/13/15: The NASA live stream is embedded at the bottom of the post. The launch is still scheduled for 4:33PM EDT.

The launch was aborted with 2m 39s left due to approaching thunderstorms. They’ll give it a shot again tomorrow (4/14) at 4:10PM EDT.

SpaceX is on a quest to get things into orbit and be less wasteful doing it. After a less than successful test a few months ago, Elon Musk’s private space firm is set to test its reusable Falcon 9 first stage on Monday, April 13th as it launches a new International Space Station resupply mission. SpaceX will attempt to land that first stage vertically on its “spaceport drone ship” in the Atlantic Ocean after seeing the Dragon capsule safely to orbit.

Most of the launch platforms developed thus far have relied upon at least one or two stages, which decouple from the payload during the assent and drop harmlessly into the ocean. It’s necessary for the launch vehicle to shed this dead weight on its way to orbit, but it would be nice if these stages could be refueled and sent up again rather than being smashed. That’s the goal of SpaceX’s reusable rocket.

After the first stage has expended most of its fuel, it will detach from the Dragon capsule and the smaller second stage. The Falcon 9 will perform a flip and begin a retrograde burn to bring its descent trajectory in-line with the drone ship. The rocket will then deploy a series of hypersonic grid fins that can steer the craft during its descent. Another burst from the engines will slow the rocket so the grid fins can do their job. At this point, another burn just above the deck of the ship should allow the rocket to set down vertically.

The last test of this system during the January resupply launch ended with the rocket exploding on the deck of SpaceX’s drone ship (see below). According to CEO Elon Musk, this failure was due to the grid fins running out of hydraulic fluid. The fins were unable to steer the rocket during the final approach, causing it to be slightly off-target. Monday’s launch will include much larger reserves of hydraulic fluid, which should eliminate at least that one issue.

If SpaceX can perfect rapidly reusable rockets, it could reduce the cost of reaching orbit by a huge margin. SpaceX’s cost per kilogram is currently around $4, 000, but Musk has said on several occasions that he believes launches could be made about one quarter as expensive.

The main goal on Monday is for SpaceX to complete the sixth of its 12-mission NASA contract to fly supplies to the space station. The automated Dragon capsule will deliver 4, 387 pounds of food, equipment, and scientific instruments to the ISS before returning to Earth in a few weeks. Dragon is designed to land softly in the ocean so it can be reused. If all goes well, it might not be the only reusable launch component for long. The launch is scheduled for 4:33 p.m. EDT Monday from Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.


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