Nearly four months after a SpaceX rocket exploded in mid-air, billionaire Elon Musk’s spaceflight company has announced plans to try again in December.
SpaceX’s revolutionary Falcon 9 rocket blew up shortly after launch in June, destroying both the rocket and the supplies it was carrying to the International Space Station.
Engineers blamed the mishap on a strut attached the rocket’s upper stage. The two-foot-long bar broke off and released a flood of helium into the rocket’s liquid oxygen tank, causing the whole tank to rupture and blow the rocket to smithereens:
After the accident, the company redesigned the rocket struts and put the Falcon 9 through a series of tests and checks.
A successful launch is critical after the company lost millions of dollars in the recent explosion. But the real show will start after the 208-feet-tall rocket separates: While the upper stage continues into space, the first stage will return to Earth. SpaceX hopes to vertically land the first stage of the rocket on a platform in the ocean.
This feat could completely revolutionise access to space. SpaceX would be able to save the multimillion-dollar, liquid-fuelled rocket stage and reuse it, rather than letting it burn up or sink to the bottom of the ocean (which has been the norm in spaceflight for decades).
“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like aeroplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred,” Musk wrote on the SpaceX website. Truly reusable rockets could make the cost of a launch a few hundred thousand dollars (accounting for fuel, personnel, and overhead), as opposed to the $US61 million it takes to build a completely new rocket for every launch, Musk told Bloomberg.
SpaceX came tantalizingly close to landing one of its rockets back in April:
The rocket is being launched from Cape Canaveral in Florida where it will have more thrust than previous models, and the extra kick should help it stick the landing, according to Reuters. The company is also teasing a followup launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
So keep your fingers crossed during the launch in December. Until then, you can try landing Musk’s rocket yourself with this maddening online game.
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