SpaceX is about to attempt a new landing procedure that could eventually make space travel much cheaper and easier.
The landing attempt will happen minutes after SpaceX launches one of their Falcon 9 rockets out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at exactly 10:21 am ET.
Here’s the live feed, via NASA:
All eyes will be on this rocket
If the rocket safely lands on the platform, it should be in good condition to be reused for a second launch — the first time any rocket will have been fully recovered for reuse.
(NASA used to reuse some of the rocket parts that launched their space shuttles in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. However, these parts were retrieved after parachuting into the ocean and were water logged and needed time for repairs. With SpaceX’s version, the rocket would remain completely dry and should, in theory, be reusable within 24 hours after it’s retrieved.)
This idea of fully-reusable rockets could usher in a new age of future, affordable, commercial spaceflight. The key to this development centres on rockets that can be launched and re-launched — eventually even within the same day — similar to how planes are operated today.
Sunday’s attempt will be the third time that SpaceX has tried to retrieve one of their Falcon 9 rockets after a supply mission to the ISS.
SpaceX’s first two landing attempts took place in January and April of this year. Although both ended with a fiery explosion, April’s attempted landing was a significant improvement on the first: The rocket actually hovered over the platform before touching down.
The only problem was the rocket fell on its side after landing and exploded upon impact. January’s landing attempt basically ended with the rocket crashing into the platform without any hovering or soft touchdown. These explosions take a toll on the platform, but after some scrubbing and sweeping, it’s is ready for another go.
Right now, SpaceX is one of two companies in the world who has launched a rocket designed for reuse. The other company is Blue Origin — established by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Neither SpaceX or Blue Origin have yet to succeed in their endeavour.
The rocket is carrying a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft loaded with over 4,000 pounds of supplies, including food, water, and science experiments, for the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. One of the science experiments includes instruments that will allow astronauts to observe meteors penetrating Earth’s atmosphere.
It’s the first time anyone in space has ever studied meteors like this before.
After the Falcon 9 has transported Dragon to space, it will detach from the spacecraft and navigate its way back — using GPS tracking — to a football-field-sized platform, shown below, floating miles offshore in the Atlantic.
The Dragon spacecraft will continue on to dock with the ISS.
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