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posted by Blackmoore on Tuesday January 06 2015, @04:30AM   Printer-friendly
from the these-are-the-voyages dept.

The cost of getting to orbit is exorbitant, because the rocket, with its multimillion-dollar engines, ends up as trash in the ocean after one launching, something Elon Musk likens to throwing away a [Boeing] 747 jet after a single transcontinental flight. That's why on Tuesday morning at 6:20 a.m. EST his company hopes to upend the economics of space travel in a daring plan by attempting to land the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket intact on a floating platform, 300 feet long and 170 feet wide in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX has attempted similar maneuvers on three earlier Falcon 9 flights, and on the second and third attempts, the rocket slowed to a hover before splashing into the water. “We’ve been able to soft-land the rocket booster in the ocean twice so far,” says Musk. “Unfortunately, it sort of sat there for several seconds, then tipped over and exploded. It’s quite difficult to reuse at that point.”

After the booster falls away and the second stage continues pushing the payload to orbit, its engines will reignite to turn it around and guide it to a spot about 200 miles east of Jacksonville, Florida. Musk puts the chances of success at 50 percent or less but over the dozen or so flights scheduled for this year, “I think it’s quite likely, 80 to 90 percent likely, that one of those flights will be able to land and refly.” SpaceX will offer its own launch webcast on the company's website beginning at 6 a.m. If SpaceX’s gamble succeeds, the company plans to reuse the rocket stage on a later flight. “Reusability is the critical breakthrough needed in rocketry to take things to the next level."

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  • (Score: 1) by khallow on Tuesday January 06 2015, @06:57AM

    by khallow (3766) Subscriber Badge on Tuesday January 06 2015, @06:57AM (#132132) Journal

    A fracture that is irrelevant after 300 seconds of powered flight might become very significant after 900 seconds.

    Fly often enough with reusable engines and you'll figure that out. The problem with the Space Shuttle wasn't that it was reusable, but that it didn't fly often enough to justify its economics, particularly, its enormous annual fixed costs and development costs. They needed on the order of 50 launches a year to make it competitive with the normal expendable rockets of the time.

    The Falcon 9 has better odds since it'll have more potential payloads per year, but may fail to become fully reusable due to the same flight-rate issues.