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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 MichaelDavidCrawford on Tuesday January 06 2015, @08:10AM

    by MichaelDavidCrawford (2339) Subscriber Badge <> on Tuesday January 06 2015, @08:10AM (#132152) Homepage Journal

    Also it was planned that an additional shuttle would be launched into polar orbit from Vandengberg Air Force Base in California.

    IIRC, after the very first shuttle launched, after retrieving the solid rocket boosters from the ocean, NASA announced that they would not be reusing them. I don't know why, but note that the first shuttle explosion was due to a failure in the O-ring that sealed the joints between sections of the boosters.

    Right around that same time, they also announced that they wouldn't be using the shuttle at Vandenberg.

    Yes I Have No Bananas. []
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 06 2015, @08:38AM

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday January 06 2015, @08:38AM (#132161)

    This plan to land the Falcon 9 first stage on a "floating drone platform" has been known for some weeks. IIRC, it wasn't known that SpaceX will try to reuse it too. SpaceX is obviously devoted to aggressively lowering the cost of spaceflight, and I think we'll know within a couple years the significance these vertically landable reusable rocket stages could have.

  • (Score: 2) by Kell on Tuesday January 06 2015, @10:49AM

    by Kell (292) on Tuesday January 06 2015, @10:49AM (#132184)

    after retrieving the solid rocket boosters from the ocean, NASA announced that they would not be reusing them

    This is not correct. The boosters were reused. In fact, casings used in the Ares I first stage motor had flown on 48 cumulative flights, including on STS-1 []. NASA used two ships - MV Freedom Star and MV Liberty Star - to recover them and tow them to a dock at KSC.

    Scientists ask questions. Engineers solve problems.