As if launching something into space wasn't challenging enough, SpaceX is now about to try to do the reverse process - landing a rocket so that it can be used again. Elon Musk wants to land a Falcon 9 on a small platform in the Atlantic Ocean. The bold experiment, scheduled for launching next week, is a calculated move towards reducing the high costs of space exploration. The company admits that "The odds of success are not great -- perhaps 50% at best. This test represents the first in a series of similar tests that will ultimately deliver a fully reusable Falcon 9 first stage."
Since the Falcon 9 is roughly 14 stories tall, trying to control the rocket's re-entry would be "like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm." SpaceX said. SpaceX is targeting a landing accuracy of within 10 meters.
"A fully and rapidly reusable rocket -- which has never been done before -- is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access," SpaceX said on its website. "While most rockets are designed to burn up on re-entry, SpaceX is building rockets that not only withstand re-entry, but also land safely on Earth to be refueled and fly again."
If SpaceX can successfully land the rocket, it will have developed a way to reuse rockets in subsequent flights, drastically reducing waste and the overall cost of space exploration. This is in stark contrast with the current status quo model where rockets spend their fuel and subsequently crash into the sea as garbage.
“If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred. A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space.”
The Falcon 9 flight was originally scheduled to launch in December but was delayed after a test firing of the rocket engines did not go precisely as planned. The company conducted additional tests last week that were successful. Jan. 7 is the backup date should the scheduled Jan. 6 launch get pushed back.
Earlier this year, SpaceX, along with Boeing, won a NASA contract to fly astronauts to the International Space Station.
Read more at spacex.com