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SpaceX plans ocean landing attempt following February 24 launch

SpaceX will make its next launch attempt and possible ocean landing on February 24 when it is slated to deploy an SES-9 satellite into orbit. The projected launch was announced by Luxembourg-based satellite operator SES, which is using the deployment to expand its satellite network. SES did not provide a window for launch, reports Ars Technica, but the company did confirm February 25 as a backup date if the weather on February 24 is not favorable.

During the mission, the SpaceX rocket is expected to expand all its available fuel, forcing the rocket to attempt another sea-barge landing instead of returning to its Florida landing site. As part of its return flight, the rocket will land on an autonomous drone ship approximately the size of a football field. The enormous ship can remain stable in rough waters, holding its position within three meters despite the weather conditions. Unlike last month’s Pacific landing, SpaceX plans to land the rocket in the waters off the east coast of the United States.

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The company has previously attempted to land on an ocean platform, but has yet to nail the return maneuver. The first two attempts resulted in a fiery mess, with the rockets collapsing and exploding immediately after touchdown. The third and most recent landing in January was a near success, but the landing failed at the end after the Falcon 9’s landing legs did not lock following a beautiful touchdown on the platform. “We stuck the landing, and then we unstuck it,” said SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell to attendees of a recent Federal Aviation Administration conference.

Despite these setbacks, the company remains committed to becoming the first company ever to complete a successful sea platform landing. If the firm manages this feat, sea landings would provide the company with greater flexibility when planning upcoming launch missions and landing attempts. Following this month’s launch, SpaceX also hopes to increase the frequency of its launches with the goal of sending rockets into orbit every few weeks for the rest of 2016. The company also plans to re-fly a booster rocket that successfully completed an earlier payload delivery mission.