Updated on 12-19-2015 by Lulu Chang: On Friday, SpaceX founder and CEO took to Twitter to share some pretty groundbreaking news.
Currently looking good for a Sunday night (~8pm local) attempted orbital launch and rocket landing at Cape Canaveral
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 19, 2015
For the first time in nearly six months, the company will attempt to launch a Falcon 9 rocket, and from land no less (the two previous tries have been from a drone ship in open water). This marks SpaceX’s return to the launching game since its last rocket exploded just moments after it took off back in June.
According to Friday’s launch forecast from Air Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, liftoff would occur at 8:29 pm, and there’s a 90 percent chance of favorable weather for the occasion.
If all goes well, the 229.6-foot Falcon 9 rocket will make its way out of Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and 10 minutes later, the booster of the rocket will separate. Then, using GPS tracking technology, the booster will ideally return to its launch site, making a historic landing.
Bon voyage, fair Falcon.
Original Post: As SpaceX readies the launch of its rebuilt Falcon 9 rocket later this month, a recent report from Florida Today suggests the company may opt to forgo a barge landing and instead bring the rocket down on a landing pad. Considering Elon Musk’s aerospace company has had little success in the past bringing its Falcon 9 back in one piece, this announcement seems like a no-brainer. To make the stakes even higher, Musk nemesis Jeff Bezos (and his private space firm, Blue Origin) brought a rocket of their own safely back to land just last week. Who doesn’t love a little friendly competition?
According to Florida Today, NASA’s Carol Scott spoke to a group of reporters Tuesday confirming what she called “very exciting news” regarding SpaceX’s Falcon rocket program. After touching briefly on the company’s Falcon Heavy rockets and intention to send astronauts to space by 2017, Scott detailed its plan to land a Falcon 9 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Though SpaceX has yet to confirm the announcement, Scott told the media she just spoke of the plan with a company executive.
“Their plan is to try to land [the next booster] out here on the Cape-side,” said Scott, a member of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.
For the better part of the last year, SpaceX has routinely attempted to land its Falcon 9 rocket on a floating barge, with perhaps its closest attempt occurring just this past April. To Musk, having the ability to successfully land a rocket after its launch is vital to the future of space travel, due to the high prices associated with rocket launches. Though the barge landings proved unsuccessful, SpaceX always planned on using those as training for actual land-based attempts. In a tweet which threw slight shade at Bezos, Musk asserted back in November land landing was next in his plans.
Jeff maybe unaware SpaceX suborbital VTOL flight began 2013. Orbital water landing 2014. Orbital land landing next. https://t.co/S6WMRnEFY5
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
Backing up this claim was SpaceX’s lease of Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 13 from the Air Force this past year, of which it officially dubbed Landing Complex 1. Since it finalized the lease, the company worked towards reconstructing the launch pad to brace for future rocket landings. However, the pad may still require some additional construction to support a landing, and the FAA has yet to give SpaceX an official launch license for the site. Because of this, it’s unknown when SpaceX intends to perform the land-based landing despite Scott pointing towards December 15 as a possible date.
As NASA and SpaceX hold their collective breath in anticipation of a successful launch and landing, a massive uphill battle remains before reusing landed rockets becomes standard practice. Though like anything Elon Musk puts his mind to, it will undoubtedly be riveting to watch — for better or worse.