9 Jan 2015

Can SpaceX make commercial rockets more affordable?

How easy is it to reverse park a rocket? That’s the challenge engineers from private US space launch company SpaceX set themselves today (the launch was cancelled earlier this week due to a technical problem).

It starts with a routine mission to resupply the International Space Station with their Falcon 9 rocket. But this morning they will attempt to land the main “first stage” of the rocket booster on a platform in the Atlantic ocean.

Photographers setup remote cameras in front of the the Falcon 9 rocket to be launched by SpaceX on a cargo re-supply service mission to the International Space Station sits on launch pad 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station  in Cape Canaveral, Florida

If they can pull it off it will be a big step towards making commercial rocket launches more affordable. It will also give SpaceX a major boost over its competitors.

The Falcon 9 first stage is equipped with an additional motor to slow its descent as it falls back to earth – held in a horizontal position by gyroscopes. Before it touches down, tripod-like legs will spring our of the rocket’s tail to allow it to land.

SpaceX have demonstrated the technology hovering over the ocean, but have not attempted a targeted landing.

“The odds of success are not great – perhaps 50 per cent at best,” the company said on its website.

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