Can SpaceX land a returning rocket on a ship today. They got close last time, but the impact of the stage 1 of Falcon 9 is incredible. The impact on the ship if it lands will be extreme, despite breaking maneuvers.
Earlier this year SpaceX failed to land the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on a drone ship in the ocean. Today the space company will try again with an improved drone ship. If successful, Elon Musk's SpaceX would have found another way to save a lot of cost delivering stuff into space. As the vine shows below, SpaceX got rather close the first time around.
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SpaceX is set to launch its 6th official Commercial Resupply (CRS) mission to the orbiting ISS. SpaceX CRS-6 mission is targeting launch at 4:33pm EDT Monday, April 13 from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. While the take-off is always interesting to watch, it is the landing attempt of parts of the Falcon 9 rocket that is really exciting.
SpaceX says that the drone ship has been upgraded to tolerate more powerful ocean swells. This time around thought the weather at the landing site is looking significantly better than last time. After Dragon and Falcon 9’s second stage are on their way to orbit, the first stage will execute a controlled reentry through Earth’s atmosphere, targeting touchdown on the autonomous spaceport drone ship approximately 9 minutes after launch. So we should see the rocket landing attempt at about 4:42pm EDT.
SpaceX will offer a live webcast here.
SpaceX said that the odds of success are not great with about a 50% chance at best. This test represents the first in a series of similar tests that will ultimately deliver a fully reusable Falcon 9 first stage. Returning anything from space is a challenge, but returning a Falcon 9 first stage for a precision landing presents a number of additional hurdles.
At 14 stories tall and traveling upwards of 1300 m/s (nearly 1 mi/s), stabilizing the Falcon 9 first stage for reentry is like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm.
To help stabilize the stage and to reduce its speed, SpaceX relights the engines for a series of three burns. The first burn—the boostback burn—adjusts the impact point of the vehicle and is followed by the supersonic retro propulsion burn that, along with the drag of the atmosphere, slows the vehicle’s speed from 1300 m/s to about 250 m/s. The final burn is the landing burn, during which the legs deploy and the vehicle’s speed is further reduced to around 2 m/s. To complicate matters further, the landing site is limited in size and not entirely stationary.
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The autonomous spaceport drone ship is 300 by 100 feet, with wings that extend its width to 170 feet. While that may sound huge at first, to a Falcon 9 first stage coming from space, it seems very small. The legspan of the Falcon 9 first stage is about 70 feet and while the ship is equipped with powerful thrusters to help it stay in place, it is not actually anchored, so finding the bullseye becomes particularly tricky. During previous attempts, we could only expect a landing accuracy of within 10km. For this attempt, we’re targeting a landing accuracy of within 10 meters.