Last time we got too excited about SpaceX gearing up to attempt soft-landing on a barge, the launch was scrubbed. If the launch goes as scheduled on Tuesday morning, I have my fingers crossed the rocket will soft-land on an autonomous barge drone in the Atlantic Ocean. Update: Launch scrubbed, new window Friday.
Drone spaceport holding position in the Atlantic as a floating launch pad. Image credit: SpaceX
The Dragon spacecraft is loaded up with all sorts of science goodies and necessary supplies, ready to be boosted by the Falcon 9 rocket from the pad and into space at 6:20 am Eastern Time on Tuesday. Once the spacecraft separates to continue its journey solo, the rocket return to Earth. But unlike most boosters, the Falcon 9 doesn't just tumble uncontrolled, burning up on reentry or falling into the ocean. No, the SpaceX rocket booster is designed to be reusable.
In the past, the company has demonstrated their capacity to bring the rocket safely through a controlled reentry and even position itself vertically and briefly hover on the ocean before running out of fuel and tumbling, but that isn't exactly reusable so you know they're even more ambitious. The next stage of their testing is to try soft landing on a barge already waiting in the Atlantic Ocean. For now, just reaching and landing on it will be enough, but eventually, the dream is to then refuel the rocket mid-Ocean, and send it on a quick hop back to the mainland for refurbishment, refuelling, and reuse.
Falcon 9 completing a successful static fire test on December 19, 2014 in advance of CRS-5. Image credit: SpaceX
This will be the fifth mission by SpaceX to the space station as part of their commercial resupply contract. The original launch attempt was repeatedly delayed, most recently by an early abort in a static fire test. The follow-up test was completed successfully on December 19th, but the launch window to the space station was closed due to a combination of holiday logistics and unfortunate orbital parameters at the station. The science payload on the dragon includes the start of a fruit fly experiment, a research project looking at Alzheimer's, and several student projects.
Falcon 9 rocket on the pad in preparation for Tuesday's launch attempt. Image credit: SpaceX
At this moment, my list of hopes, wishes, and positive thoughts are, in order:
- The launch attempt doesn't get scrubbed (again).
- The Falcon 9 continues its 100% success rate of performing nice, clean launches in sending the Dragon to the International Space Station.
- That everything goes cleanly for the separation of rocket and spacecraft, that the Falcon has a beautiful reentry, and the weather conditions remain tractable in the landing zone.
- That during the first time anyone ever makes to try landing a rocket on a barge, SpaceX not only manage to accurately hit that tiny floating dock in the middle of watery nothingness, but pull off a soft landing despite waves and wind.
Good luck, SpaceX. I'm more than rooting for you.
Update: Launch scrubbed, new launch window Friday. We got too excited again, didn't we? The launch was held during the terminal countdown when an engineer observed drift in a thruster that would have resulted in an automatic abort. When taking a closer look, the whole launch was scrubbed with the next window targeted for Friday, January 9th, at 5:09 am Eastern Time.