Though failed two months ago, SpaceX is unrelented to try again its ambitious “risky rocket recovery” by provisioning its first stage to detach and land back on earth on a floating hovership in the sea.
The SpaceX is hoping that the risky landing on a sea platform would make its future launches more re-usable and its Falcon 9’s liftoff was made to return to safe-landing too.
After the three minutes, the second stage will forward on its trip to place the observatory in its orbit while the first stage will detach and fire up its own rocket to realight and come down to land on a sea platform, which may be increased this time from its last failed version of a 300-foot-long, 170-foot-wide “autonomous spaceport drone ship” in the Atlantic.
Returning anything from space is unprecedented and Falcon 9 first stage for a precision landing is just difficult. 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 an umbrella 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, says SpaceX on it blog post.
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. While most rockets are designed to burn up on reentry, SpaceX is building rockets to withstand reentry, and also land safely on Earth to be refueled and fly again.
In 2015, SpaceX has at least 12 launches planned with a number of additional testing opportunities. “Given what we know today, we believe it is quite likely that with one of those flights we will not only be able to land a Falcon 9 first stage, but also re-fly,” said SpaceX on its website. It remains to be seen whether the second attempt proved successful or not.
Otherwise, the liftoff is slated for Sunday morning as part of its scheduled launch of space weather observatory mission DISCOVR (the Deep Space Climate Observatory) into orbit.
The weather observatory mission was reportedly delayed from December as NASA required more time to load supplies after the Antares disaster in October. NASA said the delay was due to some anomaly during a test firing of the Falcon 9.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has joined NASA on the DSCOVR project to provide real-time solar wind monitoring that helps in forecasting weather conditions.
“One of our main questions about the solar wind is based on the fact that it cools down as it moves toward Earth but not as fast as we’d expect,” said NASA’s DSCOVR project in-charge Adam Szabo.
“There must be some heating mechanism that slows down the cooling. The solar wind instruments on DSCOVR will help us determine what’s providing that extra heat.”
Video of Falcon 9 Reusable (F9R) during a 1000m test flight at SpaceX rocket development facility in McGregor, TX.