SpaceX is planning to launch its Dragon capsule to the International Space Station on December 16, but company also plans to do something much more – return its Falcon 9 rocket back to Earth and have it land on a floating platform in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
This is not the first time California-based SpaceX will be attempting to land the Falcon 9 on the ocean – it tried it in September 2013 and also in April and July of this year. The September 2013 landing proved a little unsuccessful because the rocket’s boost landed with heavy impact in the water after its engineers managed to relight its engine twice; but with the April and July 2014 attempt, the rocket achieved much success because it achieved a controlled splashdown on the water’s surface with much control even though no floating platform was available for it.
But according to Elon Musk, SpaceX’s billionaire founder, “There are a lot of launches that will occur over the next year. I think it’s quite likely that [on] one of those flights, we’ll be able to land and refly, so I think we’re quite close,” and to this end, the space entrepreneur estimates that next week’s chances of successful landing on the floating platform would be 50% and that the company would achieve greater success with future mission attempts.
In trying to whip up support and awareness for the upcoming launch, Musk had earlier shared photos of the Falcon 9 and gone on to tweet “Autonomous spaceport drone ship. Thrusters repurposed from deep sea oil rigs hold position within 3m even in a storm,” but he also later gave a description of the machine in another tweet as “Base is 300 ft by 100 ft, with wings that extend width to 170 ft. Will allow refuel & rocket flyback in future. Grid fins are stowed on ascent and then deploy on reentry for ‘x-wing’ style control,” Musk tweeted on Nov. 22. “Each fin moves independently for pitch/yaw/roll.”
During a MIT conference in october, Musk had announced among other things that the Falcon 9’s next liftoff scheduled date would be December 16 Dragon launch, and that is what is about to happen next week.