SpaceX will try again to successfully return a privately funded Falcon-9 reusable rocket from space, despite two prior attempts to land the ship ended in failure. The SpaceX Falcon-9 is a two stage rocket designed to safely and reliably transport satellites and the Dragon-spacecraft into orbit then return using GPS technology to land in tact for reuse. The company’s endeavor to design and deploy reusable rockets is motivated by the belief that significant saving can be realized thereby reducing the cost of spaceflight.
SpaceX is the fastest growing commercial space company in the world. The company has contracts with NASA to deliver and return payloads of supplies and other items such as experiments to and from the International Space Station. The In 2014 SpaceX completed four resupply missions making successful soft landings and recoveries, and conducted a successful test landing the Falcon-9 rocket on the same launch pad after lifting off to a height of 250 meters, hovering, then touching down coming to rest without incident.
The fifth SpaceX commercial resupply mission (CRS-5) launched in January 2015. The mission ended in disaster after successfully deploying the payload into orbit. The rapidly descending Falcon-9 rocket missed the designated landing area on the custom-built ocean platform known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. The rocket came down at a severe angle slamming into the side of the drone ship platform that was positioned off the coast of Florida, and exploded on impact.
The April 2015 CRS-6 mission was successfully launched sending the Dagon spacecraft to deliver 4,300 pounds of supplies to astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The supplies include food, water, and materials needed for more than 250 science experiments. The return flight of the Falcon-9 rocket ended with a similar result. However, an almost successful landing of the Falcon-9 rocket on the drone platform resulted from a slower, softer touch down, but the rocket landed on a trajectory leaving it unable to achieve stability causing it to topple onto the landing pad culminating in another spectacular explosion. The CRS-6 landing is being considered a partial success and improvement over the CRS-5 event.
SpaceX CEO, Elon Musk, said that the autonomous spaceport drone ship suffered some damage in the incident and that the landing failed because “excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post landing.” He also said the cause of the failure was almost immediately known, and the team was already working on a solution to prevent another failed landing on the next mission.
Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President and COO has indicated tests of the reusable vehicle have occurred over water as a safety precaution acknowledging the difficulty of landing on pad about the size of a football field floating in the ocean. For that reason the company hopes its next attempted landing will take place on land to allow for a safe landing.
There are bigger plans for SpaceX in the works. The company plans to launch Falcon Heavy in 2015, a rocket SpaceX says will be two time more powerful than any rocket in the world. Falcon Heavy has a payload lift capacity of 117,000 pounds. The rocket uses three of the Falcon-9 engine cores to generate close to 4 million pounds of thrust. Falcon Heavy is designed for manned flight missions to the Moon or Mars.
By Jeff Pierce