Can SpaceX land a rocket on a barge off California?   Leave a comment


LA Times

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Sunday’s effort is far more difficult. The full round trip has been compared to vaulting a pencil over the Empire State building, then getting it to come back and land on its eraser atop a floating target smaller than a shoe box, and not tip over.

The Falcon 9 two-stage rocket is slated to lift off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at about 10:42 a.m., carrying a 1,157-pound Earth-observing satellite for U.S. and French government agencies. Its landing, off San Pedro a few minutes later, will be difficult to see with the naked eye, according to the company.

SpaceX has yet to reuse a rocket stage, a key element in bringing the cost per launch to a level where the Hawthorne-based company could dominate the market for delivering cargo and people to space.

Sunday’s launch and landing of a fresh rocket — SpaceX is saving the Dec. 21 stage for posterity — nonetheless would help burnish Musk’s corporate image with a second consecutive milestone, after a spectacular explosion of a Falcon 9 last June, said Marco Caceres, senior space analyst for Teal Group Corp., a defense and aerospace analysis company based in Fairfax, Va.

“If you have a rocket that’s now able to land on a moving barge, it shows that your control of the vehicle is excellent,” Caceres said. “The real cost benefits will be from re-using the hardware.”

Physics, politics and economics all necessitated the water landing, a highly complicated feat with a narrow margin for error. Shortening the return trip was the easiest way to balance the requirements to deliver a heavy satellite at the high speed needed to reach a distant orbit, then put on the brakes, flip the first stage around, guide it through Earth’s atmosphere, and get it to touch down gently on a barge measuring about 300 feet by 170 feet.

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In any case, the company did not receive timely clearance from federal agencies to bring it back to land.

Fortunately, one of the U.S. agencies that cares about hazards to sea life is a client: The Jason 3 satellite aboard the launch vehicle is a joint endeavor of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, its European counterpart, and the French space agency. It is designed to measure ocean surface topography to better understand sea level rise, currents and weather phenomena such as El Niño.

This is the first attempt to land the Falcon 9 off the coast of San Pedro. Two previous attempts off of Cape Canaveral ended in fiery crashes last year.

Almost, but not quite

Update:

SpaceX successfully launched a new satellite into orbit to map Earth’s oceans today (Jan. 17), but the spaceflight company’s bold plan to land a rocket on a robotic ship at sea after the liftoff came up just short, narrowly missing a successful touchdown.

The first stage of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket managed to reach its landing target, an “autonomous spaceport droneship” called “Just Read the Instructions,” but toppled over on the deck, company representatives said. The touchdown attempt came during the successful launch of the Jason-3 ocean-monitoring satellite from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California — the primary objective of today’s activities.

“Unfortunately, we are not standing upright on the droneship at the moment, but the good news is that the primary mission is still on track,” SpaceX lead mechanical design engineer John Federspiel said during the company’s launch webcast today.

 

 

Posted January 17, 2016 by markosun in Uncategorized

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