After making their historic rocket landing last year, SpaceX is planning to accomplish another historic feat with a spacecraft, landing it on a platform at sea. It’s something SpaceX have tried twice before in 2015 and failed both times, but undeterred by this, SpaceX must wish to put their record straight with this next mission.
The mission is set to take place on the 17th of January, launching from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, which is very different from SpaceX’s usual launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida. As well as attempting the sea landing, the mission’s main objective is to launch NASA’s ocean monitoring satellite, Jason-3.
For this launch, SpaceX will also be using an older, less powerful version of the Falcon 9 than the one that made the ground landing. The vehicle being used is the last of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 v1.1 rockets, with less thrust and missing some of the reusability features of the Falcon 9 Full Thrust. SpaceX says that a sea landing will be easier than a ground landing for this version of the rocket. Primarily, due to the launch route of rockets, a ground landing required far more distance to be travelled if it is intending to land close to its launch pad. Landing on a drone ship in the Pacific Ocean will allow the weaker rocket to travel a shorter distance and require less fuel to land successfully.
With all eyes on SpaceX after their last rocket landing, the pressure will be on to succeed where their last two rockets fell over and exploded. Being able to land rockets on portable platforms, such as ships would be a major advance towards the ease of space launches as it allows far more freedom of launch locations without needing to set up a landing pad on the ground. Here’s hoping that Elon Musk and his team can make it third time the charm.