Back in July, SpaceX released a video showing a soft landing on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean of one of its Falcon 9 boosters equipped with three landing legs. The landing appeared to be a success, as the booster hit the water at almost zero velocity and then tipped over sideways. Now SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has revealed new details on how the company will actually retrieve rockets to reuse them: autonomous spaceport drone ships.
The billionaire entrepreneur tweeted out a photo of the floating landing pad, noting that it is equipped with "thrusters repurposed from deep sea oil rigs (that) hold position within 3m, even in a storm."
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Autonomous spaceport drone ship. Thrusters repurposed from deep sea oil rigs hold position within 3m even in a storm. pic.twitter.com/wJFOnGdt9w— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 22, 2014
Musk added that the base of the sea-faring spaceport measures "300 ft by 100 ft, with wings that extend width to 170 ft." He said it will facilitate refueling and "rocket flyback in (the) future."
We learned the unsurprising news that SpaceX was working on landing pads from Musk last month, but this is the first image we've seen of the floating spaceport and the first we've heard that they'll function as autonomous drones.
In addition to revealing where his reusable rockets will land, he also provided a few details into how they'll be maneuvered after re-entry, describing "hypersonic grid fins" that are stowed when the rockets leave the atmosphere, but deploy on the return trip for what Musk calls "x-wing" style control.
"Each fin moves independently for pitch/yaw/roll," he tweeted.
Testing operation of hypersonic grid fins (x-wing config) going on next flight pic.twitter.com/O1tMSIXxsT— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 22, 2014
Musk says the grid fins are similar to those seen in the video below (they deploy around 1:10 in), but larger.