Now that SpaceX has managed to land a space rocket at Cape Canaveral, the company is having another go at landing on a barge. NBC News says that SpaceX has confirmed a report tweeted today by space journalist Charles Lurio that SpaceX will attempt to land a Falcon 9 booster on a drone barge in the Pacific Ocean as part of the Jason 3 mission launch on January 17.
On Friday afternoon, Lurio tweeted, "SpaceX will try to land the Falcon 9 first stage on a drone ship during the Jason-3 launch from Vandenberg AFB on January 17." The Jason 3 satellite is an international mission run by NOAA, NASA, the Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES), and European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT). It's designed to study ocean surface waves as well as oceanic weather and climate and will launch into low-Earth orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.
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On December 21, 2015, a Falcon 9 booster flew into the history books as it touched down on Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Ten minutes previously, the nine-engine rocket had thundered into space to deliver 11 communications satellites into low-Earth orbit. It then fired its engines twice again to kill its hypersonic velocity and steer it back to the Cape, where it set down on a dramatic tail of fire.
The January 17 launch is important because if SpaceX's plans for a reusable launch system are to be successful, the Falcon 9 will need a choice of landing options. Space launch missions vary greatly from one another with many different payloads, directions, and speeds, with some being very light payloads in low orbits near the equator while others might be heavy payloads in very high orbits going over the pole.
Some missions, such as those placing communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit, use so much fuel that there would be none left over for any landing. Others might be able to land, but it would be more economical to seek a target down range rather than returning to the launch site. By using the unmanned barge, SpaceX will not only succeed where it previously only managed near misses, but will also be able to increase the capabilities of the booster.
Source: NBC NewsView gallery - 4 images