Space

SpaceX to try another Falcon 9 sea-barge landing

SpaceX to try another Falcon 9...
The Falcon 9 made the first controlled powered landing by a space rocket
The Falcon 9 made the first controlled powered landing by a space rocket
View 4 Images
The tweet by Lurio
1/4
The tweet by Lurio
The Falcon 9 landing at Cape Canaveral
2/4
The Falcon 9 landing at Cape Canaveral
The Falcon 9 was undamaged in the landing
3/4
The Falcon 9 was undamaged in the landing
The Falcon 9 made the first controlled powered landing by a space rocket
4/4
The Falcon 9 made the first controlled powered landing by a space rocket

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.

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 Falcon 9 was undamaged in the landing
The Falcon 9 was undamaged in the landing

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 News

8 comments
mhpr262
Wow, they can store the whole first stage horizontally, only supported at the extreme ends, without causing permanent structural damage? Those things must be much more robust than one would think.
MattII
I'm in two minds about this. One the one hand, I hope they do manage to pull it off, but on the other, landing on a ship, and then spending hours to bring it ashore seems to me to be a bit of a dead-end.
SamuelClemens
@mhpr262 Apparently SpaceX rockets don't bend. Impressive. Also, having a movable landing platform makes a lot of sense as the article notes. Which cost more: losing the entire first stage, or burning some fuel taking it back to land. The only way to avoid this is to launch straight up and straight down which for some reason seems to suit Jeff Bezos just fine.
Derek Howe
mhpr262 - before going horizontal, they fill it with helium. lol
Just Cause
I always assume the ship landing was so they could do it in international waters...
darkcook
mhpr262 - Only a guess here, but I surmise they can only store horizontal on two supports with empty tanks. The rocket should be quite stout to handle Max-Q with nearly full fuel and payload. It is a column, capable of resisting buckling (most of the time), so is likely stouter than it appears.
ThomasPerkins
I am sure you have a protected anchorage. Otherwise, Pacific swell, (i.e. heave-vertical displacement of the drone ship) could be a significant factor in landing calculations.
artmez
I'm curious about the science and logistics behind landing on a barge. Does the barge have sensors and telemetry to fill in the gaps in the feedback loop for the landing controls? Seems it would need to. It must also include some sort of "last ditch effort" in its landing protocol that will minimize damage to whichever vehicle, the barge or the booster, is the most expensive "part" of the system. How quickly must the signal be updated? How does it weight the magnitude of the motion? How much "fudge" is allowed in the landing points of contact. Can it be adequately "tested" using software simulation or did they also use some simulated live testing with tethers and semi-live boosters? What is the target speed of landing contact -- I doubt that it is true zero relative to the barge's lilting? Seems like a lot of fun until someone has to pay for any damage.