Update: A storm is preventing SpaceX from landing its rocket on their drone ship. SpaceX will now attempt a soft landing at sea.
SpaceX will make a second attempt to land a rocket on a floating ocean barge following the launch of a space weather satellite on Wednesday as part of the company’s plan to develop fully reusable rockets.
In a second test aimed at achieving rocket reusability, SpaceX will try to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket on an ocean platform at sea after it delivers NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory into orbit. The space weather satellite, also known as DSCOVR for short, is currently scheduled to liftoff from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida on Wednesday, Feb. 11, at 6:03 p.m. EST.
This comes just one month after SpaceX made their first attempted soft landing of a rocket on a floating barge known as the autonomous spaceport drone ship. While the idea of landing a rocket on an ocean platform is not a new one, SpaceX became the first to attempt it last month as a part of their fifth cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station.
While company’s Falcon 9 rocket successfully reached the drone ship, it suffered from a hard landing due to a depletion of the hydraulic fluid used to control the rocket’s hypersonic grid fins that are intended to guide the vehicle to a soft landing. During the upcoming attempt, the Falcon 9 rocket will have 50 percent more hydraulic fluid.
Despite the rocket exploding on impact, the drone ship suffered only minor damage according to SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk. The drone ship, which is about the size of an American football field, was recently given the name “Just Read The Instructions” after a ship that appears in science fiction author Iain M. Banks’ Culture series of novels. A second drone ship that is currently under construction will be named “Of Course I Still Love You” after another ship in the series.
If SpaceX is successful at achieving a soft landing of their Falcon 9 rocket, it would mark the first time in history that a rocket’s first stage was recovered for reuse. SpaceX would then haul the rocket back to port and attempt to refly the recovered rocket sometime later this year.
SpaceX was founded with the objective of developing fully and rapidly reusable rockets and spacecrafts in order to radically reduce the cost of space exploration. Returning the first stage of a rocket for reuse would represent a significant step toward realizing that goal.
The launch, originally scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 8 at 6:10 p.m. EST, was scrubbed due to an radar tracking issue. A second launch attempt on Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 6:05 p.m. EST was called off due to upper level winds. A third attempt to launch the DSCOVR satellite will be made on Wednesday, Feb. 11 at 6:03 p.m. EST.
Both NASA and SpaceX will be providing live coverage of the DSCOVR satellite launch on Tuesday, Feb 10. NASA’s webcast will begin at 5 p.m. EST and SpaceX’s live stream will start at 5:45 p.m. EST.
Editor’s Note: This article was updated on Feb. 10 to reflect launch postponement and include the new launch schedule.