Later today, SpaceX will attempt to successfully land its Falcon 9 rocket onto a platform floating in the ocean, in what would mark the world’s first reusable rocket.
Falcon 9, which will launch at 3:20 am PST (11:20 am GMT), will first deliver a number of supplies to the International Space Station (ISS) in orbit above the Earth, before beginning its return.
In order for the rocket’s descent to be successful, navigation of the upmost precision will be required. The spaceport floating in the Atlantic Ocean that will serve as the landing pad measures 300 by 100 feet, with extendable wings 170 feet across. However, SpaceX has warned that the size of the rocket will still make landing extremely challenging.
"The leg-span of the Falcon 9 first stage is about 70 feet and while the ship is equipped with powerful thrusters to help it stay in place, it is not actually anchored, so finding the bull's-eye becomes particularly tricky," the company said in an online statement.
To increase the chances of success, the Falcon 9 is equipped with four retractable fins that will be able to change the ship’s orientation during its descent. Even with these additions, however, SpaceX claims that the likelihood of success is around 50 per cent.
The Falcon 9 will utilise nine different engines to reach the ISS, but these will also play a crucial role in slowing the rocket's descent as it approaches the Earth. By firing the engines in a series of three bursts, the Falcon 9 should slow to a speed of roughly 4.5 miles per hour shortly before touching down.
If the Falcon 9 is successful, it would provide a huge boost to Elon Musk’s SpaceX company and the CEO’s ambition of making spaceflight accessible to a wider market. However, during two previous test flights last year, the Falcon 9 fell into the ocean after landing, leaving it unsuitable for reuse.
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