ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A rocket company preparing for tests at New Mexico’s Spaceport America will try a dramatic booster landing maneuver on a launch from Florida later this week.
Instead of discarding its booster rocket in the ocean, SpaceX will attempt to soft-land the booster on a specially-built ship at sea. The company says if boosters can be reused, it will make spaceflight far less expensive and revolutionize the industry.
On Friday, SpaceX is scheduled to launch its Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule full of supplies from Cape Canaveral to the International Space Station.
After the rocket drops off the capsule in space, the first stage booster will fly on auto-pilot back into the atmosphere and attempt to land on an un-manned ship about 200 miles off the coast of Florida.
“It’s an experiment,” said SpaceX Vice President Hans Koenigsmann.
“There’s a certain likelihood that this will not go right. Something will go wrong,” he cautioned.
To try out the idea, SpaceX has previously landed two of its boosters on the ocean’s surface. The rockets cannot be reused when they settle in the water.
This time, the booster will have the drone ship waiting to serve as a floating spaceport and provide a safe, dry spot to touch down.
The sea vessel will be unmanned, but has thrusters and an autopilot of its own to keep it stationary in the ocean.
“The drone ship sits there right now and it’s basically waiting for the mission to happen,” said Koenigsmann. “I’m pretty sure this will be very exciting.”
Regardless of the outcome off the Florida coast, SpaceX has already built a new test facility at New Mexico’s Spaceport America where it plans to fly and land more boosters.
New Mexico test flights are scheduled to begin this year.
They will build on the experience SpaceX gained on low level flights done with boosters at a site in Texas.
Spaceport America has the ability to allow flights to go much higher than they could in Texas.
SpaceX hopes the testing in Florida and New Mexico will prove that booster rockets can be economically recovered after launch and quickly turned around to be used again.
“To make us more like an aircraft operation where the spacecraft comes back, gets minimal service,” said Koenigsmann.
If the Florida landing goes well, the company plans to study the booster and see what needs to be done to the design to improve its reusability.
Tesla founder Elon Musk is the man behind SpaceX.
He is building the company’s own private spaceport on the south Texas Gulf coast.
In addition to being selected to provide a replacement for NASA’s space shuttle, SpaceX hopes to someday send manned spacecraft to Mars.