Friday, January 9, 2015

SpaceX To Attempt Rocket Landing On Drone Ship

Spacex Falcon 9 Rocket On Launch Pad
Falcon 9 on launch pad at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.   Photo Credit: SpaceX.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida -- Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) may once again make space history by attempting to land its Falcon 9 first stage rocket onto an autonomous spaceport drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday.

The Falcon 9 rocket carrying a Dragon capsule filled with more than 5,200 pounds of cargo bound for the International Space Station (ISS) is scheduled to liftoff Saturday, January 10, 2015, at 4:47 a.m. Eastern Standard Time from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.  

Approximately 157 seconds into flight, the first-stage engines will shut down, an event known as main-engine cutoff, or MECO.  Four seconds after MECO, the first and second stages will separate.

After first stage separation, SpaceX will relight the first stage engine in a series of three burns to slow and stabilize the descent of the rocket
with the help of hypersonic grid fins.

Falcon 9 hypersonic grid fins extended.  Photo Credit: SpaceX.

During the third burn, the landing legs will be extended into a 70-foot span from the first stage. SpaceX will then attempt a controlled landing of the first stage onto the drone ship's landing platform that only measures 300 ft. by 170 ft. 

SpaceX autonomous drone ship.  Photo Credit: SpaceX.

SpaceX said in a release that there is only a 50% chance of a successful landing on the drone ship.  However, Elon Musk later jokingly wrote in a Reddit discussion that he just made up that number.

SpaceX Launch Weather Forecast

The most recent forecast issued by the U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron predicts a 80% chance of overall permissible weather conditions for the SpaceX launch. The primary weather concern for the launch is flight through precipitation and a thick cloud layer.

Where Can You Watch the SpaceX Rocket Launch?

Due to the early hour of the launch, only areas 1, 2, and 4 on the map are available for launch viewing.

1. Titusville, Florida southward along the Indian River on the east side of US Highway 1.
2. Between Merritt Island and Cape Canaveral along the north side of State Road 528.
4. Along the beaches of Cocoa Beach, Florida (there is metered parking in Cocoa Beach that only accepts quarters, so bring some change).
Map of Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Credit: Google.  Rocket launch viewing locations added by Brevard Times.