In SpaceX’s continuous effort to recycle rockets after launches, the Falcon 9 rocket launched to the International Space Station returned to Earth the next day but failed to survive its landing on a barge in the ocean.
CAPE CANAVERAL — After its next launch, SpaceX hopes to fly a Falcon 9 booster back to a landing site on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, making its first attempt to bring a booster down on land rather than on a platform in the ocean.
The Cape landing attempt has not yet been approved as part of a commercial launch license to be issued by the Federal Aviation Administration, and the timing of SpaceX’s next launch — the company’s first since a failed flight in June — remains uncertain.
SpaceX could try to launch of a group of small commercial communications satellites for New Jersey-based Orbcomm Inc. as soon as Dec. 15, but has not yet confirmed a date with the Air Force’s 45th Space Wing.
NASA on Tuesday confirmed the “very exciting news” while updating media representatives on SpaceX’s progress preparing Kennedy Space Center’s historic pad 39A for launches of Falcon Heavy rockets and eventually astronauts, the latter possibly in 2017.
“Their plan is to try to land (the next booster) out here on the Cape-side,” said Carol Scott of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, shortly after she discussed the plan with a SpaceX executive.
SpaceX declined to comment.
SpaceX is trying to land and recover the first stages of Falcon 9 rockets so that they can be flown again, something company CEO Elon Musk believes is a critical breakthrough necessary to reduce launch costs.
SpaceX’s next landing attempt will come weeks after Blue Origin, another private space firm started by a wealthy entrepreneur, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, successfully landed its New Shepard booster after a Nov. 23 launch in Texas.
New Shepard is a suborbital rocket that is considerably smaller and less powerful that SpaceX’s Falcon 9, which lifts off with more than 1 million pounds of thrust to send payloads into orbit.
While congratulating Blue Origin on its success, Musk made a point on Twitter of noting that SpaceX’s task was more difficult (an assertion Bezos disputed). Musk also suggested that a landing on land was in the works.
“Orbital water landing 2014,” he said on Nov. 24, referring to Falcon 9 boosters that had “soft-landed” in the ocean last year. “Orbital land landing next.”
SpaceX’s water landings were followed early this year by two close but unsuccessful attempts to land Falcon 9 boosters on an ocean platform dubbed an “autonomous spaceport drone ship.”
Both times the 14-story boosters hit the ship painted with SpaceX’s signature “X” logo, but too hard or without enough control to remain upright on landing legs.
The company still believes it has shown that it can steer a booster from space back to the ground with precision, and that trying to land on an unstable target bobbing in the ocean has only added to the challenge.
The water-based landings were always intended as practice leading up to boosters returning to land, where it would be easier and faster to recover them.
SpaceX has leased a designated landing site from the Air Force at the former Launch Complex 13, which the company has renamed “Landing Complex 1.”
Concrete pads there already feature the “X” logo marking the landing spots, but construction of the landing complex may not be fully complete.
If SpaceX does recover its next Falcon 9 booster launched from pad 40, NASA said the company would immediately use it to help test the renovations at KSC’s pad 39A in preparation for launches there as soon as next year and eventual crew launches. The rocket stage would be loaded on an erector system that will roll up the pad’s on its side and then lift the stage vertical.
“We want to see that,” Scott said of the tests. “That will be pretty cool.”
SpaceX presumably would try to launch the Falcon 9 booster a second time after a period of inspections and refurbishment, but there is no timeline for doing so.
If SpaceX does not win approval or is not ready to land the booster back on the Space Coast during its next flight, several more launches could quickly present new opportunities if the rocket returns to flight successfully.
Follow James Dean on Twitter: @flatoday_jdean
An Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral, carrying a GPS satellite for the United States Air Force.
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The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket successfully launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rocket is carrying a communications satellite for the Mexican government.
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A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket blasted into space carrying the Navy’s fourth Mobile User Objective System satellite.
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The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency launched an unmanned transport vehicle carrying water, parts and other supplies to the International Space Station. A few minutes after its launch, it entered a preliminary orbit with no problems. (Aug. 19)
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A Delta IV rocket launches from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with a communications satellite for the military. Posted July 23, 2015.
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Three astronauts aboard a Soyuz spacecraft successfully launched towards the International Space Station on Thursday after a two-month delay caused by a Russian rocket failure.
Video provided by AFP
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An unpiloted Russian spacecraft is safely on its way to the International Space Station with more than 3 tons of supplies. They’re needed to alleviate a shortage caused by a string of failed missions, including the recent explosion of a SpaceX rocket
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An unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying supplies for the International Space Station broke apart minutes after liftoff. As engineers analyze flight data to pinpoint what went wrong, NASA and SpaceX officials emphasize no negligence was involved.
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Atlas V rocket launched from Cape Canaveral with the Air Force’s X-37B mini-shuttle, 10 CubeSats and The Planetary Society’s LightSail mission on board.
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SpaceX launches their Falcon 9 rocket into space. The rocket is carrying supplies to the International Space Station, including a pricey Italian coffee maker.
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The Soyuz launched into space Friday with astronaut Scott Kelly who will be on a year-long mission.
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An Atlas V rocket launched Thursday night is part of NASA’s billion-dollar mission to study the explosive give-and-take of the Earth and sun’s magnetic fields.
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NASA’s Atlas V rocket is blasting off with a quartet of science satellites on Thursday night. Check out this animation that shows the rocket deploying in space to study the magnetosphere.
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The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying commercial communications satellites blasts off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex.
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Early risers across much of Arizona were treated to a colorful sight — a pink cloud from a NASA research rocket that was launched Wednesday from a U.S. Army installation in New Mexico. (Feb. 26)
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After a series of delays, SPACEX finally launched its Falcon 9 DSCOVR rocket.
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A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket successfully launched the U.S. Navy’s MUOS 3 mission.
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SpaceX successfully launched a Dragon cargo capsule into space early Saturday morning. The capsule is filled with supplies, headed for the International Space Station. The launch was crucial following the failed Antares rocket back in October.
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NASA’s unmanned Orion spacecraft blasted off Friday. Its first launch attempt was scrubbed Thursday due to several factors, including wind. NASA hopes the spacecraft will eventually take astronauts to Mars.
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NASA had cameras placed all around the launch site of the Orion spacecraft. Watch the liftoff from several different perspectives.
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Three astronauts are headed towards the International Space Station after a succesful launch of the Soyuz TMA-15M rocket on Sunday.
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Atlas V rocket blasts into space with GPS satellite
Atlas V rocket lifts off with Mexican satellite
Watch Atlas V rocket blast into space
Japan launches cargo shipment to space station
Video: Delta IV rocket launch with USAF satellite
Soyuz rocket launches towards ISS after delay
Russian cargo ship safely en route to ISS
SpaceX rocket explosion: ‘It’s space and it’s difficult’
Atlas V rocket launches with secretive Air Force space plane
Check out the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch towards ISS
See spectacular light show from Soyuz rocket launch
NASA launches Atlas V to solve magnetic mystery
Here’s what NASA’s Atlas V rocket looks like in space
Watch: SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch into sky
Raw: Pink cloud visible after rocket launch
Watch: SpaceX launches Falcon 9 DSCOVR rocket
Atlas V rocket launched successfully for Navy mission
SpaceX Dragon capsule successfully blasts into space
NASA’s Orion launches on second attempt
Watch NASA’s Orion launch from eight different angles
Soyuz rocket blasts 3 astronauts towards ISS
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