Test bid to reuse space rocket

Published: Tuesday 6th January 2015 by The News Editor

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A private aerospace company is seeking to land a rocket on a platform in the ocean as part of its efforts to make the craft reusable.

The founder of US business SpaceX said being able to use rockets again would cut the cost of space travel.

Elon Musk has said: “If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of a hundred. A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionise access to space.”

At about 11.20am British time today, the company’s Falcon 9 rocket will carry its Dragon cargo spacecraft into the sky as it heads off on a supply mission to the International Space Station.

After detaching, the rocket will aim for a barge floating in the Atlantic off Florida.

The custom-built platform is known officially as the “autonomous spaceport drone ship”.

The company admits that the odds of success are not great – perhaps 50% at best.

But it says the test is the first in a series designed to deliver a fully reusable rocket.

It says on its website: “Returning anything from space is a challenge, but returning a Falcon 9 first stage for a precision landing presents a number of additional hurdles. At 14 storeys tall and travelling upwards of 1,300 m/s (nearly 1 mi/s), stabilising the Falcon 9 first stage for re-entry is like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm.”

And it adds: “To complicate matters further, the landing site is limited in size and not entirely stationary. The autonomous spaceport drone ship is 300 by 100 feet (91.4m by 30.5m), with wings that extend its width to 170 feet (51.8m). While that may sound huge at first, to a Falcon 9 first stage coming from space, it seems very small.

“During previous attempts, we could only expect a landing accuracy of within 10km (6 miles). For this attempt, we’re targeting a landing accuracy of within 10 metres (33ft).

“The concept of landing a rocket on an ocean platform has been around for decades but it has never been attempted. Though the probability of success on this test is low, we expect to gather critical data to support future landing testing.

“A fully and rapidly reusable rocket – which has never been done before – is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access.

“While most rockets are designed to burn up on re-entry, SpaceX is building rockets that not only withstand re-entry, but also land safely on Earth to be refuelled and fly again.

“Over the next year, SpaceX has at least a dozen launches planned with a number of additional testing opportunities. Given what we know today, we believe it is quite likely that with one of those flights we will not only be able to land a Falcon 9 first stage, but also re-fly.”

Published: Tuesday 6th January 2015 by The News Editor

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