Space Exploration Technologies Corporation (SpaceX) is poised to test its new re-usable rocket, how with landing legs, on its next launch in March 2014, as it readies itself to send its next supply capsule Dragon to the International Space Station.
SpaceX will mount four landing legs -- about 60 feet (18.3 meters) across and made of a carbon fiber with aluminum honeycomb -- onto its Falcon 9 to test whether the rocket can make a controlled soft landing in the ocean after its first-stage fuel is spent.
The flight is now scheduled for March 16, 2014, from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The launch time is now set for 4:41 a.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST) from Space Launch Complex 40 (SLC-40). (corrected on 3/12/2014; p.m. to a.m.)
The company has been testing its hover legs on its Grasshopper rocket near McGregor, Texas. These tests, completed late in 2013, successfully showed that the hover legs could land a rocket from an altitude of 744 meters (0.46 miles).
Now, SpaceX is ready to try its new technology on an operational flight. However, SpaceX is not very confident that this first landing test will be successful.
Its spokesperson, Emily Shanklin, stated, “Given all the things that would have to go right, the probability of recovering the first stage is low ... but we’re getting closer.”
Thus, SpaceX will continue to land in the ocean until they can perfect the process. After that, they will attempt to land the rocket at the launch site, for quicker and less expensive turnaround on these re-usable boosters.
The success or failure of the landing apparatus will in no way affect the success of the mission, to send its Dragon (CRS-3) cargo resupply ship to the International Space Station.
the process goes like this: After the first-stage rocket has spent its fuel, it will separate from the Dragon spacecraft and begin its descent back to Earth, just like the solid rocket boosters (SBSs) did for the space shuttles.
However, SpaceX will restart the Falcon 9’s engines and extend its landing legs, which will be attached to its aft section.
If successful, the Falcon 9 first stage rocket will splash down into the Atlantic Ocean, as usual, but hopefully the entry into the water will be much slower than usual, and one that is much more controlled.