SpaceX to attempt landing a rocket from orbit on ground

Later this month, SpaceX will attempt to be the first company to land a rocket from orbit, which if successful, would mark huge gains in the quest for reusable rockets. 

Scott Audette/Reuters/File
The unmanned Falcon 9 rocket being launched by SpaceX on a cargo resupply service mission to the International Space Station sits on the launch pad after an aborted liftoff from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Florida January 6, 2015.

Space flight is notorious for many reasons. Spacecraft can cost tens of millions of dollars to develop, dedicated facilities are extremely expensive, and most rocket boosters are disposable, built only for one-time use. Well, not any more. Commercial spaceflight companies have been working to build reusable rocket boosters and are coming closer to making this feat a reality.

Throughout most of the history of spaceflight, rocket boosters, which do the hard work of lifting vehicles into orbit, were jettisoned after their propellant was spent and either burned up on reentry or were otherwise ruined upon landing in the ocean.

“Throwing them away is like junking planes after each commercial flight. But being able to reuse the rockets repeatedly would disrupt the economics of space flight,” wrote The Washington Post.

Dubbed a “Holy-Grail quest,” this new age space race is certainly on.

During a test flight last week , Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket launched into the boundary of space (329,839 feet) before separating. The capsule successfully landed with the help of parachutes, and the booster “touched down on the landing pad by firing its engine again,” just feet from the initial launch point, marking the first successful re-landing of a rocket.

Eric Stallmer, the president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, called the landing "a revolutionary step forward. It really showcases the power of what commercial innovation and ingenuity can do."

However, SpaceX founder Elon Musk made it clear that what his company is attempting is considerably harder. Not only is the Falcon 9 bigger and more powerful than New Shepard, the goal is to land the rocket back on land after it’s been in orbit.

In Falcon 9’s previous two attemps to land on a floating platform, the rocket exploded. And in June, Falcon 9 broke apart en route to the ISS. But this month, Falcon 9 will launch again from the Cape Canaveral base, though the exact date has not yet been confirmed.

“If successful, it would mark not only the first successful landing and recovery of the company’s flagship rocket, but also the first terrestrial rocket landing for SpaceX after two failed landing attempts at sea,” reported Fortune.

The launch is critical for SpaceX. Not only does Musk need to live up to his banter with Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, SpaceX needs to reassure investors.

A successful landing would be the next step in commercial spaceflight and would accelerate this 21st-century space race. 

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