Hawthorne, UNITED STATES
VIJAY SHAH via STEPHANIE LANG, WILLIAM HICKS and TechCrunch
The launch will be scheduled at precisely 10:42 AM Pacific Standard Time (7:42 PM London time) from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, located 9.2 miles north-west of the small town of Lompoc. The launch will give SpaceX, one of a fleet of new privately owned space travel concerns, a chance to test out the capabilities of its Falcon 9 rocket. Engineers will attempt to land the Falcon on a floating ‘drone ship’ somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, it was reported.
So far, the Falcon programme has been a successful one for the firm, who made a previous test launch in December 2015 and landed their rocket on a launchpad at Cape Canaveral in Florida state, the iconic homeland of space exploration veterans NASA. That test launch was lauded by the space travel community as a step towards greater diversity in space travel as well as a stage in the development of reusable rockets.
The previous Friday, SpaceX carried out a ‘static fire test’ on the recovered engines from the rocket launched in December. The company’s chief executive officer, Elon Musk, reported on Twitter that the data from the static test ‘looked good’, with the only minor problem being that one of the rocket’s outer engines had ‘thrust fluctuations’, beleived to be because it has swallowed surrounding debris from the rocket or outside it during the launch.
In today’s launch, the Falcon 9 will attempt to land on a drone ship floating on the ocean. This will be SpaceX’s third attempt at this notoriously difficult experiment, with the previous two tries frustrated by the instability of the rocket, the size of the pad and the movement of the ocean causing the ship to move about at its location. Succeeding today will mean SpaceX’s rockets will be considered safer and easier to use, potentially opening up more business for the firm from space tourists and other exploration partners.
The first attempt, made in January 2015, also failed because the booster ran out of hydraulic fluid required to direct its descent. The second attempt, made in April 2015, was closer but ultimately failed when a control valve stopped responding to commands seconds before touchdown, according to TechCrunch.
SpaceX vice president of mission assurance Hans Koenigsmann, at a press conference held this past Friday, justified the reason for this latest experiment and his company ‘switching things up’. He said that he company was unable to receive environmental clearance to land the rocket at Vandenburg so opted to try again with the floating drone ship. He also said that the choice to use the ship was not a reflection of the Falcon 9’s capabilities and that a landing on dry soil was no problem at all. Sadly, unlike previous launches, SpaceX will not be able to provide streamed footage of today’s event due to the difficulties in using a good internet connection far out at sea.
Sunday will mark the last launch of the company’s Falcon 9 v1.1 generation of boosters. SpaceX now has an upgraded version of the rocket with increased thrust capabilities which was used in the successful December flight from Florida.
On board the Falcon 9 will be the $180 million Jason-3 satellite, developed by space agencies NOAA and NASA. The satellite will eventually be launched by SpaceX to enable observations of our planet’s sea levels and detect any changes possibly attributable to global warming.
SpaceX was founded in 2002 with an ambition of revoultionising space travel and producing rockets that will one day enable people to dwell on other worlds. It designs, manufactures and launches rockets, of which the Falcon model has been its most well known version. The company, which has 3,000 employees enjoys a close partnership with the U.S. national space agency NASA.