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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

SpaceX Launch Tuesday With Bonus Landing Attempt on a Robot Sea-Based

By Phil Plait

Update, Jan. 6 at 15:45 UTC: The launch was scrubbed at T-1:21 due to a problem with an actuator in the upper stage that controls the thrust vector; the direction the motors thrust to keep the rocket on course.The next launch attempt will be Friday at 10:09 UTC (05:09 Eastern).

Yeah, just writing that headline was weird.

Still, it’s true. At 11:20 UTC (06:20 Eastern) Tuesday morning, SpaceX will attempt to launch a Falcon 9 rocket with a Dragon capsule to the International Space Station. The Dragon has nearly two tons of supplies for the astronauts on board. This will be the fifth such resupply mission by SpaceX.

But it’s what happens a few minutes after launch that has me very interested: After the initial separation, the first stage booster of the F9 will attempt a vertical landing on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean.

It sounds insane, and to be honest even Elon Musk gives it a coin toss chance of working. But the attempt will be done to test out a series of systems that will allow the eventual safe return and re-use of the first stage rocket. Once this works, Musk projects it will result in a big cost saving for future flights of the F9.

SpaceX has been testing relanding the first stage booster for some time, with a decent success rate. The floating platform has GPS sensors and the ability to hold its position under its own power even in strong currents. It sounds like science fiction, but that’s where we are today.

For details on this, I suggest reading the AmericaSpace article on the launch (and this one too), which has info galore. This is an incredibly challenging launch technically, and I hope it goes well.

As for watching it, well, the launch window opens at 4:20 a.m. my time, so the odds for me are low. I’ll watch it on replays! But if you want to see it live, then your best bets are NASA TV, NASA’s Ustream channel, and the SpaceX webcast.

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