In its continuing effort to develop low-cost, reusable rockets, SpaceX on Tuesday morning will attempt to land its Falcon 9 booster on a floating platform.
The Hawthorne, Calif.-based spaceflight firm says the never-before-attempted feat has only a 50 percent chance of success, likening it to "trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a windstorm." But it's seen as a key step for SpaceX.
“Reusability is the critical breakthrough needed in rocketry to take things to the next level,” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said during a talk at MIT in October, according to the New York Times. He said reusable rockets could cut the cost of spaceflight by a factor of 100, BusinessWeek reported.
The morning begins with the launch of the rocket, which is scheduled for 6:20 a.m. EST from Cape Canaveral, Fla. After the rocket separates from the Dragon capsule (which is set to deliver more than 5,000 pounds of supplies to the International Space Station), it will make a powered descent to land on the 300-by-170-foot platform, which is located in the Atlantic Ocean about 200 miles off the coast of Jacksonville, Fla.
Plans call for a series of three burns to stabilize the booster and reduce its downward speed as it returns to Earth, slowing it from 2,900 mph to 4.5 mph. Four fins placed in an "x-wing" configuration will help steer it to the platform.
SpaceX's ultimate goal is to be able to land a rocket back at its launch site.
"Before we boost back to the launch site, and try to land there, we need to show that we can land with precision, over and over again," Musk said at the talk. "Otherwise something bad could happen, if it doesn't boost back to where we intended."
NASA will stream live video of the landing starting at 5 a.m. (check it out below).