SpaceX will soon test-land a rocket to show that space travel is economical when you can reuse its parts.
Update: SpaceX's rocket test has undergone yet another delay, this one occurring at the very last second. Just over a minute before launch, the countdown was halted due to a steering mechanism malfunction. It's probably the best this was delayed; among the other supplies being sent to the International Space Station are the astronauts overdue Christmas gifts, and it would be a real shame if those were lost in the blackness of space.
Regardless, this shouldn't be another month-long delay; SpaceX is working to fix the problem, and the rocket should launch within the next three days.
Original Story: Space travel is one of the most impressive things humanity has achieved, but its not exactly kind on the rockets themselves. Once you've fired a shuttle into space, the rocket itself usually breaks off and falls into the ocean. That's part of the reason why space travel is so expensive - We literally need to build a new launchcraft for every trip. SpaceX, however, thinks we make rockets reusable by letting them do one extra trick: Land on floating barge instead of crashing into the water. After originally planning such a landing in December, SpaceX will be conducting the test this Tuesday.
"Reusability is the critical breakthrough needed in rocketry to take things to the next level," SpaceX chief executive Elon Musk explained, who compares the current process to throwing away a 747 after its first flight.
Saying we should land rockets so they can be reused sounds simple enough, but this is literal rocket science, and therefore incredibly complex. The rockets SpaceX hopes to land are about 14 stories tall, which is exceeding difficult to land anywhere, let alone upright on the ocean. On Tuesday at 6:20 a.m. Eastern, a Falcon 9 rocket will be launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. After the booster breaks off to send the payload into orbit, the rocket will reignite and attempt to navigate to a barge on the Atlantic Ocean.
Can it work? Musk himself put the odds of success at about 50% or less, since the rocket has a good chance of tipping over or exploding altogether. And he would know, since SpaceX has done similar maneuvers before. "We've been able to soft-land the rocket booster in the ocean twice so far," Musk said. "Unfortunately, it sort of sat there for several seconds, then tipped over and exploded. It's quite difficult to reuse at that point."
But if SpaceX can find a way to safely land rockets, that means they could one day fly back to the launch pad for refueling. That would be a huge boon to any industry looking for ways space travel can be made financially feasible. "I think it's quite likely, 80 to 90 percent likely, that one of those flights will be able to land and refly," Musk concluded.
Source: New York Times