s soon as December, SpaceX will attempt to land a Falcon 9 rocket booster on a floating ocean platform the size of a football field, CEO Elon Musk said today.
The landing platform is being built at a Louisiana shipyard and measures 300 feet by 170 feet, Musk said during a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which was streamed online.
The new infrastructure is SpaceX's next step in trying to recover a Falcon 9 booster so it can be flown again, a breakthrough Musk believes is critical to lowering launch costs.
So far, the company has twice flown boosters as tall as 14-story buildings back from space and hypersonic speeds to soft landings in the Atlantic Ocean, where they broke up.
"Unfortunately, it sort of sat there for several seconds, then tipped over and exploded," said Musk. "When a 14-story building falls over, it's quite a belly flop."
The new platform aims to give the boosters something more solid to touch down upon with landing legs that span 60 feet.
It will be positioned miles out in the Atlantic Ocean, unanchored but equipped with engines and GPS sensors that will try to keep it stable.
SpaceX must show it can repeatedly perform precise landings over water before trying to fly a rocket back to land, where a miss could have more serious consequences.
Despite the platform's "huge-ish" dimensions, Musk noted that the target "looks very tiny from space."
He estimated no better than a 50-50 chance of a successful platform landing on the first attempt. But during one of the dozen launches planned over the next year, he gave as high as 90 percent odds of a landing that would enable a rocket to reused.
"So I think we're quite close," he said.
SpaceX's next launch of International Space Station cargo from Cape Canaveral is tentatively planned no earlier than Dec. 9. Musk hopes to use the landing platform then if it is ready.
SpaceX had previously disclosed plans to land on a "floating launch pad" or "solid surface," but no details about how it would work.
Quelle: Florida Today