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SpaceX Soon To Try Landing First Stage on Floating Platform
by Launchspace Staff Writers
Bethesda, MD (SPX) Dec 16, 2014

File image: Falcon 9.

SpaceX plans to try a recovery of a Falcon 9 first stage on an ocean going floating platform during its next cargo launch to the International Space Station (ISS), now planned for this Friday.

If successful, this will be the first time for such a maneuver. While many launches have taken place from such platforms, no stages have previously been recovered in this way. In fact, throughout the history of orbital launches, very few stages have been recovered.

During Space Shuttle launches the SRBs were recovered from the Atlantic Ocean, but these stages were simply parachuted and dropped into the water after burnout and separation. The idea is not new, but it has not been implemented before, because lower stages have not been recovered, with the exception of the Space Shuttle vehicle.

The recovery maneuver requires added equipment and extra propellant on the first stage, but could mark a big step forward in developing operational, reusable stages that could make spaceflight less expensive.

According to SpaceX, the landing platform is an autonomous "spaceport drone ship." The design is based on that used for deep-sea oil rigs. Thrusters are used to hold its position to within 10 ft, even during a storm.

The platform landing surface is 300 X 100 ft, with wings that extend the width to 170 ft. Sometime in the future, the platform will be modified to allow refueling and first-stage fly back to the launch site.

SpaceX has been preparing for this platform landing. On three recent flights, soft-ocean splashdowns of Falcon 9 first stages were attempted. During the first of these the first-stage engine was restarted twice, but the booster made a hard splashdown.

On the two subsequent tries the stage was successfully maneuvered to the ocean surface. The next attempt will be the fourth in the sequence. This time there will be a platform to land on.

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