Update: Bad news again for SpaceX. Due to rough seas, the company will not attempt to land the Falcon 9 rocket on the floating platform. The satellite launch is still scheduled for 6:03 p.m. ET, and you can watch the liftoff in the live stream below.
Twice this week, engineers have called off the launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket just minutes before liftoff due to technical issues and uncooperative weather. Today, Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company will try again to send a scientific satellite into orbit and then land its rocket vertically on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean. (Scroll down for the live stream.)
Before it attempts the historic barge landing, the Falcon 9 rocket is set to carry the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite into orbit. The satellite, operated by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, will then travel about 1 million miles from Earth in order to monitor solar winds.
The team has just a one-second launch window at 6:03 p.m. ET Wednesday. About 10 minutes after liftoff, the rocket will attempt to land itself upright on the deck of a 100-foot-by-300-foot, unmanned floating platform. This experimental maneuver is separate from the scientific satellite mission, which will not be affected should the landing attempt fail.
SpaceX first attempted to land a Falcon 9 rocket on a barge on January 10 after a successful resupply mission to the International Space Station. The rocket guided itself to the barge using GPS, but just before the landing, the four aerodynamic fins meant to slow and stabilize the descent ran out of hydraulic fluid. In the video below, you can see the fiery result:
For today’s mission, SpaceX says it has packed 50% more hydraulic fluid, which should allow the rocket to make a softer touchdown. This will be only the second time anyone has tried to land a rocket on a floating platform after a space launch. SpaceX has described the maneuver as “like trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm.”
As I wrote previously, SpaceX hypothetically will be able to save millions of dollars by reusing its vehicles if it can successfully land its rockets after space launches, rather than letting them fall into the ocean and become trash. “I think if we can recover the stage intact and relaunch it, the potential is there for a truly revolutionary impact in space transport costs,” Musk said last year. SpaceX currently works with NASA to ferry astronauts and cargo to and from the International Space Station. The company is also building a private spaceport in Texas to support commercial missions.
Watch a live stream of the launch, scheduled for 6:03 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida, below. We will update this post with news of the barge landing.