Update 4:33 p.m. ET: At just three minutes before liftoff, engineers scrubbed the launch due to bad weather. The team will try again tomorrow at roughly the same time.
Elon Musk’s private spaceflight company SpaceX will attempt an experimental rocket landing this afternoon that, if successful, will bring SpaceX closer to being able to reuse rockets after space launches. The maneuver is extremely complex–the Falcon 9 rocket will automatically coordinate a rendezvous with a robotic ship in the Atlantic Ocean, and then attempt to land itself vertically on deck–but the payoff will be huge if SpaceX can recover the rocket for later launches, rather than letting it fall into the ocean and become trash. If all goes according to plan, the rocket will lift off at 4:33 p.m. ET, with the barge landing attempt following about 10 minutes after.
A previous landing attempt by SpaceX, on January 10, ended in a glorious fireball when the rocket’s aerodynamic fins, which control its descent to the floating platform, ran out of hydraulic fluid just before touchdown. See the Vine below:
Today’s primary mission is to send supplies and science experiments to the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 rocket will launch the cargo capsule on its way, then detach and attempt the barge touchdown. The experimental landing is separate from the resupply mission, which will not be affected should the rocket fail to land gently.
According to SpaceX, the maneuver is “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, as is customary. “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 4:33 p.m. ET from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in the video player above. I will update this post with news of the barge landing.