Elon Musk’s rocketry outfit SpaceX is hard at work this week preparing for its third attempt to land its all-original Falcon 9 rocket booster on a barge anchored at sea. The attempt will take place this Sunday, after a mission to send a Dragon cargo capsule on a supply run to the International Space Station (ISS), which is in desperate need of supplies after a Russian rocket failed to reach orbit earlier this year.
SpaceX has been trying to land the booster, the most expensive piece of the rocket, since January this year. That attempt saw the booster descend to the barge under control, but run out of fuel just before touchdown. The result was a gigantic explosion which resulted in the rocket being destroyed. Or, as SpaceX CEO Elon Musk termed it a “rapid, unscheduled disassembly.”
A second attempt in April this year saw the booster touch down on the barge but the tall space vehicle tilted and fell, resulting in another explosion that destroyed the rocket.
Sunday’s mission is the first resupply mission to the ISS since a Russian Progress spacecraft, which contained food, science experiments and other supplies, halted communication with mission control shortly after launch and began to spin out of control in April.
Yet NASA says there is no panic surrounding Sunday's mission as even if it doesn't go to plan, supplies won't run out.
If SpaceX is successful in landing the booster and is able to consistently achieve this feat it will lead to drastic cost savings on future launches, totally reinventing the space industry. Right now every space launch system in the world throws away the rocket portion of launch vehicle, which happens to be the most expensive part.
This process is like throwing away a brand new Boeing 747 on each and every launch. If SpaceX can recover the rocket, and its pricey motors, on each launch it will be able to shave something like $100 million off each and every launch.