Will Third Time Be the Charm for SpaceX? – Update

Will Third Time Be the Charm for SpaceX? – Update

UPDATE, June 28, 2015:   The Falcon 9 rocket failed 2:19 minutes after launch.  SpaceX and NASA are investigating.

ORIGINAL STORY, June 27, 2015.  SpaceX will make a third try to land a Falcon 9 first stage on an “autonomous drone ship” minutes after the rocket lifts off tomorrow morning on a cargo run to the International Space Station (ISS).   The company tried this in January and in April, coming close to success both times.  Could tomorrow (Sunday, June 28)  be the charm?

SpaceX has successfully fulfilled the main purpose of the flights each time, delivering cargo to the ISS using Dragon spacecraft launched by Falcon 9 rockets.  Tomorrow’s launch is SpaceX’s seventh operational resupply mission under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA — SpaceX CRS-7 or SpX-7.

SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk has longer term plans, however, that include making the Falcon 9’s first stage reusable. Eventually he wants them to land back at the launch site, but the initial tests involved ocean “landings” (the stages tipped over once they reached sea level) and he has now moved into a phase of landing them on unoccupied ships that many people call barges.   SpaceX points out that barges have no engines, while these do, so they are called “drone ships.”

SpaceX has two of them that Musk whimsically named “Just Read the Instructions” and “Of Course, I Still Love You.”  The first two tests uses the first ship; tomorrow’s will use the second.

On the first try in January, the hydraulic system ran out of fluid just before reaching the ship.   In April, the first stage reached the drone ship, but did not remain vertical.  It fell over and exploded.

SpaceX will try again tomorrow.   The launch is at 10:21 am ET from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.   NASA and SpaceX will provide live video of the launch.   SpaceX usually does not provide live video of the landing, but in April released video and other information fairly quickly usually via Musk’s Twitter account @elonmusk.

Editor’s note:  This story was revised to clarify the reason for the January landing failure. 

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