When SpaceX launches its Falcon 9 rocket again, the company will attempt to land the vehicle back on solid ground, Florida Today reported. So far, the company has only attempted landing their rockets on ships out at sea, but SpaceX's ultimate goal is to eventually touch down its rockets on land-based spaceports. If the company's landing is successful, it will be the first step toward making the Falcon 9 a reusable rocket.
The "very exciting news" came from a NASA representative, who made the announcement today to members of the press at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "Their plan is to try to land [the next booster] out here on the Cape-side," said Carol Scott of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, referring to Cape Canaveral, where SpaceX typically launches from. Scott said she had recently talked about the landing plan with a SpaceX executive. SpaceX declined to confirm the news.
SpaceX's ultimate goal is to touch down its rockets on land-based spaceports
This past year, SpaceX has tried to land the Falcon 9 rocket's first stage — the long 14-story rocket body that contains the main engines and most of the fuel — after launching the vehicle into space. Typically, rocket bodies are lost or destroyed post-launch. It makes the cost of commercial space travel particularly expensive, since a new rocket must be built for each subsequent mission. Landing a big portion of the rocket would allow SpaceX to then reuse the vehicle, saving the company from building an entirely new spacecraft.
The two times SpaceX has tried to land the Falcon 9, the rocket's target was an autonomous drone spaceport floating out in the ocean. Unfortunately, the company wasn't able to stick those landings — though the rockets did get pretty close. Landing attempts — and launches, for that matter — were then halted in June, after a Falcon 9 rocket exploded en route to the International Space Station. SpaceX said it plans to return to flight sometime this month, by launching small satellites for a communications company called Orbcomm, but no exact date has been confirmed yet.
It's during this tentatively scheduled Orbcomm mission that SpaceX will attempt a ground landing, Scott said. A solid touch down would pave the way for SpaceX's big-picture plan of landing rockets mostly on land going forward. In February 2015, SpaceX leased an old launch pad at Cape Canaveral from the Air Force, known as Launch Complex 13. Since renamed Landing Complex 1, the site will be where SpaceX hopes to touch down its rockets post-launch.
A Falcon 9 landing on land would be a huge technological first, though it won't be the first time a rocket has landing vertically after going to space. Last week, Blue Origin made big waves when it announced it had landed its New Shepard booster after sending it to sub-orbital space. While, Blue Origin's achievement was a historical moment, what SpaceX is trying to do is a bit more complex than the New Shepard landing, as the Falcon 9 is going much faster and is at a much higher altitude when it begins its return trip to Earth.