MIAMI — SpaceX pushed back its first rocket launch in six months, and its first since an explosion after liftoff destroyed its unmanned Dragon cargo ship bound for the International Space Station six months ago – but not for long.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is now scheduled to launch at 8:33 p.m. EST Monday from Cape Canaveral, Fla. It will attempt to land the first stage in an upright position on solid ground for the first time, a milestone it sees as key to making rockets as reusable as commercial airplanes one day.
Monday “has a 10% higher chance of a good landing,” CEO Elon Musk tweeted Sunday afternoon. “Punting 24 hours.”
Several previous attempts at landing the rocket on a floating ocean platform have failed, but SpaceX says each try has taught them more about how to succeed in the future.
“If successful, this test would mark the first time in history an orbital rocket has successfully achieved a land landing,” SpaceX said in a statement.
While the landing is key to SpaceX’s plans, the primary goal of the mission is to deliver 11 satellites to low-Earth orbit for ORBCOMM, a global communications company.
Competition Heating Up
Last month, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos — also in the space game by virtue of his ownership of the rocket company Blue Origin — announced he had successfully landed his New Shepard rocket after a suborbital flight. New Shepard flew to a lower altitude than the Falcon 9, making the landing an easier feat for Bezos’s rocket than it would be for Musk’s, analysts say.
Both companies are aiming to boost savings and efficiency in modern rocketry by creating a new generation of complex machines that can be re-used after launch. Presently, rocket components costing many millions of dollars are jettisoned as debris after takeoff.
The Falcon 9 poised for launch Monday is 30% stronger than previous versions, SpaceX said.
The return to flight is an important milestone for SpaceX, following the June 28 accident when the Falcon 9 exploded just over two minutes after launching from Cape Canaveral. The blast also destroyed its Dragon cargo ship loaded with supplies for the astronauts living in space, and came just eight months after a space station-bound rocket belonging to competitor Orbital blew up over a Virginia launch pad.
Musk said the Falcon 9 blast was due to a faulty strut.
The accident came after a series of successful launches for SpaceX, which was the first commercial outfit to send a cargo craft to space under a $1.6 billion contract with NASA.
By Kerry Sheridan
US Astronauts Start Spacewalk to Fix Stalled Rail Car
In other space news, a pair of American astronauts began a spacewalk on Monday to move a stalled rail car outside the International Space Station, NASA said. The outing by Scott Kelly and Tim Kopra began at 7:45 a.m. EST.
During the three-hour spacewalk, the two men will attempt to lift the brake on the mobile transporter rail car, which carries the robotic arm from one location to another on the outside of the orbiting lab.
The brake is believed to have become stuck unexpectedly last week, and mission control in Houston has been unable to fix the problem robotically.
The astronauts plan to move the rail car a few inches and latch it in place, so it will not interfere with the arrival of the Russian Progress supply ship on Wednesday.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015