UPDATE: SpaceX nailed the first stage landing and the satellites were successfully deployed. Awesome stuff!
Were you worried SpaceX’s last failed launch would hurt their ambitions? Don’t be. At 8:33 p.m. EST, 11 ORBCOMM OG2 satellites will soar into the night’s sky aboard a Falcon 9 rocket. Getting these 11 satellites into orbit is the primary mission. But it’s the secondary mission that has everyone buzzing.
Landing first stage back on land
That’s right. SpaceX is changing it up a bit this time. Instead of landing the first stage on a barge in the ocean, SpaceX will try to land it on solid ground. The launch was scheduled for last night, but SpaceX opted to delay it one more day. Why? SpaceX’s Elon Musk explains in a tweet.
Just reviewed mission params w SpaceX team. Monte Carlo runs show tmrw night has a 10% higher chance of a good landing. Punting 24 hrs.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 20, 2015
A Monte Carlo Simulation is a type of probabilistic computerized mathematical model.
It’s all about saving money
Imagine if Delta scrapped its airplanes after one use. That’s the issue facing SpaceX and other space companies. Every Falcon 9 rocket costs about the same as a jumbo jet. Before SpaceX, most rockets were designed solely around getting their payload into space. All available fuel was used to achieve this.
For SpaceX, reusability was always a design pillar for the Falcon 9. This includes fuel, but there are also several other design elements needed. Grid fins are vital for steering the first stage as it falls from the edges of space through our atmosphere. Cold-gas thrusters are used to flip the rocket around as it begins its journey back to Earth. And finally, landing struts. Kind of hard to land a rocket if there’s no landing gear. These are made of lightweight carbon fiber.
You can see when these systems are used in the infographic below.
And, here’s a tracking shot of April’s landing attempt.
The main difference with tonight’s landing is that it won’t be landing on an ocean platform. Will SpaceX succeed tonight? We all hope so. But even if it doesn’t, it’s great to see SpaceX still pushing the envelope with their return to space.
What about those satellites?
It’s easy to overlook the primary mission when the secondary is so damn cool. SpaceX is delivering 11 ORBCOMM OG2 satellites into orbit tonight. It’s the second and final OG2 mission. All total, there will be 17 OG2 satellites.
ORBCOMM OG2 is the world’s first commercial satellite network 100% dedicated to M2M (machine-to-machine). The new satellite network will provide reliable M2M communications to and from the most remote areas on Earth. The upgrades OG2 provides are obvious. More data, faster message delivery and better coverage.
SpaceX also handled the launch of the first 6 OG2 satellites last year. Check it out below.
Watch tonight’s launch and hopefully a landing via SpaceX’s webcast page. I’ll keep this post updated with any more information about tonight’s launch.