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Why is today's SpaceX mission so important? Reusable rockets

Posting in Technology
 
space-x-reusable-rocket-press.jpg
 
UPDATE: About an hour before the scheduled launch, the launch was postponed due to a helium leak. Here's what SpaceX had to say: "Today’s launch has been scrubbed due to a Helium leak on Falcon 9’s first stage. A fix will be implemented by the next launch opportunity on Friday April 18, though weather on that date isn’t ideal."

Today is a big day for space innovation. 

SpaceX, the private spaceflight company run by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, will attempt to recover its Falcon 9 rocket. Today at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, 4:58 U.S. Eastern time, the Falcon 9 rocket is planned to launch, sending its Dragon cargo craft on a NASA-contracted mission to resupply the International Space Station with a lot of interesting cargo

But the real question after the launch will be: can the Falcon 9 do something like this:

 
 

Except on this mission, after the Falcon 9 has separated from the Dragon craft, Dragon will continue to the International Space Station and Falcon 9 will attempt to make a reentry burn and then a landing burn. SpaceX explains what's next:

Falcon 9 is carrying four landing legs, which will deploy partway into the landing burn. Eventually, SpaceX hopes to land the first stage on land. Though success is unlikely with this test, it represents an exciting effort toward someday developing a reusable rocket.  

How unlikely? The company estimates that the probability of successfully recovering the rocket is low, about 30-40 percent. 

But even if SpaceX isn't able to recover the rocket, the company hopes "to gather as much data as possible to support future testing."

What's at stake? Major savings for the space industry. Last year, SpaceX explained that the cost of the Falcon 9 rocket was $54 million. That's a significant cost for a one-time flight. With the cost of fuel for a single launch relatively lower, around $200,000, SpaceX could save millions of dollars if they are able to use the rocket even one more time. In the future, the cost barriers of space exploration could be dramatically reduced. 

As SpaceX explains on its website: "Each new plane costs about the same as Falcon 9, but can fly multiple times per day, and conduct tens of thousands of flights over its lifetime. Following the commercial model, a rapidly reusable space launch vehicle could reduce the cost of reaching Earth orbit by a hundredfold."

Live video of today's launch here.

Photo: SpaceX

— By on April 14, 2014, 9:58 AM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure