In rocketry, what goes up usually comes down in pieces.
The cost of getting to orbit is exorbitant, because the rocket, with its multimillion-dollar engines, ends up as trash in the ocean after one launching.
“Reusability is the critical breakthrough needed in rocketry to take things to the next level,” Mr. Musk said in October during a talk at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
On Tuesday, his company hopes to upend the economics of space travel.
At 6:20 a.m. Eastern time, one of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rockets is scheduled to lift off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on what is otherwise a routine unmanned cargo run to the International Space Station.
But this time, the company will attempt to land the first stage of the rocket intact on a barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean. After the booster falls away and the second stage continues pushing the payload to orbit, its engines will reignite to turn it around and guide it to a spot about 200 miles east of Jacksonville, Fla.
SpaceX has attempted similar maneuvers on three earlier Falcon 9 flights, and on the second and third attempts, the rocket slowed to a hover before splashing into the water.
“We’ve been able to soft-land the rocket booster in the ocean twice so far,” Mr. Musk said. “Unfortunately, it sort of sat there for several seconds, then tipped over and exploded. It’s quite difficult to reuse at that point.”
The first rocket stage, Mr. Musk noted, is as tall as a 14-story building. “When a 14-story building falls over, it’s quite a belly flop,” he said. “What we need to do is to be able to land on a floating platform.”
So SpaceX built a floating platform, 300 feet long and 170 feet wide, for the rocket stage to land on.
Take me to the complete story: SpaceX’s Next Frontier: Landing a Rocket on Earth