Perhaps feeling a bit put out that Blue Origin stole its re-usable rocket thunder, commercial spaceflight company SpaceX has apparently decided to forget about the whole landing a rocket on an ocean drone thing. Instead, for its next attempt to bring a Falcon 9 booster safely back to Earth from the great beyond, SpaceX wants to go whole hog: Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
That’s according to NASA representatives, who confirmed that SpaceX will try to land a rocket on solid ground, while speaking with the media at Kennedy Space Center’s 39A pad, Florida Today reports. SpaceX is in the process of preparing the pad for future uncrewed launches of Falcon 9 rockets, and eventually, NASA astronauts. (Cape Canaveral’s historic launchpads are getting a bit crowded with commercial enterprise these days; Blue Origin just took over Launch Complex 36 earlier this autumn).
“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. SpaceX declined to confirm the news.
The announcement comes days after Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos’s rocket company, successfully landed its New Shepard booster in Texas after reaching an altitude of 329,839 feet — technically high enough to be considered “space”.
Elon Musk's SpaceX, for its part, has been trying (and failing) to land its Falcon 9 rockets on ocean barges for over a year now. The rocket company accomplished a “soft ocean landing” last year, but in subsequent attempts to set Falcon 9 boosters down on platforms, the rockets came in too hard or without enough control. SpaceX’s most recent Falcon 9 launch in June blew up on its way to orbit, the first mission failure in the company’s history.
While one might wonder if it isn’t a bit premature for SpaceX to be attempting to land rockets around infrastructure and people, when it hasn’t yet been able to do so in the middle of the ocean, Florida Today reports that the company believes it’ll have more success coming down from space onto solid turf versus a shaky ocean barge. Who knows, maybe SpaceX was just the teensiest bit motivated by Blue Origin’s recent milestone.
At any rate, we don’t yet know when this brave landing will take place—first, it has to be approved as part of a still-pending FAA commercial launch license. But if one thing’s becoming clearer every day, it’s that the space race is making a big comeback. [Florida Today]