SpaceX to attempt to land Falcon 9 craft on floating barge

17 Dec 2014

The barge built by SpaceX to test the landing of the Falcon 9 craft. Image via SpaceX

To see whether its Falcon 9 craft could one day land on another planet, SpaceX has constructed a floating barge that will act as a landing pad for its latest craft.

The Falcon 9 craft has already proven itself relatively successful in its first two tests, which saw it successfully touch down in the Atlantic Ocean. SpaceX must now see whether it has what it takes to land on a solid surface, to see whether future astronauts could use the craft to land on planets and walk safely on their surface.

According to SpaceX, the company is slightly less optimistic of being able to pull off landing Falcon 9 on a barge, giving itself a potential success rate of at most 50pc, but say that from an initial test, it will continue to perfect the landing process.

The team working on the landing say the difficulties of landing on the barge is accuracy. When travelling through the Earth’s atmosphere, the Falcon 9 craft moves about 1,300 metres, or the equivalent of a 14-storey building, every second.

On-board camera footage of the Falcon 9 landing legs deployed just before soft water landing in the Atlantic Ocean. Image via SpaceX

This will mean a whole system of stabilising systems has been installed on the craft but even with this in place, SpaceX describes the process as being similar to ‘trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm’.

The systems described by SpaceX will see the Falcon 9 craft ignite its engines for a series of three burns of various length, which will slow it down from its original speed of 1,300 m/s, to about 250 m/s before bringing it down for its final speed of 2 m/s.

As for the barge the craft will be landing on, it measures 300 feet x 100 feet, which for the Falcon 9’s legspan being 70 feet, puts it without much margin for error, but the team is still aiming for accuracy within 10 metres.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic