Sunday, October 7th is expected to be a special day for SpaceX. The commercial space company is poised to launch a Falcon 9 rocket launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base at approximately 10:21 P.M. Eastern time, after which it will land the rocket so that it can be reclaimed for refurbishment.
But unlike every other Falcon 9 first stage landing that blasted off from California before today, this one will attempt an upright landing on dry Californian soil rather than on the surface of a drone ship floating in the Pacific Ocean.
Image Credit: SpaceX/Twitter
No landing is ever guaranteed, but SpaceX and its loyal fans are crossing their fingers and hoping for the best. Citing the company’s Twitter social media account, the landing attempt will transpire approximately nine minutes after the launch, and take place at Vandenberg Air Force Base’s one and only Landing Zone 4 (LZ-4).
So what about the Falcon 9 rocket’s cargo? As it would seem, there’s an Earth-observing satellite dubbed SAOCOM 1A tucked away in the cargo hold. Argentina's Space Agency owns this particular satellite, which will gather information about Earth’s soil and moisture, among other things. The spacecraft will be deployed in orbit around the Earth about 12 minutes after the launch.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk noted via his personal Twitter account that residents in California might expect to hear a sonic boom as the rocket falls back through the sky during its landing attempt. "Sonic boom warning," Musk said. "This won't be subtle."
Even the United States Air Force chimed in:
"Local residents may see the first stage of the Falcon 9 returning to Vandenberg AFB, including multiple engine burns associated with the landing," the United States Air Force said in a public advisory. "During the landing attempt, residents from Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties may hear one or more sonic booms."
Like most of its publicized launches, SpaceX will be live-streaming the event from its YouTube channel. We’ve embedded the live-stream for your convenience below:
SpaceX has conducted soil-based rocket landings on the East coast in the past, but this is a first for the West coast. Performing landings on dry soil can be more cost-efficient for SpaceX, as it’s easier to reclaim the first stage so that it can be refurbished and reused in a future mission.
If SpaceX fails to move forward with the planned launch Sunday evening, then another launch opportunity exists on Thursday, October 11th at 10:21 P.M. Eastern time.
It should be interesting to see how things pan out. After all, reusable rocket technology is the future of space travel.