Elon Musk Reveals SpaceX Landing Barge

Perhaps unimpressed with the weekend’s college football lineup, Elon Musk took to Twitter once again on Saturday, this time to reveal the landing barge SpaceX has commissioned for construction in Louisiana, as well as to provide a little more insight on how it may be used.

First came a confirmation that the next Falcon 9, which is scheduled to launch the CRS-5 Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station on December 16th, will be equipped with steerable grid fins:


And then the payoff:

Even more intriguing than the ridiculously cool “X marks the spot” graphics adorning the barge’s deck was a subsequent tweet

While the SpaceX founder did not specifically confirm that the barge will be in place for the upcoming flight, the timing of the release certainly suggests as much.  What is particularly noteworthy however, is the last line, “Will allow refuel & rocket flyback in future.”

SpaceX apparently intends to solve the challenge of maintaining sufficient propellant for the “rocket back” maneuver by breaking the journey into two steps, with the first being a landing at sea close to the vehicle’s normal flight path. The second leg, a controlled flight off the barge and back to land could then take place under ideal timing and conditions not tied to the specific demands of the initial launch.

In light of recent events; the OSC Antares failure, the Virgin Galactic disaster and SpaceX’s own loss of a first stage test article in Texas, it would hardly be surprising if neither NASA, the Air Force nor the FAA were inclined to be in a hurry to fast-track propulsive return all the way to Cape Canaveral. Employing the barge neatly avoids that problem in the short run, even as the upcoming series of tests at Spaceport America in New Mexico will give SpaceX the opportunity to demonstrate the capability to everyone’s satisfaction.

Posted in: SpaceX

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5 Comments on "Elon Musk Reveals SpaceX Landing Barge"

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  1. Robert Clark says:

    Thanks for that. Pretty cool. Imagine the effect on the launch industry if they are able to make that landing safely. Imagine the even greater effect if they are able to successfully launch that same stage later.

    Bob Clark

  2. Ultra-cool. The grid-fins were tested on the Falcon 9R-Dev1 test vehicle (the one that self-destructed over MacGregor last August). Use of them here seems to indicate that the grid fins have been exonerated as a cause of that crash. This should save a lot of thruster propellant, making a pinpoint landing that much more likely.

  3. After rotating and eliminating perspective, it appears that the actual width of the landing platform is 150′ and not 170′ as tweeted by Musk. Assuming the dimensions of the underlying barge are correct (100′ x 300′), which matches the aspect ratio seen in the photo perfectly, the rectangular landing area is 212′ x 150′.excluding fore and aft extensions.

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