SpaceX has successfully returned rockets to earth after launching them into space from Florida, but a launch scheduled for Sunday from Vandenberg Air Force Base could be the first time the American aerospace company records a successful return on the West Coast.
A Falcon9 rocket was launched last month from Cape Canaveral in Florida, sending the Telstar 18 Vantage satellite into space.
Instead of dropping the booster into the ocean, as with most rocket launches, the first stage of the Falcon 9 landed in one piece on a platform.
“SpaceX has been working on the reusable rocket system for quite a while, taking down the costs of getting into space by taking the rocket after they’ve launched and landing it safely back on Earth without destroying it,” said Cal Poly Aerospace Engineering Assistant Professor Amelia Greig.
Grieg called this new technology a modern day marvel.
“From the engineering side of things, it’s incredibly challenging,” Greig said. “Rockets are long and thin, like a nail, so it’s like dropping a nail on the ground on its end and trying to keep it from falling over.”
Greig, who plans to watch the launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in person, said she’s never witnessed the return but is familiar with the concept.
“They use the same engine to land as they do to lift off,” Greig said. “So when they’re doing the standard lift off, there’s all nine engines firing. Once they’ve deployed the second stage and payload into orbit, they bring the first stage of the rocket back, so half, essentially. They use some of those engines, reignite them and burn slightly less, so the rocket will still descend instead of going up, but they can slow it down as its coming and use it to control the landing.”
Soon after its launch, the Falcon9 will return to Earth, where it will be refurbished and used again in the future.
SpaceX warned of the launch from Vandenberg that the Falcon9’s return could cause a number of sonic booms.
So even if you don’t see this historic takeoff, which is set to take place at 7 p.m. Sunday, you’ll likely hear the rocket’s thunderous return.