SpaceX has released some intriguing details on how it plans to land three rocket boosters simultaneously when it starts launching its Falcon Heavy rocket later this year.
The Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket in operation, using three boosters, rather than the Falcon 9’s single booster. SpaceX has been pushing the reusability of its rockets too, with a handful of Falcon 9 boosters returning after launching – either on a floating barge or on the ground at SpaceX’s Landing Pad 1 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
But the Falcon Heavy presents new complications – namely, how to return all these boosters to the ground. In a document seen by NASAspaceflight.com, and picked up by Ars Technica, SpaceX said it will hope to use other pads near its existing one to bring the Falcon Heavy boosters safely back to the ground.
The company plans to build two additional concrete landing pads, each with a diameter of 86 meters (282 feet), to support all three boosters. These pads need to be at least 0.5 meters (1.6 feet) thick to support the force of a rocket landing, according to SpaceX.
However, SpaceX has not yet been given approval to expand its landing area, and if it doesn’t get this, it will only be able to land one booster at a time on land. The other two will either drop into the ocean or land on a floating barge, something SpaceX said would “negatively affect” its attempts to bring down the cost of space travel.
Animation of the Falcon Heavy launching and landing. SpaceX
In other SpaceX news, NASA has recently voiced concerns about upcoming manned launches from the private company. When it starts launching humans in 2018, SpaceX wants to fuel the rockets once the crew are already on board just 30 minutes before lift off, rather than several hours prior, which is more traditional.
It does this so it can use super-cooled liquid oxygen, but there are concerns that the crew should not be on the rocket before it is fueled, something that hasn’t been the case for more than 50 years of human spaceflight.
“The annual report by the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP), released Jan. 11, raised the issue of what it calls the 'load and go' approach planned by SpaceX to fuel the Falcon 9 rocket with liquid oxygen and kerosene propellants only after astronauts have boarded the Dragon spacecraft,” reported SpaceNews.
On Saturday, January 14, the company is hoping to finally launch its first rocket since last year, following that fateful rocket explosion in September 2016. The weather isn’t looking too good at the moment, but if successful, 10 satellites for the Iridium communications company will be taken to orbit, and the booster will attempt to land on the floating barge Just Read The Instructions.