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SpaceX has ambitious plans for California rocket launch

SpaceX has ambitious plans for California rocket launch
Posted at 6:25 PM, Mar 29, 2018
and last updated 2018-03-30 10:41:08-04

WATCH THE LAUNCH:


(KGTV and CNN) - Friday morning's launch of a SpaceX rocket from the Central California coast will be a notable one for Elon Musk's out-of-orbit efforts.

A Falcon 9 rocket is scheduled to blast off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 7:13 a.m. PT. The rocket will deliver a group of satellites for communications firm Iridium (IRDM).

Shortly after launch, SpaceX is probably going to make another experimental attempt to guide the rocket's nose cone, also called a payload fairing, onto a passenger ship outfitted with a giant net.

PHOTOS: SpaceX rocket launch visible above San Diego

The fairing rests on the very top part of the rocket, and it acts as a shield for satellites during launch. Once the rocket is in space, the fairing splits into two and falls away. Typically, it's left to plummet back to Earth where the ocean becomes its graveyard.

But SpaceX wants to change that, mostly because the fairing on its Falcon 9 costs $6 million.

As Musk once put it, if "you had $6 million in cash on a palette flying through the air, and it's going to smash into the ocean, would you try to recover it? Yes. Yes, you would."

The company has quietly attempted to recapture the 43-foot-long fairing halves since at least March of 2017.

At least twice, SpaceX has guided fairing halves to soft landings in the ocean, according to Musk's social media pages.

But there's a problem.

"Once it gets into the water, it's quite damaging to the electronics and components inside the fairing," said Glenn Lightsey, a professor of aerospace engineering at Georgia Tech. "Most likely if it gets into the water, it's not usable."

Enter, Mr. Steven.

For Friday's launch a ship, named Mr. Steven, will head out to sea and attempt to catch half of the fairing with a giant net.