Less than a month after it landed its first rocket, SpaceX is going to try doing it again. On Sunday morning, if all goes according to plan, SpaceX will launch its Falcon 9 into space, deploy a Jason-3 satellite into low-earth orbit, and return its first stage to a barge in the Pacific Ocean where it will attempt to land. While the company successfully landed the first stage in December, the private space company, led by Elon Musk, has yet to land at sea. Can the company pull it off on Sunday?
The Jason-3 launch will take place on Sunday at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Callifornia.
The Jason-3 spacecraft is part of a four-agency international partnership consisting of NOAA, NASA, the French Space Agency CNES, and EUMETSAT, or the European Organization for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites. The Jason-3 satellite itself was built by Thales Alenia of France.
Jason-3's purpose? To "monitor and precisely measure global sea surface heights, monitor the intensification of tropical cyclones and support seasonal and coastal forecast," according to NASA.
While successful delivery of the cargo is the top priority for SpaceX, it will likely be the landing attempt itself that gets the most attention on Sunday.
On Thursday, NASA said weather forecasters from the U.S. Air Force 30th Weather Squadron predicted a 100% chance of favorable weather for the Sunday scheduled launch.
On Friday, NASA confirmed the Jason-3 spacecraft was successfully "mated to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket."
Why this launch is so important
There are essentially three key reasons this weekend's launch is critical for SpaceX.
First, a success would return the company to a streak of wins. In the company's flight before its December launch, the Falcon 9 blew up during flight.
Second, proving it can land successfully at sea will give the company more flexibility in its launch attempts, as sometimes it's far more difficult for the rocket to return all they way back to the launch site. SpaceX has attempted to land Falcon 9 at sea two times. While both rockets successfully navigated to the barge, they both suffered malfunctions and crashed.
Last, landing the Falcon 9 may give the company its first rocket to actually reuse. While the company did say no damage was found on its landed Falcon 9 rocket, SpaceX wants to save the rocket as a sort of memorial. So, if SpaceX lands its rocket on Sunday, the company could actually consider reusing the rocket. And if it can successfully reuse rockets, SpaceX could easily begin to undercut all of its competitors, as it costs about $16 million for the company to manufacture the Falcon 9 and only around $200,000 to refuel it. If it's able to regularly reuse rockets it could slash its $61.2 million pricing for Falcon 9 flights by a significant amount.
The Jason-3 SpaceX launch is scheduled for 10:42 AM PST on Sunday, Jan. 17.