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SpaceX: A Successful Rocket Landing Is Not Expected This Time

By Daniel Sparks - Feb 23, 2016 at 1:07PM

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But that won't stop the company from trying. Here's what you need to know about the launch and landing attempt on Wednesday -- and how you can watch it live.

SpaceX will attempt to land another rocket on Wednesday, shortly after delivering an SES-9 commercial communications satellite into geostationary transfer orbit, or GTO, if everything goes according to plan. The company will broadcast the launch and landing attempt live. If you'll be tuning in, however, don't get your hopes up: The company doesn't expect the experimental landing to succeed this time around.

SES-9 mission 
After a successful static fire test on Monday of its Falcon 9 rocket to confirm its readiness, SpaceX is targeting an evening launch at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Wednesday. A 90-minute launch window opens at 6:46 p.m. ET.

Falcon 9 static fire. Image source: SpaceX.

For the mission to be considered a success, SpaceX will need to successfully deploy the SES-9 into GTO. The deployment of the satellite will take place about 31 minutes after liftoff, SpaceX said in a press release.

SES-9 will provide expansion and replacement capacity to serve the video, enterprise, mobility and government sectors in fast-growing markets across Northeast Asia, South Asia and Indonesia. The additional capacity on SES-9 will enable direct-to-home operators to broadcast more local content and increase their SD and HDTV channel line-up to 22 million households across Asia-Pacific, in markets such as India, Indonesia, and the Philippines.

Furthermore, SES-9 will deliver high-speed broadband and mobile backhaul for remote regions, as as well as support maritime connectivity, providing coverage for 26,00 vessels expected to sail maritime Asia-Pacific routes this year.

SES-9 is SES' largest satellite dedicated to the Asia-Pacific region.

Another landing attempt
In addition to the launch, SpaceX will try to land its Falcon 9 first stage -- the larger portion of the rocket used to propel the payload up from the earth -- on a droneship at sea. The droneship landing zone reads in big letters, "Of Course I Still Love You."

SpaceX still considers these landing attempts "experimental." The company has tried and failed to land its rocket at sea three times. Each time, the rocket made it to the barge but experienced malfunctions either just before or during landing. In the most recent droneship landing attempt, the first stage would have likely landed successfully if it weren't for one of the landing legs' failure to lock.

"Falcon lands on droneship, but the lockout collet doesn't latch on one the four legs, causing it to tip over post landing," Musk said in a caption of an Instagram post. "Root cause may have been ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff."

Notably, SpaceX did successfully land its Falcon 9 first stage in December when it attempted to land on ground for the first time. But, depending on the rocket's GTO flight path, it's not always possible for the Falcon 9 to return to the more ideal landing conditions on solid ground. This is why it's important for SpaceX to add successful droneship landings to its capabilities.

It's unlikely this mission will mark SpaceX's first successful landing at sea. Since SpaceX has agreed with SES to alter its initial flight path for Falcon 9 in order to deploy SES-9 higher, reducing the time required for the satellite's solo journey to its designated place in orbit, the company does not expect a successful landing this time.

"Given this mission's unique GTO profile, a successful landing is not expected," SpaceX said in a press release. But the space company's bleak outlook for the landing isn't stopping it from trying.

The launch and landing attempt will be broadcast live on SpaceX's YouTube channel.

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