Elon Musk's SpaceX returns to the skies with a satellite launch Monday, and billionaire bragging rights are very much on the line. Musk is hoping to return his own rocket to earth from space and land it gently on the ground.
Musk has made several attempts to land the first stage of a Falcon 9 rocket. The last try by SpaceX occurred in June, but ended in failure. Since then, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin successfully landed a rocket during a test launch in November, but Musk had a quibble with the feat since it was not part of an official mission and the rocket technically never made it to space.
It is, however, important to clear up the difference between "space" and "orbit", as described well by https://t.co/7PD42m37fZ
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 24, 2015
The SpaceX launch live stream begins at 8:29 p.m. EST.
SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket will carry 11 small communication satellites for ORBCOMM Inc. The ORBCOMM-2 mission will launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. Unlike in previous missions, SpaceX will attempt an upright landing of the first stage of the Falcon 9 -- which includes the nine Merlin rockets and propellant tanks -- on land.
While not the primary mission, the attempted rocket landing comes with further scrutiny following the success by Blue Origin in landing its New Shepard space vehicle. New Shepard reached a test altitude of 62.5 miles before it returned to Earth. "Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission — soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again," Bezos, the founder of Amazon, said in a statement.
Following the success of New Shepard, Musk tweeted a congratulatory message to the rival team, but did note there was a difference between what SpaceX was attempting and what Blue Origin accomplished. Musk said it requires more speed to reach the altitudes from which SpaceX was attempting to land the Falcon 9 first stage.
Returning the first stage of the Falcon 9 has long been a priority for Musk as he attempts to create a reusable rocket. A first stage that could go undergo routine maintenance and refueling after each launch could greatly reduce the cost of each mission. "A jumbo jet costs about the same as one of our Falcon 9 rockets, but airlines don't junk a plane after a one-way trip from LA to New York. Yet when it comes to space travel, rockets fly only once — even though the rocket itself represents the majority of launch cost," SpaceX explained of its goal to create a reusable rocket.
This will be SpaceX's first mission since a launch failure in June 2015. After the launch of the seventh commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station -- as part of SpaceX's contract with NASA -- the Falcon 9 rocket exploded. A faulty support beam was responsible for the mission failure.
The SpaceX launch was delayed from Sunday due to better weather conditions Monday. You can view the ORBCOMM-2 launch and rocket landing attempt below.