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What if every time you rode a bicycle you threw it away and bought a new one? It would make each trip to the grocery store a lot more expensive. Space travel can be similar; right now, the rocket booster that propels a spacecraft away from Earth’s surface separates and then generally disintegrates while falling back toward land or sinks into the ocean.
SpaceX is gearing up to change that. It plans to install a football-field sized landing platform in the Atlantic Ocean and put it to use as soon as December, when its Falcon 9 rocket will make another routine launch. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk revealed the plans Friday at MIT’s AeroAstro Centennial Symposium:
A football field may sound large, but it’s a fairly small target when a rocket is falling from more than 20 miles above the ocean. The landing platform is also not anchored; instead, engines and a GPS system will keep it in place.
SpaceX first started attaching landing legs to the Falcon 9 back in February. It tested them by landing in the ocean. While it still lost the booster each time, it told the company what it needed to know to transition to a platform.
Musk said there is at best a 50 percent chance the first rocket landing succeeds. Throughout the rest of the SpaceX missions in 2015, however, there is up to a 90 percent chance a Falcon 9 will land in tact.