SpaceX may be closing in on another historic milestone this weekend as the aerospace manufacturer is reportedly planning to attempt to land a rocket booster back on land at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The company is slated to launch a Falcon 9 rocket on Saturday, Oct. 6 — an exact time had not been revealed as of Monday afternoon, though early reports suggest it had been tentatively scheduled for 7:22 p.m. — from VAFB as part of the SAOCOM mission, in which an observation satellite will be sent into orbit for the Argentine space agency CONAE.
While the mission is expected to provide important information for disaster management and other emergency situations, much of the attention Saturday will likely be focused on what happens to the rocket after launch.
If SpaceX attempts bring the rocket back to a land-based landing zone, it would be the first-ever such attempt on the West Coast. SpaceX, which has previously landed rockets on a barge in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of VAFB, had been preparing several years for the attempt after enjoying successful land-based boost-back landings on the East Coast.
In total, SpaceX has had 29 successful booster landings.
The plans for the RTLS, or Return to Launch Site, attempt were reported this summer by the website nasaspaceflight.com, which covers news related to space flight. SpaceX had not formally confirmed the plans as of Monday.
According to nasaspaceflight.com, the SAOCOM mission is ideal for an RTLS attempt because the spacecraft weighs about 6,600 pounds, well with the RTLS capabilities of the Falcon 9 that will be used for Saturday’s launch.
The landing zone is about 1,400 feet away from VAFB’s Space Launch Complex-4, which is where the launch is slated to originate.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has touted the landings as a way to immediately reuse rockets, which in turn greatly decreases the costs associated with space travel.
Returning the rocket booster to a land-based concrete pad is reportedly more cost-effective than landing on a drone ship, and it also would eliminate concerns related to ocean conditions.
Saturday’s planned launch, particularly if the landing is attempted, could draw larger-than-normal crowds of spectators.
VAFB officials typically encourage viewers to watch launches from the “Hawk’s Nest” site, which is located off Highway 1 about a half-mile south of VAFB’s main gate.
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