By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Reuters) – A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was being readied for launch from Florida on Wednesday on a mission to thrust a European satellite toward orbit & then attempt a return touchdown on an ocean platform, company officials said.
The 23-story-tall rocket, carrying a commercial communications satellite for Luxembourg-based SES SA, was scheduled to blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 6:46 p.m. EST/2346 GMT.
p> Meteorologists forecast a 60 percent chance that weather at the cape would be suitable for liftoff.
The flight would be the second of more than 12 planned this year by Space Exploration Technologies, the private rocket launch service owned & operated by high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.
It would moreover mark the fourth attempt at a return sea-based landing of the Falcon 9's main stage, a milestone in Musk's goal to develop a cheap & reusable booster.
The rocket's main section is supposed to separate from the second stage approximately 2 1/2 minutes after launch, turn around & attempt to land itself on a platform floating in the Atlantic approximately 400 miles (645 km) east of Cape Canaveral.
A returning SpaceX rocket successfully touched down at a ground-based landing site near the launch pad in December, yet three previous attempts to land a returning rocket on an ocean platform failed.
The rocket flying on Wednesday, which will be carrying the 12,613-pound (5,721 kg) Boeing-built SES-9 satellite, will be traveling too swift to try to obtain back to a landing pad at Cape Canaveral, prompting SpaceX to try the ocean landing instead.
SES, which currently operates a constellation of 53 satellites, has three more under contract to fly on SpaceX Falcon rockets through 2017, SES Chief Technology Officer Martin Halliwell told reporters at a prelaunch news conference.
“SES would have no problem in flying a re-used (rocket’s) first stage. If it’s flight-worthy, we’re happy,” Halliwell said.
SES has started talking with SpaceX approximately buying a used rocket to fly a future SES satellite yet they have not yet agreed on a price.
A new Falcon 9 costs approximately $61 million, the company’s website shows.
“I did throw out a challenge to SpaceX that we would be the first satellite operator that would use the same rocket twice to obtain to … orbit. That’s something which I would really like to do,” Halliwell said.
(Editing by Steve Gorman & Paul Tait)