SpaceX is planning something completely different for its next rocket-landing trick: After launching the U.S.-European Jason 3 satellite on a Falcon 9, it’ll have the first-stage booster fly itself back and try to touch down on a drone ship off California’s coast.
Well, maybe it’s not completely different: The attempt, scheduled for Jan. 17, follows up on last month’s spectacularly successful first-stage landing in Cape Canaveral, Fla. But this could be the first successful at-sea retro rocket landing in history, and the first West Coast rocket recovery.
Landing the booster would be considered a bonus rather than a requirement for mission success. The main objective is to send Jason 3 into orbit from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, adding it to a series of sea-observing satellites.