SpaceX, NASA launching reusable rocket

SpaceX hopes Sundays mission marks the start of a new phase, that will culminate with the use of 'legs' to fall gently on land targets

Reusability is a key to any plan to making human life interplanetary, according to the CEO of SpaceX, one of the companies tasked with ferrying cargo, and someday astronauts, to the International Space Station.

And the company will take the first step in trying to prove that point this Sunday when it is scheduled to launch a rocket propelling a craft carrying nearly 5,000 pounds of supplies to the space station.

This time, unlike the two previous SpaceX trips to the spapce station, the company hopes to recover and hopefully reuse the craft's rocket in another mission.

This time, the company will try to recover the rocket launched Sunday from the ocean. Future missions, will use "legs" built onto the rocket to gently fall to land.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket plans to make the first stage (shown here) of its Falcon 9 rocket, reusable by recovering it from the ocean on Sunday and later on land using the 'legs' on each side. (Photo: SpaceX)

"If one can figure out how to effectively reuse rockets just like airplanes, the cost of access to space will be reduced by as much as a factor of 100," said Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, in a statement. "A fully reusable vehicle has never been done before. That really is the fundamental breakthrough needed to revolutionize access to space."

The company noted that its Falcon 9 rocket was built at a cost of about $54 million.

"The majority of the launch cost comes from building the rocket, which flies only once," the company said. "Compare that to a commercial airliner. Each new plane costs about the same as Falcon 9, but can fly multiple times per day, and conduct tens of thousands of flights over its lifetime."

The SpaceX-3 launch is set for 4:41 a.m. ET Sunday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

NASA noted today that there is a 70% chance of the weather being favorable. It did note that thick cloud cover may be an issue.

The Dragon cargo craft will bring 4,969 pounds of cargo to the orbiting laboratory and returning 3,578 pounds to Earth. The cargo being ferried to the space station includes computer hardware, scientific experiments and new spacewalk tools.

SpaceX made its first resupply mission in 2012 and the second last spring.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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