The Sciences

Can You Safely Land the Falcon 9 Rocket? Probably Not

D-briefBy Carl EngelkingSep 18, 2015 10:47 PM

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If you used the word “failure” to describe SpaceX’s unsuccessful attempts to land its Falcon 9 rocket on a floating drone ship, you should probably play this web game. SpaceX Falcon 9 Lander is a simple — in concept only — game that challenges you to guide a virtual Falcon 9 rocket onto a landing pad. It sounds easy, but it is maddeningly difficult. True, you aren’t guiding a $60 million hunk of rocketry like the folks at SpaceX, but the game serves as a vivid illustration of the monumental challenge the company has taken on.

Hit the Landing

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has made it clear repeatedly that a reusable rocket is essential for taking the space industry to the next level. It’s simply cost prohibitive to spend millions on a rocket that is launched and discarded after one use. That means mankind needs to figure out how to send a rocket into space and bring it back to Earth safely for its next mission. SpaceX is close to their goal. They’ve attempted to land their Falcon 9 rocket twice on an autonomous drone ship in the ocean. On both attempts, the company came incredibly close to pulling it off. On the second attempt a valve controlling the rocket engine’s power stopped responding to commands 10 seconds prior to landing, and it throttled down a few seconds later than it should have. When you’re attempting to land a 67,000-pound obelisk traveling a 200 miles per hour, seconds are a big deal. Despite that, the rocket still landed on the platform, just too hard to stay upright.

Give it a Try

In the Lander web game, you can control the thruster and the direction of your Falcon 9. As you square up to land, the drone ship remains in motion, and the slightest overcorrection will send your lander plummeting into the ocean. There’s also a limit on your fuel, making the task even more challenging. But after about 20 attempts, you might get the hang of it. It’s an addicting game, and it is absolutely nothing like the real thing. However, it is a fun way to get a lesson on the difficulties of space travel.

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