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SpaceX to attempt Atlantic Ocean platform landing

SpaceX is on track for the next launch of its unmanned, cargo-carrying Falcon 9 rocket on Dec. 16. It will travel to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, but instead of splashing down on re-entry, SpaceX will attempt to land it on a platform floating in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Dec. 16 launch marks the fifth of 12 resupply flights that SpaceX was subcontrcated by NASA for $1.6 billion to deliver cargo. Musk is using the opportunity to experiment with the Falcon 9, a picture of which – along with the landing platform – he posted to Twitter.

The chances of successful landing on the first attempt are estimated at only 50 percent, according to Musk, but he believes they will gradually improve. SpaceX has already completed ocean splashdowns of the Falcon 9 first stage on three launches, the most recent in July. During September 2013 landing, the rocket’s first-stage engine was re-activated but hit the water too hard. It would have likely been able to land on a platform during the other two launches.

Reusing rockets is a key aspect of SpaceX’s technology development, as it is seen by Musk as possibly able to reduce the cost of space flight by a factor of 100, according to Space.com.

Musk described the landing platform as an “autonomous spaceport drone ship” that operates on “thrusters repurposed from deep sea oil rigs hold position within 3m even in a storm.” Another tweet read: “Base is 300 ft by 100 ft, with wings that extend width to 170 ft. Will allow refuel & rocket flyback in future.”