Floating landing platform
This is a fairly new phenomena after 2013 as all early orbital launch vehicle stages were expended, with booster stages returning through the atmosphere to certain destruction on contact with either land or sea. Since that time, two private companies are developing reusable launch vehicle technology and using, or planning to use, floating landing platforms.
After attempts to land orbital rocket booster stages by parachute failed in the late 2000s, SpaceX began to develop reusable technology in the early 2010s. By mid-decade, Blue Origin was following, with a commitment to land the booster of a large launch vehicle on a moving ship.
Fixed location floating platforms
In the 2010s, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) contracted with a Louisiana shipyard to build a floating landing platform for reusable orbital launch vehicles. The platform had an approximately 90 by 50 meters (300 ft × 160 ft) landing pad surface and was capable of precision positioning with diesel-powered azimuth thrusters so the platform can hold its position for launch vehicle landing. This platform was first deployed in January 2015 when SpaceX attempted a controlled descent flight test to land the first stage of Falcon 9 flight 14 on a solid surface after it was used to loft a contracted payload toward Earth orbit. The platform utilizes GPS position information to navigate and hold its precise position. The rocket landing leg span is 18 m (60 ft) and must not only land within the 52 m (170 ft)-wide barge deck, but must also deal with ocean swells and GPS errors. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk first displayed a photograph of the newly designated "autonomous spaceport drone ship" in November 2014. The ship is designed to hold position to within 3 meters (9.8 ft), even under storm conditions.
On 8 April 2016, the first stage of the rocket that launched the Dragon CRS-8 spacecraft, successfully landed on the drone ship named Of Course I Still Love You, the first successful landing of a rocket booster on a floating platform. By early 2018, SpaceX had two operational drone ships and had a third under construction. By September 2018, sea platform landings had become routine for the SpaceX Falcon launch vehicles, with over 23 attempted and 17 successful recoveries.
Underway ship landing platforms
As of 2018[update], Blue Origin is intending to make the first stage boosters of New Glenn be reusable, and recover launched boosters on the Atlantic Ocean, downrange of their Florida launch site, via a stabilized ship that is underway, acting as a moving floating landing platform. The hydrodynamically-stabilized ship is projected to increase the likelihood of successful recovery in rough seas. The first recovery from an orbital launch by Blue is expected around 2020.
In October 2018, the ship was disclosed to be the former Stena Freighter, built in 2004 as a roll-on/roll-off cargo ship. The ship is currently undergoing refit in 2018–2019 in Pensacola, Florida.
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