SpaceX might soon see its first ground landing of a Falcon 9 rocket on the West Coast. The private space company has recently applied for a special temporary authority (STA) to land a Falcon 9 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, reports The Verge.
The application, filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on July 4, requests a license for an “experimental launch vehicle first-stage recovery operation.” This means that SpaceX plans to launch the Falcon 9 from Vandenberg and later land the rocket on the ground at the same facility — as opposed to performing a water landing on a drone ship.
“This STA covers the experimental first-stage recovery operation, following a Falcon 9 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base. This request is limited to the brief command uplink from a ground antenna at the landing site to the launch vehicle after landing,” reads the FCC application.
In other words, the FCC is being asked to grant SpaceX permission to use a ground antenna at Vandenberg in order to communicate with the Falcon 9 via radio and send commands to the rocket’s booster after landing, explains Spaceflight Now.
If the application is granted, this will be the very first land touch-down of a SpaceX rocket on the California coast, notes The Verge.
While we don’t have an actual date for when SpaceX plans to attempt this first Falcon 9 landing at Vandenberg, the license specifies a time interval between September 5 and March 5.
According to the two media outlets, the private space company, run by billionaire tech mogul Elon Musk, has performed 25 successful Falcon 9 landings so far.
The majority of these touch-downs, 14 to be exact, have been water landings, in which the rocket’s first stage returned to a landing platform stationed at sea — after launching either from Vandenberg or from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Only 11 Falcon 9 boosters have touched down on land and every one of these ground landings has taken place in Florida, on the East Coast. This includes the two side boosters recovered from the test launch of the Falcon Heavy rocket this February, as reported by the Inquisitr.
“Whichever option SpaceX picks depends on the type of launch that takes place and whether the rocket has enough fuel to perform the landing. For instance, returning back to land requires more fuel than a drone ship landing, so launches that eat up a lot of propellant during the ascent usually have to land in the ocean (if it all),” explains The Verge.
In preparation for what would be the first Falcon 9 ground landing in California, SpaceX has already built a landing zone at Vandenberg, fitted with a circular concrete landing pad similar to the ones at Cape Canaveral.
The company’s Vandenberg landing facility resides at the former Space Launch Complex 4-West, leased by SpaceX in 2015, and sits just a quarter-mile (or about 400 meters) from the Falcon 9 launch pad at Space Launch Complex 4-East.
In addition, Musk’s company has already been cleared by the Federal Aviation Administration to land its Falcon 9 rockets at Vandenberg, after an investigation into the potential environmental impacts of the booster returns concluded that they wouldn’t pose a big threat to local wildlife and natural resources.