SpaceX is preparing to close in on another historic milestone this weekend as the aerospace manufacturer will attempt to land a rocket booster back on land at Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The company is slated to launch a Falcon 9 rocket at 7:21 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 7, from VAFB's Space Launch Complex-4East as part of the SAOCOM mission, in which an observation satellite will be sent into orbit for the Argentine space agency CONAE. (Note: The launch had originally been scheduled for Saturday, but was pushed back a day to allow more time for pre-flight checks, 30th Space Wing Public Affairs announced Wednesday.)
While the mission is expected to provide important information for disaster management and other emergency situations, much of the attention Saturday will likely be focused on what happens to the rocket after launch.
The landing attempt, which was confirmed by 30th Space Wing officials Tuesday, will be the first-ever such attempt on the West Coast. SpaceX, which has previously landed rockets on a barge in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of VAFB, had been preparing several years for the attempt after enjoying successful land-based boost-back landings on the East Coast.
Officials at VAFB issued a warning to Central Coast residents Tuesday, noting that one or more sonic booms may be heard throughout Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo counties as part of the landing attempt.
"Local residents may see the first stage of the Falcon 9 returning to Vandenberg AFB, including multiple engine burns associated with the landing," read a portion of a release from the 30th Space Wing.
"A sonic boom is the sound associated with the shock waves from an aircraft or vehicle traveling faster than the speed of sound," according to the release. "Sonic booms generate a sound similar to an explosion or a clap of thunder. The sonic boom experienced will depend on weather conditions and other factors."
The SAOCOM mission is reportedly ideal for an RTLS, or Return to Landing Site, attempt because the spacecraft weighs about 6,600 pounds, well within the RTLS capabilities of the Falcon 9 that will be used for Saturday’s launch.
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The landing zone, at what used to be known as Space Launch Complex-4West, is about 1,400 feet away from the launch site.
In total, SpaceX has had 29 successful booster landings.
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has touted the landings as a way to immediately reuse rockets, which in turn greatly decreases the costs associated with space travel.
Returning the rocket booster to a land-based concrete pad is reportedly more cost-effective than landing on a drone ship, and it also would eliminate concerns related to ocean conditions.
Sunday's planned launch could draw larger-than-normal crowds of spectators.
VAFB officials typically encourage viewers to watch launches from the “Hawk’s Nest” site, which is located off Highway 1 about a half-mile south of VAFB’s main gate.
The Hawk's Nest gates will open at 5 p.m. and close at 7:10 p.m. Sunday, according to the 30th Space Wing. VAFB officials asked that people not bring or consume alcohol, smoke, nor have any open fires or barbeques at the site. Additionally, pets, RVs and campers, weapons, and drones are prohibited.
For more information regarding public viewing locations, visit the 30th Space Wing Facebook page at www.facebook.com/30thSpaceWing/, or contact 30th Space Wing Public Affairs at 805-606-3595.