Environment & Science

Can SpaceX repeat last month's spectacular landing?

File: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 8, 2016.
File: The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off from launch complex 40 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Friday, April 8, 2016.
John Raoux/AP

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SpaceX is looking to stick the landing for a second time in a row.

Last month, the Hawthorne-based aerospace company landed a reusable launch rocket on a barge at sea for the first time. Wednesday night, around 10 p.m. PDT, it will attempt a repeat of that feat after launching a new payload to the International Space Station.

A second straight at-sea landing is not necessarily guaranteed. It took SpaceX five tries to make the first one.

SpaceX has also managed to safely land a rocket on a ground-based landing pad at Cape Canaveral, Florida, in December of 2015. However, that maneuver is simpler than the barge-based landings.

All of this is leading up to the company's bigger goal: reusing rockets over and over again.

Scott Pace with the Space Policy Institute at George Washington University says engineers hope to refurbish the vehicles and send them back up with new cargo, a move that would dramatically cut the price of sending payloads into space.

"The question is ... how cheaply can they do it, and are the refurbished stages as safe and reliable as brand-new stages?" Pace said.

Pace also wondered what sort of deal the company will give to customers willing to send their cargo up on a refurbished rocket.

Company Chief Executive Elon Musk recently said he hopes to have the stage from last month's landing ready for reuse later this summer, possibly as early as June.