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This revolutionary rocket will have to wait to try a risky new way of landing

Instead of being discarded in the ocean, the booster stages could return to Earth.

SPACEX HAS BEEN forced to postpone the launch of a rocket with a revolutionary new landing technique.

With just under a minute remaining, officials discovered that a motor needed for rocket thrust steering had failed.

When an object is launched into space using current technology, it is attached to booster rockets which fall back to Earth and land in the ocean

But what SpaceX has planned for its Falcon rocket could change this.

Instead of the booster stages being discharged, the entire section would be able to return to Earth and be used again.

Falcon

The private company planned to land the rocket on a floating barge the size of a football pitch.

For an object returning from the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, this isn’t going to be an easy task.

“If you look at it from, I think, almost 150 or so miles up in suborbit, then it looks like a very, very small place to land on,” Koenigsmann, vice president for mission assurance at SpaceX said yesterday.

On its website, SpaceX described the effort to stabilize the booster, travellingt nearly 1 mile per second, like “trying to balance a rubber broomstick on your hand in the middle of a wind storm”.

Automatic engine firings will control the descent — while big, the booster will be lightweight by this point — with touchdown occurring nine minutes after liftoff.

It’s doubtful flight controllers will have instant confirmation. No one will be on the platform. A ship with SpaceX crew, positioned at least 10 miles away, would assist with recovery.

“I’m going to be super-excited if this works,” Koenigsmann noted.

And it might not.

Source: SpaceX/YouTube

A test mission of a smaller rocket using the same technique.

SpaceX boss Elon Musk, while confident that the Falcon could reduce costs and make space travel easier, has only given the mission a 50-to-50

Koenigsmann stressed that he did not want anyone losing sight of the main purpose of the Falcon’s mission: to deliver critical supplies to the space station and its six inhabitants

This will be the sixth flight of a supply-filled Dragon capsule to the orbiting lab. It’s loaded more than usual because of an October launch explosion that wiped out another company’s delivery effort in October; this Dragon is stuffed with more than 5,000 pounds of goods, much of it replacing items lost on the Orbital Sciences Corp. flight.

Another attempt to launch the rocket will be made on Friday.

Additional reporting by The Associated Press

Read: Exploding rockets and chasing comets – The year in space exploration >

More: These women were meant to be the first astronauts – but were left on Earth >

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Nicky Ryan

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