However, in a question-and-answer session Jan. 5 on the website, Musk backed away from his 50-percent prediction. “I pretty much made that up,” he said. “I have no idea.” Credit: MIT Aero Astro Symposium

WASHINGTON — Space Exploration Technologies Corp. will attempt to land the first stage of its Falcon 9 launch vehicle on a floating platform in the Atlantic Ocean on its next mission, although the company’s chief executive warned of potentially low odds of success.

In an on-stage interview Oct. 24 during a symposium at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology marking the centennial of the university’s aeronautics and astronautics department, Elon Musk revealed the company was building a large floating platform that will be used as the landing pad for the Falcon 9 first stage.

“We actually have a huge platform that’s being constructed in a shipyard in Louisiana right now,” Musk said in the interview, which was webcast live. He described the platform as about 90 meters long by 50 meters wide. “We’re going to try and land on that on the next flight.”

If the stage successfully lands on the platform, Musk said, it could potentially fly again. He put the odds of success at no greater than 50 percent for this particular attempt, but was more optimistic about the company’s chances of landing on the platform on a future mission.

“There’s at least a dozen launches that will occur over the next 12 months,” Musk said. “I think it’s quite likely — probably 80 to 90 percent likely — that one of those flights will be able to land and refly.”

Musk did not disclose what mission would be the company’s next flight, or when it would launch. According to publicly available manifests, SpaceX is scheduled to launch another Dragon spacecraft on a cargo mission to the international space station in early December. The company has previously used Dragon launches to test the recovery potential of Falcon 9 first stages.

The landing test is part of a long-term effort by SpaceX to make the Falcon 9 first stage fully reusable. Musk said he did not expect the Falcon 9’s upper stage to be reusable, but that the company’s next-generation launch vehicles, still in the early design phase, would be fully reusable.

Twitter: @jeff_foust



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Jeff Foust has more than a decade of experience writing about space policy, entrepreneurial ventures and regulatory affairs. In 2001, he established to aggregate and summarize the day's space-related news stories. In 2003, he started The...