SpaceX's New Falcon 9 Landing Zone Is About to Tackle Its First Mission

SpaceX put the finishing touches on its West Coast landing zone over the weekend, ending a four-year development period, as it gears up for its first mission this Saturday. The company has finished painting a giant “X” on the surface, aimed at making it stick out as the rocket comes back, in a big step for rocket reusability.

The pad is positioned around a quarter-mile away from the Vandenberg Air Force Base on California. Teslarati notes that SpaceX has been working on the pad since late 2014, with a slow development process in part due to the fact that the company simply didn’t need the pad until now. Construction was completed earlier this year. SpaceX was unable to use the pad between March and June, as regulations bar return-to-launch-site recoveries to protect local harbor seals. The publication notes that, while unconfirmed, it’s likely using radar reflective paint like the type used at the Florida landing zones.

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The landing pad is expected to play a role in the October 6 launch of the 3,000 kg SAOCOM (SAtélite Argentino de Observación COn Microondas) observation satellite for Argentinian space agency CONAE, scheduled for a static fire test on October 2 ahead of an October 6 launch. The craft will help with disaster management and obtaining data for use in flooding, volcanic eruptions and other such emergencies.

Successful recovery will be a welcome endorsement of SpaceX’s technologies. The company is seeking to reduce the costs around spaceflight, saving rockets that cost around $62 million in construction. This is in preparation for the BFR, intended as a fully-reusable rocket capable of reaching Mars and refueling on the surface. CEO Elon Musk, in announcing a trip around the moon using the BFR last month, suggested the rocket project is costing around $5 billion. Recovery is a key step toward the success of this vision.

The SAOCOM satellite is scheduled for liftoff from the Vandenberg Air Force Base on October 6. The launch will use a Falcon 9 Block 5 previously used once before for the Iridium 7 mission.