SpaceX successfully launched a Falcon 9 rocket carrying ocean-monitoring satellite Jason-3 today. The space company’s attempt to land the Falcon 9 on a drone on a barge in the Pacific Ocean, however, wasn’t quite as successful.
According a SpaceX, the rocket stage came down on target, but a landing leg failed to latch and the rocket toppled over. (See update below.)
A livestream feed of the landing cut out moments before the ship touched down, but SpaceX eventually confirmed its status and promised more photos from remote cameras.
First stage on target at droneship but looks like hard landing; broke landing leg. Primary mission remains nominal → https://t.co/tdni53IviI— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 17, 2016
The autonomous barge was in choppy water with waves as high as 15 feet, which may have made the landing more difficult. SpaceX has been experimenting with recovering rocket boosters, which could significantly reduce the cost of future space launches.
The landing follows SpaceX’s successful landing attempt last month of a Falcon 9 booster at Cape Canaveral, Florida. Falcon 9 made touchdown on land, and SpaceX had hoped to recreate that smooth landing on a barge.
Update 3:38pm CT: SpaceX CEO Elon Musk clarified on Twitter that the rocket’s landing leg did not break on impact, as originally reported by the company. The leg “lockout failed to latch,” which resulted in the rocket booster tipping over.
However, that was not what prevented it being good. Touchdown speed was ok, but a leg lockout didn't latch, so it tipped over after landing.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 17, 2016
Definitely harder to land on a ship. Similar to an aircraft carrier vs land: much smaller target area, that's also translating & rotating.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 17, 2016
Well, at least the pieces were bigger this time! Won't be last RUD, but am optimistic about upcoming ship landing. pic.twitter.com/w007TccANJ— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 17, 2016
Update 10:31am CT, Jan. 18: Photos and video of the landing have now been released.
First stage approaches center of landing droneship in Pacific pic.twitter.com/lI3q6LnwVP— SpaceX (@SpaceX) January 18, 2016
Photo via SpaceX