Two days ago, SpaceX successfully launched their 6th re-supply mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft deployed without a hitch, and is currently on its way to delivering tons of valuable cargo to orbiting astronauts. However, SpaceX’s other goal was to re-capture one of the Falcon 9 rocket stages for re-use. This fourth attempt to do so, like the first, ended in flames.
But it came so close.
Below, in a video SpaceX released yesterday, we see just went wrong with the Falcon 9 landing. It looks like the rocket was on track until it tipped over and had a “catastrophic interaction” with the robot barge, Just Read The Instructions. In other words, it blew up:
Let’s take the clip frame-by-frame.
As the rocket comes into frame, we see its thrusters rapidly compensating to ensure a straight landing as the landing gear deployed. Then, when the rocket is directly above the barge, the nose cone thrusters start firing to fight what looks like tipping. Finally, in a cloud of smoke, we see a nose cone thruster fighting that tipping with what ends up being a losing battle. The rocket lands on its side, and a visible shockwave accompanies an explosion that sends thousands of metal pieces into the Atlantic.
What struck me first about this clip is how small the barge was. I was envisioning something more akin to parking a car on a football field, but re-capturing this rocket was more like trying to catch a gigantic pin with a tiny pin cushion. In the ocean. For how difficult this actually was, it’s amazing how close SpaceX came.
There’s no word yet on when the next attempt to revolutionize rocket reusability will be, though Elon Musk figures there’s an 80 percent chance SpaceX will have success by the end of the year. We can’t wait to watch.