After a streak of successful barge landings, yesterday’s SpaceX landing attempt unfortunately ended in a ball of fire as the Falcon 9 rocket landed badly on the autonomous barge.
The company, owned by Elon Musk, made a point to mention how difficult this attempt would be. The mission was to take satellites to geostationary orbit, which required the Falcon 9 rocket to reach a higher altitude. This meant that the booster rocket re-entered the atmosphere at a higher speed and with less fuel to slow down.
The launch and landing were streamed live, but when the rocket hit the barge, the shock from the touchdown was strong enough to rock the boat and cut the live feed. The last images show a standing rocket with flames at the bottom.
“Unfortunately, it appears that we have lost the vehicle,” said Kate Tice during the webcast, a process improvement engineer for SpaceX. “We received a lot of really good data from this, and as always these are experimental attempts.”
On Twitter, Musk confirmed that the rocket was lost, saying it experienced RUD on re-entry. RUD stands for Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly, which is the technical term for going ka-boom.
In a follow-up tweet, Musk explained that one of the three engines was not operating at full capacity, and that caused the rocket to hit the barge too fast. The barge, named after sci-fi starship "Of Course I Still Love You," wasn’t damaged. A video of the failed landing will be released at a later time.
The company is already working on a solution, which Musk believes will be sorted out by the end of the year.
A bold attempt can be considered a half-success, so this mishap won’t discourage SpaceX's goal of having an entire fleet of reusable rockets. So far, they have had four successful landings, one on land and three on water, and they are planning to re-use one of those rockets soon.
The shaken and at times frozen feed from the drone barge as the Falcon 9 rocket landed. SpaceX via Youtube