SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has shared a spectacular video of the company’s latest rocket landing attempt.
The space company came close to pulling off a successful landing on an ocean barge after the first stage of its Falcon 9 rocket delivered an ocean-monitoring satellite into orbit. The Falcon 9 rocket reached the 300-by-170 foot landing pad west of San Diego but toppled over when one of its four legs didn’t lock out, which was followed by an explosion.
Musk posted video of the landing attempt on Instagram, noting that a “lockout collet” on one of the four legs failed to latch. “Root cause may have been ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff,” he added.
Last month SpaceX pulled off an audacious Falcon 9 rocket landing at Cape Canaveral, Florida. The impressive feat was the first time an unmanned rocket returned to land vertically at Cape Canaveral, and represented a tremendous success for SpaceX. The company is striving for reusability to drive launch costs down and open up space to more people.
For the December rocket landing SpaceX used a former Atlas missile-launching site about six miles from the Cape Canaveral launch pad that the company leased from the Air Force.
Sunday’s effort was SpaceX’s latest droneship landing attempt to end in a fiery blast. Musk acknowledged the difficulty of a landing on an ocean barge in a Tweet on Sunday. “Definitely harder to land on a ship,” he explained. “Similar to an aircraft carrier vs land: much smaller target area, that's also translating & rotating.”
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
The SpaceX CEO noted that rocket’s touchdown speed was fine.
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
He also vowed to persevere with the ship landings, citing their importance for high velocity launches. Musk also remarked that “at least the pieces were bigger this time!” compared to previous droneship landing attempts, making rueful reference to the rocket’s Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly (RUD).
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
As mentioned before, ship landings are needed for high velocity missions. Altitude & distance don't mean much for orbit. All about speed.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 17, 2016
The Associated Press contributed to this report.