SpaceX just successfully launched its sixth resupply mission to the International Space Station, but its second attempt to land the reusable Falcon 9 rocket has failed. It's still unclear if it completely touched down, but excess landing velocity caused the rocket to tip over in the last few moments. Judging from the picture the company just tweeted, it's another case of "close, but no cigar."
Video: SpaceX rocket booster crash lands on barge
A Falcon 9 rocket booster — under the power of a single Merlin 1D engine — descends toward a specially-outfitted ocean landing platform off Florida’s East Coast on Tuesday in a brief video clip released by SpaceX.
The rocket tipped over moments after touching down on the barge, which was parked in the Atlantic Ocean 200 miles east of Jacksonville, Florida. SpaceX says the first stage did not survive the landing.
SpaceX is experimenting with recovering Falcon 9 rocket stages in hopes of reusing the boosters on future missions, an achievement officials say would reduce the cost of space launches.
The Falcon 9 rocket’s upper stage continued into orbit with an unmanned Dragon supply ship hauling up cargo for the crew on the International Space Station.
Photos: SpaceX’s debris-strewn landing barge back in port
Returning to port late Thursday under the cover of darkness, SpaceX’s rocket recovery platform has moored at a dock in Jacksonville, Florida, for unloading of charred debris from Tuesday’s crash landing of a Falcon 9 booster.
The 14-story booster was programmed to descend back to Earth, light its engines to slow down, then touch down vertically on the ship on four landing legs. SpaceX billed the maneuver as a purely experimental, and the rocket accomplished its primary job of sending a cargo capsule toward the International Space Station.
Videos posted on the Internet show the rocket hitting a bullseye, but it came down with lateral motion, and the movement was too much for the booster to overcome. The first stage tipped over and disintegrated in an explosive fireball.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said the landing barge, which the company calls an autonomous spaceport drone ship, received only minor damage from the mishap. Pulled by a marine tug, the ship arrived offshore Jacksonville on Thursday morning, but it loitered a few miles from the beach until nightfall.
The barge stayed offshore Thursday to wait for darkness and appropriate tide levels, according to local news reports.
SpaceX is testing out technologies needed to make the Falcon 9 booster stage reusable. Engineers hope to bring back the rocket to a landing on shore on later missions.