Continuing with its astronomical –figuratively and literally –ambitions, SpaceX launched its reusable Falcon 9 rocket into space carrying NASA’s new ocean satellite. However, while the launch was successful, the more important landing part — we are talking about re-usable rockets after all — didn’t quite go quite according to the plan.
The Falcon 9 rocket took off from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California and deployed the Space Launch Complex 4E for the purpose. Despite foggy weather, the launch was almost perfect and NASA’S Jason-3 satellite, which weights 1,124 pounds and is about 3.3-feet across, was successfully placed in the low-earth orbit.
However, the mission was not over yet and the rocket was supposed to return to a drone platform in the Pacific Ocean, which is when the hitch occurred and the live-stream that had been recording the take-off was cut.
We only came to know a bit later that while the rocket did reach the drone platform, the landing it made was a bit harder than it was supposed to and it actually exploded — Marking the third time the space venture has failed to land its rocket on the drone platform.
As the company later tweeted,
First stage on target at droneship but looks like hard landing; broke landing leg. Primary mission remains nominal → http://www.spacex.com/webcast
The company initially thought that it was just a hard landing, however the landing crippled the rocket — as one of its legs failed to latch –and the whole thing ended up toppling over and exploding upon impact with the platform. The failure to latch is being attributed to ice build-up due to condensation from the heavy fog at lift-off.
Well, although the event is definitely a setback to the Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk backed SpaceX, it has known such events in the past too and has kept on trying. What makes it’s job harder, is the fact that while most Space agencies are content to let go of the rocket once it has performed its primary function, SpaceX’s whole philosophy revolves around the development of the technology that gets them back on earth, err…safely — which would in effect, allow reuse and drastically cut down the staggering manufacturing costs — SpaceX rockets for example, can cost anywhere between $60 million and $90 million.
The company did have a breakthrough late last year when it successfully managed to land a first-stage booster back to the ground at Cape Canaveral in December.
Well, at least the satellite is placed in the orbit. The data from Jason 3 will be used to monitor global sea level rise, research human impacts on oceans and aid the prediction of hurricane intensity over the seas.
More on it as we get it. Stay Tuned!