The latest attempt by SpaceX to land a Falcon 9 booster on a sea barge ended in what founder and CEO Elon Musk called a "rapid unscheduled disassembly." After three successful sea landings in a row by the company, the unmanned rocket impacted on the deck of the droneship "Of Course I Still Love You" at 10:37 am EDT after successfully sending its payload of two communications satellites into orbit. According Musk, the fiery crash was due to an engine malfunction.
Today's crash was the one sour note in an otherwise flawless launch by SpaceX of the Eutelsat 117 West B and ABS-2A communication satellites into Geostationary Transfer Orbit (GTO). At 10:29 am EDT, the Falcon 9 lifted off from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida under partly cloudy skies and without any holds or other technical difficulties.
The landing attempt, which SpaceX regards as experimental, came after the Falcon 9 separated from the second stage. As the two satellites continued on into orbit, the first stage carried out a series of burns that guided it to the droneship stationed downrange in the Atlantic Ocean.
According to Musk the crash was the hardest landing impact yet for the Falcon 9 and was due to low thrust in one of the three landing engines. He went on to say that upgrades to compensate for thruster shortfalls are in the works and should be installed by the end of the year.
The video below shows the launch and crash of the Falcon 9. Skip to 26:30 for the landing attempt.