Space

SpaceX Falcon 9 makes landing on drone barge ... then tips over

Falcon 9 making its landing attempt
Falcon 9 making its landing attempt
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Launch diagram for CRS-6
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Launch diagram for CRS-6
The CRS-6 Dragon spacecraft
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The CRS-6 Dragon spacecraft
Mating CRS-6 to the Falcon 9 launcher
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Mating CRS-6 to the Falcon 9 launcher
Just Read the Instructions
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Just Read the Instructions
The Falcon 9 raised upright
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The Falcon 9 raised upright
The Falcon 9 prior to launch
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The Falcon 9 prior to launch
Falcon 9 making its landing attempt
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Falcon 9 making its landing attempt
Falcon 9 making its landing attempt
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Falcon 9 making its landing attempt
CRS6 Falcon 9 amid its lightning protectors
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CRS6 Falcon 9 amid its lightning protectors
CRS-6 Dragon atop the Falcon 9
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CRS-6 Dragon atop the Falcon 9
Falcon 9 with the gantry retracting
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Falcon 9 with the gantry retracting

Elon Musk's goal of achieving the first powered landing of a reusable booster had a close brush with success today as a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket narrowly failed to survive a touchdown on the deck of a drone barge off the US east coast. The third landing attempt by the company came after the launch of the CRS-6 mission, which sent an unmanned Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).

CRS-6 lifted off at 4:10 pm EDT from Launch Complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, after its original Monday launch time was cancelled due to bad weather. According to SpaceX, the launch went off without incident with the first stage separating three minutes into the flight, the second stage separating at the ten-minute mark, and the solar array deployment at 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, the first stage Falcon 9 booster executed a series of engine burns that sent it back into the atmosphere, steered it toward the drone barge called "Just Read the Instructions," and slowed it down from hypersonic velocity before making a landing attempt.

Just Read the Instructions
Just Read the Instructions

In a series of tweets, SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk confirmed that the Falcon 9 touched down unsuccessfully on Just Read the Instructions in the Atlantic Ocean. "Ascent successful," tweeted Musk. "Dragon enroute to space station. Rocket landed on drone ship, but too hard to survive."

He subsequently amended this, saying: "Looks like Falcon landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post landing."

CRS-6 First Stage Landing

In later tweets, Musk compared the maneuver to a lunar lander, but one operating in six times the Moon's gravity. He also speculated that either there was not enough thrust in the nitrogen thrusters on the top of the rocket to keep it upright or a landing leg failed. The exact cause, he added, will be known when more data is available.

Today's launch is the sixth of at least 12 commercial missions by SpaceX to the ISS. The Dragon is carrying 4,300 lb (1,950 kg) of supplies and payloads, including the first espresso machine in space, as well as critical materials for 40 scientific experiments. The cargo ship is currently executing a series of orbital corrections to align it with the space station and is scheduled to rendezvous in about two days. It will stay at the ISS for about five weeks before returning to Earth for a parachute-assisted splashdown off the coast of southern California.

The SpaceX video of the CRS-6 launch is below.

Source: SpaceX

SpaceX CRS-6 Launch

20 comments
mooseman
*Great* effort by the SpaceX team! Looks like there was just a bit much angle on the approach to the landing-pad. A *very* good effort indeed. I have no doubt that SpaceX will be able to successfully nail this challenge.
Daishi
They didn't quite stick the landing but that was still impressive.
MattII
Not 100% perfect, but hells, when you're doing something that's never been done before you can't really expect perfection. At least they found the barge this time.
Mike Lowry
came in too fast and had to rotate to upright at the last second. Just about there though.
habakak
I don't think people understand how amazing this achievement is. Off course there will be failure. But there is tremendous improvement every time. Good luck to SpaceX for daring so wildly.
fearnow
SO FREAKKING CLOSE! But yeah - that PIO/yaw moment was too hella high...next time!
frogola
by the looks of those white caps in the water it had some serious wind to contend with.
Ed Reed
Part of the problem is that the barge is going to move and shift from the rocket blast pressure hitting it as the rocket gets near.
Bob64
Why don't they try a landing somewhere like Australia. It would be a lot easier to land on a solid surface. We have plenty of empty space here. They can use my back garden if they like. The fact the they have almost managed to land on a tiny moving platform absolutely amazes me. Here comes the true space age.
Adriana8
This is an amazing challenge to not only conceive of, but almost pull off! I watched again today and like the comment above, I question the interference of the ocean mechanics. Perhaps for their ocean landing platform they could consider some design features of an aircraft carrier or a catamaran.
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