A Falcon 9 rocket didn’t come down quite where it was supposed to after propelling a Dragon spacecraft toward the International Space Station.
SpaceX on Wednesday had trouble sticking the landing with one of its reusable rockets. It’s the first time that’s happened since the groundbreaking launch of the company’s
Elon Musk’s company succeeded in its primary mission of sending a Dragon spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station to deliver supplies, but the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle appeared to lose control as it approached Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.
The live feed from the rocket cutaway on the SpaceX webcast, but video from people in the media area at the cape showed the Falcon 9 appearing to regain control before making an unplanned landing in the water rather than ashore at the landing area.
Musk tweeted shortly afterward that cutting the live feed “was a mistake” and shared the full clip of the water landing from the rocket’s perspective:
Engines stabilized rocket spin just in time, enabling an intact landing in water! Ships en route to rescue Falcon. pic.twitter.com/O3h8eCgGJ7
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 5, 2018
A SpaceX Falcon 9 makes a splashdown after having problems approaching its planned landing zone.
Video by DasValdez/Twitch / capture by Alexandra Able
The rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:16 p.m. local time, a little more than 48 hours afteron Monday. Dragon’s flight to low-Earth orbit was supposed to happen Tuesday, but the to replace some food being sent to the space station for experimental mice living there.
SpaceX had planned to land the first stage of the brand-new Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket at a landing zone ashore at Cape Canaveral, but as the rocket descended toward the cape, the live feed from the booster’s onboard cameras appeared to show the craft going into some sort of uncontrolled spin.
A Falcon 9 begins to spin wildly on its landing approach.
SpaceX video capture by Alexandra Able
The feed was then cut from the webcast, but groans and cheers could be heard from the crowd at SpaceX headquarters in California as SpaceX engineer Tom Praderio, who was co-hosting the webcast, conveyed the information about the rocket’s water landing.
Meanwhile, Musk tweeted that the problem was that a “grid fin hydraulic pump stalled, so Falcon landed just out to sea.”
The Falcon 9 is equipped with four fins that rise perpendicular to the body of the rocket as the craft descends, to help slow and control its approach for landing. The video seems to show that one of the fins didn’t initially extend all the way, causing the rocket to spin.
It seems that once the stalled fin extended fully, the rocket nearly regained control and came in for a landing almost like normal, but off target, in the water. Remarkably, it seems SpaceX may still be able to recover the rocket.
“Appears to be undamaged & is transmitting data. Recovery ship dispatched,” Musk wrote, latter adding: “We may use it for an internal SpaceX mission.”
Pump is single string. Some landing systems are not redundant, as landing is considered ground safety critical, but not mission critical. Given this event, we will likely add a backup pump & lines.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 5, 2018
Musk also tweeted that the pump that failed didn’t have a backup because “landing is considered ground safety critical, but not mission critical. Given this event, we will likely add a backup pump & lines.”
When SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy, which is essentially powered by three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, the center booster didn’t land as planned on a drone-ship in the Atlantic, though the two other rockets returned to the ground safely. The last time a regular Falcon 9 launch ended with a failed landing was June of 2016.
Meanwhile, the Dragon spacecraft continues on its way to the space station, carrying fresh mouse food; new science and engineering experiments; and plenty of other goodies. It’s scheduled to arrive Saturday morning.
Visit our Facebook page for more stories like this and even more!