Space X has once again narrowly missed out on a successful drone-ship landing of its Falcon 9 first stage booster rocket. Although the orbital launch vehicle did manage to touch back down on the automated platform, it only stood upright for a few seconds before toppling over and exploding on the landing pad.
Everything up until that point was near perfect. The second stage separation was flawless, the payload – Jason 3 satellite – entered orbit successfully and the first stage came down straight and true above the drone ship. This was noteworthy in that it appears the Falcon 9 rocket came down much more directly than in previous landing attempts, where it laterally adjusted before touching down.
Despite its near vertical descent however, a hardware failure with the landing legs meant that it could not maintain its position and shortly after toppled over. Space X CEO Elon Musk believes that the culprit in this instance was ice buildup due to fog that was present during launch.
He was however optimistic, pointing out shortly after that more launches are planned and more landing attempts will be made. “At least the pieces were bigger this time,” he quipped in a tweet, highlighting how even recovering part of the rocket is a success compared to the utter obliteration of traditional launches.
This is just the latest in several attempts by Space X to land a Falcon 9 first stage after boosting a payload and second stage out of Earth's atmosphere. While it did successful land back on Earth in a previous test, other attempts at landing on the drone-barge have been met with failure.
This partial landing represents the best one yet and will no doubt spur the engineers on to further their efforts and make a future landing a reality.
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KitGuru Says: A shame for sure, but Space X is getting better at this. The overpressure event led to a bettering of the internal struts and no doubt this will lead to an improvement for the landing leg joints – or a change of parameters for launch conditions. Perhaps both.