Second SpaceX Landing Attempt Fails, But Launch of Dragon is Perfect – UPDATE 2

Second SpaceX Landing Attempt Fails, But Launch of Dragon is Perfect – UPDATE 2

SpaceX succeeded in its primary mission today, launching a Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station (ISS).  It was not so fortunate with its secondary objective of landing the Falcon 9 first stage on an autonomous drone ship at sea, however.  This was the company’s second attempt at landing on the drone ship and its second failure.  It released photos of the first stage’s final moments within an hour of the attempt, video from a chase plane later in the day, and an even better video the next day (see links below).

Like the first time, the first stage did reach the drone ship, but did not survive.   SpaceX founder and chief designer Elon Musk tweeted (@elonmusk) a few minutes after the landing attempt:  “Rocket landed on drone ship, but too hard for survival.”

Later he added “looks like Falcon landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over” and released two photos.


SpaceX Falcon 9 first stage approaches landing spot (X) on autonomous drone ship in Atlantic Ocean (top photo)
and is destroyed (bottom photo).   April 14, 2015.  Photos courtesy of SpaceX

Later in the day, SpaceX released video of the landing taken from a chase plane.  Musk tweeted: “Looks like stiction in the biprop throttle valve, resulting in control system phase lag.  Should be easy to fix.”  However, that tweet was subsequently deleted.

Most of the chatter on Twitter was positive, congratulating SpaceX since in both cases the stage did, in fact, find its way to the autonomous drone ship even if the landings were unsuccessful. SpaceX has not yet said whether the ship, whimsically named “Just Read the Instructions,” sustained any damage.

The landing attempts are part of Musk’s goal of building a reusable launch system that would eventually land back at the launch site for refurbishment and reuse. He has made clear that the chances of success in these early stages are anyone’s guess, and he plans to keep trying on as many SpaceX launches that meet the necessary criteria as possible (in some cases landing velocities would be too high, for example).

Today’s launch at 4:10:40 pm ET was to low Earth orbit, with the Dragon spacecraft now on its way to the ISS with 1,142 pounds of hardware; 1,860 pounds of science experiments; and 1,102 pounds of crew supplies.  Among the supplies is an espresso machine.

This is SpaceX’s sixth operational ISS cargo mission for NASA under its Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract.  The contract calls for SpaceX to deliver 20 tons of cargo to the ISS through the end of 2016 with 12 launches.  The company announced earlier this year that it was awarded three more launches as part of an extension through 2017.

Dragon is scheduled to arrive at ISS on Friday morning where it will be grappled by the ISS robotic arm, Canadarm2, at about 7:00 am ET.  NASA TV will provide live coverage.  Dragon will return to Earth in about 5 weeks, loaded with more than 3,000 pounds of science, hardware, crew supplies and spacewalk tools, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

On April 15, a much better video of the landing attempt was released and posted to YouTube.

Note:  This article was updated on April 14 and 15, adding the links to the videos, Musk’s tweet about the “stiction” issue and the fact that he later deleted it.

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