Falcon 9 Launch Successful, Recovery Not So Much

By happenstance, we were up late last night, and happened to click on the live feed of the Space-X Falcon 9 launch live feed at almost exactly T-1 minute. The launch was nominal, and I watched all the way to solar panel deployment. In about two days, the Dragon capsule will rendezvous with the International Space Station, and deliver its cargo. So far, so good.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCoDwGTpYQs]

The radical part of the Falcon 9 program is the attempt to recover the first stage of the rocket. Rather than simply falling away as most rockets do, the Falcon 9 is intended to make a maneuver to a reentry to a planned point, use its motor to slow down, deploy landing legs, and land on a barge. Recovering the stage means the expensive part of the launch, the actual rocket motors, can be reused, greatly decreasing the cost of launching a pound of payload to orbit.

Image: Launch profile

Graphic by Jon Ross via NBC News.

Space-X had tried the maneuver portion of the reentry on previous launches. This morning was the first attempt to actually land the rocket. An unmanned barge serving as a landing platform was deployed off the Atlantic coast. Unfortunately, the rocket landed hard per Space-X head honcho Elon Musk, and recovery failed.

Apparently, the stage ran out of hydraulic fluid just prior to touchdown, causing a loss of control.

 

So about 99% of the mission went well. I think that’s a pretty good record, considering the complexity of what they’re attempting.

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