After a string of successful ocean landings, SpaceX’s latest Falcon 9 crashed hard right into its drone ship.
SpaceX’s feed cut out just as the Falcon 9 touched the Of Course I Still Love You drone ship, leaving both those of us watching and the company equally confused for nearly fifteen minutes about whether the rocket had made it or not. The rocket was visible upright on the pad for a moment between the smoke clouds, but something happened — perhaps it tipped or simply landed too hard — that destroyed the rocket.
SpaceX had chalked up a streak of successful drone ship landings — including a few from tough geostationary orbits — so this crash seems like a step backwards, but that’s not quite the case. Every geostationary orbit it has attempted has been a new, experimental one, including this latest one. Crashes are nothing new for the company — they’re almost an expected part of the process as the engineers figure out how to adjust those experimental orbits.
Update 1: It appears the problem with this landing stems from insufficient thrust from one of the rocket’s three engines. Elon Musk described the problem on Twitter as an “RUD=Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly :)”.
Engineers have apparently already begun working on a solution that would let the other engines compensate for such problems. Musk estimates that the fix should be ready before the end of the year.
Update 2: Although the rocket may not have emerged from today’s launch, the satellites both did quite nicely. Here’s some lovely footage of the ABS satellite as it heads off into space.