SpaceX crashed its Falcon 9 rocket into its drone ship after a successful mission on Wednesday morning, according to the Verge.
The rocket delivered two satellites into orbit, and SpaceX was hoping to land the rocket on the drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean afterward. Unfortunately, one of the rocket’s three engines failed to produce enough thrust for the landing, according to Gizmodo, and it crashed on the ship.
Ascent phase & satellites look good, but booster rocket had a RUD on droneship
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) June 15, 2016
SpaceX founder Elon Musk tweeted that the rocket had an “RUD” on the drone ship, which he later explained was a joke, as it stood for a “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly.” He also tweeted that SpaceX will upgrade its rocket so that the other two engines can compensate if one is failing. Musk said this is possibly the hardest impact with the drone ship that’s happened so far, but the drone ship appears to be completely fine.
The satellites were delivered to geostationary transfer orbit, which is farther away than some of SpaceX’s missions have been, so there was less fuel for the landing. SpaceX knew this would be a difficult mission.
The crash was so hard that the cameras on the drone ship stopped working, but Musk said there will be camera footage released late in the day.
SpaceX has had many explosions before while attempting to land a rocket on a ship, but the past three landings had been successful. SpaceX’s next launch will be on July 16, and it will be delivering cargo to the International Space Station. That rocket will be landed on solid ground.
As Gizmodo points out, this failed landing may not be as bad as it seems.
“Every landing SpaceX has attempted has been slightly different as the company experiments with different orbits and methods. 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 orbits for the highest possible success.”
The reason SpaceX is trying to land a rocket on a drone ship is that it can save fuel landing on a ship, rather than landing where the rocket was launched. The rocket can meet the drone ship at a place closer to where it ends up after reaching orbit instead of trying to navigate back to the launch area.
SpaceX hopes making rockets reusable could significantly lower the cost of space travel. Instead of launching a rocket and then letting it fall into the ocean, SpaceX wants to bring the rockets back and use them for other missions.
Elon Musk has compared using a new rocket for every launch to using a new commercial airplane for every flight.
Elon Musk is also planning a bold mission to Mars, which he has said could take place as soon as 2018, according to Slate. That will be an unmanned mission, and SpaceX hopes to put a human being on Mars by 2024. NASA has announced it doesn’t plan to put a human on Mars until sometime in the 2030s, so SpaceX may beat the government agency to it.
Musk told the Washington Post that before the manned mission, rockets will be carry rovers and scientific experiments to Mars on a regular basis.
“Essentially what we’re saying is we’re establishing a cargo route to Mars,” he said. “It’s a regular cargo route. You can count on it. It’s going to happen every 26 months. Like a train leaving the station.”
Musk said he believes if scientists see that this is a reliable setup, then they will begin sending in a wide variety of experiments that can be done on Mars.
[Photo by NASA/Getty Images]