After a historic launch from the West Coast on December 3 — when SpaceX lofted 64 satellites into orbit, as reported by the Inquisitr at the time — the private space company traveled to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on December 5 to send off another mission into space.
As part of SpaceX’s 16th cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), Wednesday’s launch sent more than 5,600 pounds of science gear, experiments, and Christmas goods into orbit, the Inquisitr reported yesterday. The precious cargo is destined for the astronauts living on board the orbital outpost and will arrive at the ISS on December 8.
Originally scheduled for Tuesday, CRS-16 was delayed due to a problem with one of the experiments waiting to make the trip to the space station, the Inquisitr recently reported. The mission eventually took off on Wednesday afternoon at 1:16 p.m. ET, riding into orbit atop a Falcon 9 rocket.
After a flawless liftoff and a swift climb through the atmosphere, the rocket’s two stages separated three minutes into the flight. While the second stage went onward into space carrying the Dragon cargo ship, the Falcon 9 booster returned to Earth, aiming for a ground touchdown.
The plan fell through as soon as the booster plunged through the lower atmosphere and began to roll rapidly on its way down to Earth. Instead of returning to the launch pad, the rocket’s first stage missed the landing and splashed down into the Atlantic Ocean, per a report from Engadget.
Falcon 9 misses landing after latest SpaceX mission to the ISS https://t.co/fQOl2eEpYa
— Engadget (@engadget) December 6, 2018
Although the company’s webcast was cut away from the first-stage feed and didn’t show the rocket splashdown, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk promised not to keep the footage of the failed landing a secret.
“Cutaway was a mistake. We will show all footage, good or bad,” Musk announced via Twitter.
The SpaceX CEO was true to his word and followed up with a video of the descent, captured by a camera mounted on the Falcon 9 booster.
Engines stabilized rocket spin just in time, enabling an intact landing in water! Ships en route to rescue Falcon. pic.twitter.com/O3h8eCgGJ7
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 5, 2018
The footage shows the rocket’s first stage plunge toward the ocean, while also giving a close-up view of two of the booster’s four hypersonic grid fins. The purpose of these grid fins is to help the first stage steer during descent and ensure a smooth touchdown.
According to Musk, it seems that the failed landing was due to a problem with the fins’ hydraulic pump.
“Grid fin hydraulic pump stalled, so Falcon landed just out to sea. Appears to be undamaged and is transmitting data. Recovery ship dispatched,” he wrote on Twitter.
A few minutes later, Musk posted another video of the Falcon 9 crash, this time shot from afar by a tracking camera.
Tracking shot of Falcon water landing pic.twitter.com/6Hv2aZhLjM
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) December 5, 2018
The second video follows the rocket’s first stage as it plummets from the sky, revealing that the booster managed to stabilize itself near the end and actually hit the water “with a nice, vertical posture” before it eventually toppled down on one side, noticed Space.
While the pump for the booster’s grid fins doesn’t have a backup system, the SpaceX CEO specified that this could change in the future.
“Some landing systems are not redundant, as landing is considered ground safety critical, but not mission critical. Given this event, we will likely add a backup pump and lines,” Musk disclosed on Twitter.
The booster will be recovered so that SpaceX can study its data and figure out what exactly went wrong to prevent this type of technical anomaly from happening again.
This is the first time that a Falcon 9 rocket missed its landing since the Falcon Heavy maiden flight in February. At the time, the rocket’s core booster failed to touch down on SpaceX’s “Of Course I Still Love You” drone ship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean, although the two side boosters successfully landed near the Florida coast, as reported by the Inquisitr.