SpaceX has already experienced a number of successes, including impressive contracts with NASA. One is valued at $278 million, to develop the Falcon 9 launch vehicle, and another is valued at $1.6 billion to carry out 12 millions transporting supplies and cargo between the International Space Station (ISS) and Earth. On Sept. 16, 2014, SpaceX (along with Boeing) was again chosen by NASA to develop systems that would transport U.S. crewmembers between the ISS and space.
Recently, however, the storied company experienced a minor setback when its rocket failed to successfully land on a barge or “autonomous spaceport drone ship” as described as SpaceX, floating in the Atlantic Ocean.
According to National Geographic, the company hoped to land the rocket on the barge to “recover the rocket’s expensive engines and reuse them.” Launch rockets, or carrier rockets, are vehicles that obtain thrust from a rocket engine and are used to carry a payload from the Earth’s surface into space.
Typically, after the spacecraft is launched, rocket engines burn up upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere or “plummet into the ocean” and the engine is recovered later. The barge’s landing site (300 feet by 170 feet) was supposed to act as “the outfielder’s glove” to catch the Falcon 9 launch rocket. The company’s expectation was if the barge landing proved successful, this might decrease the costs of rocket launches (since the engines could be reused), though Henry Hertzfeld of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. cautioned against this thinking. In an article about the launch, Hertzfeld told National Geographic that “rocket engines are responsible for only about a third of launch costs and refurbishment might eat up any price savings from reusable ones.”
Still, all was not lost. The launch of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 proved successful. The cargo-filled capsule (nicknamed Dragon) successfully separated from the first-stage booster rocket without incident and continued toward the ISS with 5,000 pounds of supplies. But though the booster did make it to the barge, equipment was damaged by the impact. As Musk tweeted, “Rocket made it to the drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future though.”
Musk later tweeted that the company would again try the barge landing after a scheduled launch in February.
(Photo courtesy of rblood)