SpaceX launches cargo, but fails to land rocket

Christopher Davidson
December 6, 2018

"It actually targets a landing point in the water as it loses control", said Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of Build and Flight Reliability at SpaceX, as he narrated an onboard camera video of the rocket's descent in a post-launch press conference.

Just two days earlier, three astronauts arrived at the space station to join the three already there.

The failed landing was a first for a return-to-launch-site landing.

'Appears to be undamaged & is transmitting data.

One will carry the Chang'e 4 mission - an attempt to make the first-ever successful landing on the far side of the Moon.

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Meanwhile, Musk tweeted that the problem was that a "grid fin hydraulic pump stalled, so Falcon landed just out to sea". Dragon's flight to low-Earth orbit was supposed to happen Tuesday, but the mission was pushed back a day to replace some food being sent to the space station for experimental mice living there. He added that the booster will likely be reused for a future "internal" mission (which likely means for the launch of SpaceX's next-generation internet satellites, called Starlink). As in this case, the launch itself had been successful; that time, though, a lack of fuel resulted in a botched landing.

SpaceX wasn't the only one to film the dramatic moment. Koenigsmann said the flight termination system is turned off when the booster no longer poses a threat to the public.

But in this case, self-destruct criteria weren't met, and SpaceX got to perform a soft-ocean-landing maneuver that it has practiced before.

After a 24-hour delay due to bad mice food, SpaceX is targeting Wednesday afternoon to launch supplies to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Only reigniting the booster's engines for a precise landing burn would have pulled it off that trajectory and toward the ground pad. "And, as much as we are disappointed in this missed landing - or landing in the water, rather, instead of land - it shows the system overall knows how to recover from certain malfunctions". The extraordinary mission will ferry 2.5 tonnes of supplies to the the orbiting laboratory, including materials to support 250 experiments. The crew-carrying version of Dragon is schedule to fly a test mission next month, and if all goes well, will carry astronauts to the station later in the year in what would be the first crewed flight from USA soil since the space shuttles retired in 2011.

The launch can be viewed online for free via the SpaceX YouTube channel here.

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