Despite experiencing a setback in the Falcon 9 rocket stage landing this weekend, SpaceX founder and chief executive Elon Musk remains optimistic about the project's potential for success.
SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket on Sunday carrying Jason-3, a weather satellite designed to monitor the rise of sea levels across the world using radar technology.
While the American space company was able to successfully deploy the satellite into orbit, it failed to retrieve the spacecraft's first-stage rocket after launch. The plan was to have the rocket part safely land on a drone ship that was floating in the Pacific Ocean.
As the Falcon 9 rocket was about to land on the designated platform, the camera on the drone ship suddenly froze, leaving SpaceX controllers momentarily unaware of what happened to the landing. It was later confirmed that the rocket's landing had failed.
John Federspiel, chief mechanical design engineer for SpaceX, said that one of the Falcon 9's landing legs may have been damaged as the spacecraft was about to touch down on the drone ship. He pointed out that the rocket was not standing upright on the platform during touchdown.
The landing attempt was comparable to having to vault a pencil over New York's Empire State building, then guiding it back to land on its eraser on top of a floating platform smaller than a shoe box without allowing it to tip over.
The launch on Sunday was SpaceX's third attempt to land one of its spacecraft on a drone ship, and even though it met a rough landing this time around, the company is getting closer and closer to achieving success.
In his latest tweet, Musk wrote that the pieces that were left from the Falcon 9 rocket are larger now compared to the ones left from previous failed launches. This may not be the last rapid unscheduled disassembly (RUD) that they encounter, but he said he is optimistic about future ship landings.
Well, at least the pieces were bigger this time! Won't be last RUD, but am optimistic about upcoming ship landing. pic.twitter.com/w007TccANJ
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 17, 2016
Falcon lands on droneship, but the lockout collet doesn't latch on one the four legs, causing it to tip over post landing. Root cause may have been ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff. A video posted by Elon Musk (@elonmusk) on Jan 17, 2016 at 7:07pm PST
One of SpaceX's primary goals is to reduce costs for spacecraft launches by reusing rocket stages. The company believes this will allow them to corner the market for sending people and cargo into space.
The water landing this weekend was made necessary because of several factors including physics, economics and politics. However, the decision to carry it out left SpaceX with little margin for error.
The rocket's return trip was shortened to meet all the requirements of having to launch a heavy satellite at a high enough speed to reach distant orbit, deploy the cargo, set the first-stage rocket back to Earth, guide it through its atmospheric reentry and carefully have it touch down on the platform.
According to SpaceX, the Falcon 9 rocket's landing zone measured about 300 feet by 170 feet.