SpaceX was on the verge of finally landing a rocket upright, but in the last moments of Falcon 9's latest barge landing, it fell over. The company blames ice buildup to be the most probable culprit.
On Sunday, the rocket was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to deliver Jason-3 into orbit. SpaceX was hoping it would return the Earth upright on an ocean barge. Unfortunately, it did not.
At first, Falcon 9 touched down softly and upright, but a few seconds later, it came crashing down. It turns out the lockout collar did not lock on one of the four legs sturdily.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk posted a video on Instagram, where he also shared what may have gone wrong. "Root cause may have been ice buildup due to condensation from heavy fog at liftoff," he said.
The Jason-3 satellite — which Falcon 9 successfully delivered about 830 miles above the Earth — is a climate-monitoring device that will track sea level rise around the world. The satellite will also provide more accurate data about the upcoming tropical cyclones that may cause significant damage to America's coasts.
Although Sunday's event was the first bid to land a rocket in the Pacific Ocean, it is not the first imperfect landing for SpaceX.
In January 2015, SpaceX was tasked to deliver CRS-5 into orbit. The rocket came back to Earth in an extremely swift motion that it landed too hard on the deck and eventually exploded. The reason for this was the rocket ran out of hydraulic fluid.
The second attempt was in April 2015, where SpaceX delivered CRS-6 into orbit. The landing was much softer than the first, but it came in an extremely lateral angle causing it to tip off and explode as well.
The main vision of SpaceX is to make space launch more affordable by reusing rockets instead of letting it crash to the ocean, but the failed rocket landings are direct setbacks for the company's goals.
Despite the letdowns, SpaceX still has about 60 more launches scheduled, which is said to cost more than $8 billion. The company also wants to try landing rockets both on the ground and on ocean platforms to cater to a variety of space missions.
Photo: SpaceX Photos | Flickr