'Close, But No Cigar': New Images and Video Show Hard Touchdown for First SpaceX Booster Landing Attempt

A SpaceX Falcon-9 v1.1 booster first stage attempting to land on an autonomous barge after the CRS-5 Dragon launch to the ISS. The rocket hit harder than expected, at a -45 degree angle, smashing its legs and engine section. SpaceX will be looking to try again during an upcoming launch. Photo Credit: SpaceX / @ElonMusk via Twitter

A SpaceX Falcon-9 v1.1 booster first stage attempting to land on an autonomous barge after the CRS-5 Dragon launch to the ISS. The rocket hit harder than expected, at a -45 degree angle, smashing its legs and engine section. SpaceX will be looking to try again during an upcoming launch. Photo Credit: SpaceX / @ElonMusk via Twitter

 – Story updated with new video clip at 12:15 p.m. EST

In the early morning hours of Saturday, Jan. 10, 2015, SpaceX kicked off the United States’ busy 2015 space launch manifest with their fifth NASA-contracted Dragon resupply flight to the International Space Station (ISS). Onboard for the flight to the $100 billion orbiting science research outpost was over 5,000 pounds of supplies, cargo, and experiments for the Expedition 42 crew (and later Expedition 43), including critical materials to support 256 science and research investigations. But SpaceX had another goal in mind, too: a first in their ever-growing list of firsts, and newly released images from the company show just how close they came to accomplishing that goal.

READ our in-depth CRS-5 launch and ISS Dragon arrival reports.

SpaceX's Falcon-9 booster launching Dragon on the CRS-5 mission to the ISS. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

SpaceX’s Falcon-9 booster launching Dragon on the CRS-5 mission to the ISS. Photo Credit: Mike Killian / AmericaSpace

The primary objective was, obviously, to fulfill the customer’s requirements (NASA), delivering payloads to the ISS and, in four weeks, bringing back more than 3,600 pounds of cargo, including crew supplies, hardware, and computer resources, science experiments, space station hardware, and trash. However, SpaceX had a secondary objective, which caught the attention of the public more than the mission itself, and that was to land their Falcon-9 rocket first stage booster on an autonomous barge known as the “Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship” (ASDS), which was positioned roughly 200 miles offshore of the Florida/Georgia border.

The attempt alone was a historic first and, although the rocket did not “soft-land” on the ASDS, it did hit the ASDS, a feat which in and of itself is worthy of respect, especially considering that stabilizing the 150-foot-tall rocket stage in flight—traveling at a velocity of 2,900 mph at separation—has been likened to someone balancing a rubber broomstick on their hand in the middle of a fierce wind storm.

Rocket made it to drone spaceport ship, but landed hard. Close, but no cigar this time. Bodes well for the future tho,” said SpaceX CEO Elon Musk via Twitter (@ElonMusk) Saturday morning after launch. “Ship itself is fine, some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced. Grid fins worked extremely well from hypersonic velocity to subsonic, but ran out of hydraulic fluid right before landing.”

Newly released images, courtesy of Elon Musk, show the booster’s moment of impact on the barge.

Before impact, fins lose power and go hardover. Engines fights to restore, but…,” said Musk. “Rocket hits hard at ~45 deg angle, smashing legs and engine section,” he added.

SpaceX booster hitting the ASDS in the first ever attempt to land a rocket on a barge. Photo: SpaceX / @ElonMusk via Twitter

SpaceX booster hitting the ASDS in the first ever attempt to land a rocket on a barge. Photo: SpaceX / @ElonMusk via Twitter

Photo Credit: SpaceX / @ElonMusk via Twitter

Photo Credit: SpaceX / @ElonMusk via Twitter

"Full RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly) event. Ship is fine minor repairs. Exciting day," said Elon Musk. Photo Credit: SpaceX / @ElonMusk via Twitter

“Full RUD (rapid unscheduled disassembly) event. Ship is fine minor repairs. Exciting day,” said Elon Musk. Photo Credit: SpaceX / @ElonMusk via Twitter

“Upcoming flight already has 50% more hydraulic fluid, so should have plenty of margin for landing attempt next month,” added Musk, who did not clarify which launch would be the next for another booster landing attempt.

In doing so the company is making strides with developing the technology to land their booster and re-use it, a history-making feat which many expect the company to accomplish this year. Never has it been done before, and the expectation is that once the Falcon-9 is truly reusable it will drive down the costs of access to space dramatically.

Space is simply too expensive for anyone other than governments and companies loaded with ridiculous amounts of cash—a fact Musk would like to see changed within his lifetime, and a change that is absolutely necessary if mankind ever hopes to put boots on Mars or reach other deep space destinations.

LISTEN to our own Dr. Ken Kremer’s live radio interview with BBC 5LIVE last weekend, discussing SpaceX’s first attempt to land and return their Falcon-9 booster.

 

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Missions » ISS » COTS » CRS-5 »

17 comments to ‘Close, But No Cigar’: New Images and Video Show Hard Touchdown for First SpaceX Booster Landing Attempt

  • Tracy the Troll

    Wow…great pictures …would really prefer to see the video though…Looks like this might succeed sooner rather than later…Now if Musk can just get the launch time to go on schedule…He really might have something here…

  • Byron Hood

    My bet is that SpaceX gets it right, sooner rather than later.

  • Steve K

    From the initial tweets, I thought it was just coming down too fast. Here we can see the angle of attack is wrong, since the stage is at almost a 45 degree angle.

    Did the stage completely break up after impact ? I would have expected something laying across the middle of the deck of the barge when it came into port, even after a crash. Is that all at the bottom of the ocean still ?

    • Tim Andrews

      Assembling the story from multiple tweets, the grid fins stopped working early due to an insufficient hydraulic fluid supply, then no longer being under control, the booster pitched over at an angle causing it to drift away from the barge horizontally, then when the braking burn came in, the control system tried to right the rocket, but never got it vertical enough in time to be pointing the right direction to slow it down, and the engines firing with the rocket at an angle gave it the velocity to head back toward (and past once it impacted) the barge.

      • Steve K

        I just watched the video. Good thing they didn’t try that on land. It may have looked like a Cigar to Musk, but it didn’t look that close to being successful to me.

  • […] AmericaSpace.com releases pictures of SpaceX’s attempt to land booster on ASDS. […]

  • Joe

    Great pictures.

    SpaceX technical team deserves credit for (literally) hitting the barge.

    It should be noted, however, that in the previous landing attempts the stage toppled over and broke up. It was said that this was because it was over water and coming down on a solid surface would correct this.

    Here the stage came in a solid surface and “toppled over and broke up” (complete with what is presumably the explosion of residual fuel).

    • Tim Andrews

      Not exactly the same…

      In the water “landings” they managed to keep the booster vertical on descent, and it toppled after contact.

      In this case it was out of control and had already pitched well off vertical in free fall before the braking burn. In some ways it’s a step backwards because they didn’t get it stopped vertically at contact. This was also the first flight with a different control method in free-fall. The previous flights used the RCS, while this one used grid fins.

      The video and pictures though… Far more spectacular than previous 🙂

  • Tracy the Troll

    Mike,
    Check your link…Not working had to go elsewhere…

    Wow that video tells an exciting story doesn’t it…Like being part of the action…Lots of power there…Seeing this video really shows how difficult this is

  • Lois

    Great images and story. Thanks!

  • Lori Robin

    A spectacular first attempt at revolutionizing spaceflight. Elon and his team should apologize to no one. Those of us that know SpaceX understand that Elon aims for “baby steps”, and often outsteps his own expectations. This is a brilliant piece of engineering. Can’t wait to see the next one!
    Very nicely researched and written, Mike.

  • Alan

    If Elon knew that there not enough hydraulic fluid before this flight why was this not added. The next fight will have an addition 50% more hydraulic fluid and they had already planned for it before this flight.

  • Scott Smith

    Alan: They probably had a tank built and installed based on preliminary estimates. At that point, the customer (NASA)is waiting for their bird to fly with some urgency given the Orbital/Cygnus fiasco so they just went with it.