Right now SpaceX’s CRS-6 Dragon cargo ship is en route to the International Space Station (ISS), aiming to deliver tons of fresh supplies, cargo, science experiments, and technology demonstrations to the Expedition 43 crew for NASA. The launch itself, although scrubbed on April 13 for unfavorable weather, took off beautifully this afternoon into mostly clear blue skies over Cape Canaveral, Fla., and although delivering Dragon and its payloads to the $100 billion orbiting science research outpost is the primary mission, SpaceX had another mission in mind as well: landing their rocket on an autonomous barge located a couple hundred miles offshore.
Read our in-depth CRS-6 launch story HERE.
The barge, known as the “Autonomous Spaceport Drone Ship” (ASDS) and named “Just Read The Instructions,” was positioned around 250 miles offshore of the Florida/Georgia border. The attempt alone was only the second time SpaceX has tried landing their rocket on the ASDS (first try was on the CRS-5 mission), and although the rocket did not remain stable upon landing on the ASDS it did hit the ASDS. That feat 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.
“Looks like Falcon landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post landing,” said Elon Musk via his Twitter account (@ElonMusk) after launch. “Either not enough thrust to stabilize or a leg was damaged. Data review needed.”
“Looks like the issue was stiction in the biprop throttle valve, resulting in control system phase lag,” added Musk this evening. “Should be easy to fix.”
A couple images from the ASDS released today, courtesy of Musk, also show the booster just prior to impact on the barge.
The company is making strides with developing the technology to land their boosters and re-use them. When they do finally land a rocket successfully, it will be a history-making feat, a game-changer that many expect the company to accomplish this year. As is expected during any testing and development, the odds of success are only 50/50 currently, but the odds of success will dramatically increase as the vehicle matures through the next few landing attempts.
Never has a rocket made a controlled landing after a launch, and the expectation is that once the SpaceX Falcon-9 is truly reusable it will drive down dramatically both the costs of access to space and turnaround time between launches.
VIDEO CREDIT: SpaceX
In the meantime, SpaceX is already beginning to build the actual landing site for their rockets, at the old Launch Complex-13 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, under a recently signed five-year lease agreement with the U.S. Air Force. Although instead of being called “Launch Complex-13,” it is now designated as “Landing Complex-1.” A primary concrete landing pad will be developed, surrounded by four smaller contingency landing pads for use in case a landing rocket is not quite on the bull’s eye.
The company is also planning similar operations at their west coast launch site at Vandenberg AFB, Calif. Another ASDS named “Of Course I Still Love You” will serve as the company’s Vandenberg barge while SpaceX continues on the reusability development path to landing their rockets back on solid ground.
Bookmark our “CRS-6 Mission Tracker” for regular updates and live coverage of Dragon’s arrival at the ISS April 17.
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