Though US space company SpaceX launched its 5th cargo mission to the International Space Station (ISS) early on Saturday morning as expected, its experiment to recover the rocket after the first stage turned futile as expected by many experts, including the main designer himself.
The SpaceX mission generated enthusiasm as it is for the first time that SpaceX was trying to realise a precise landing of the rocket’s first stage on a floating ocean platform specially built and moved into the sea. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted that the rocket made it to the platform but “landed hard,” which means not exactly as expected.
“Close, but no cigar this time,” he said. “Ship itself is fine. Some of the support equipment on the deck will need to be replaced. Didn’t get good landing/impact video. Pitch dark and foggy. Will piece it together from telemetry,” he stated.
The unmanned Dragon cargo ship lifted off at 4:47 a.m. aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, carrying 2.5 tonnes of supplies and payloads, including materials to support 256 science and research investigations for the ISS.
More than the cargo mission, SpaceX was hoping that the successful landing on a sea platform would make its future launches more re-usable. It was designed in such a way that after the first three minutes, the second stage will carry the trip to ISS while the first stage will detach and fire up its own rocket to realight and come down to land on a sea platform of a 300-foot-long, 170-foot-wide “autonomous spaceport drone ship” in the Atlantic.
The company has conducted two tests to see whether it could execute some control over the return of the first stage of the Falcon 9, slowing and making it hover before splashing into the ocean. Hans Koenigsmann, vice president for Mission Assurance at SpaceX said, “It is very difficult to hit a platform of that size,” at a Nasa briefing on Monday. “If you look at it from almost 150 miles up in suborbit, it looks like a very small place to land on.”
However, SpaceX wanted to go ahead with the challenge of landing with an accuracy of 10 kilometres in past tests to 10 meters this time with faith in gravity. “The centre of gravity is pretty low for the booster, as all the engines and residual propellant is at the bottom,” Musk said earlier.
Otherwise, the Dragon cargo ship should arrive at the ISS next week. SpaceX has been given $1.6 billion worth contract by NASA for 12 missions in all to supply cargo to the space station and return with some cargo to Earth.
In August 2014, SpaceX’s test rocket exploded in mid-flight due to technical snags at the SpaceX Rocket Development and Test Facility in McGregor, Texas due to some anomaly that triggered to self-destroy.