SpaceX has been lofting things into orbit for some time now, that’s the main reason that the company has a contract to ferry goods to the International Space Station (ISS) for NASA but the most recent launch of the CRS-5 Dragon to the ISS was something very special.
Not so much the launch itself, though a space launch will always retain a sort of raw power until we can harness clean-burning gravity drives, but what SpaceX was planning to do once the first-stage Falcom rocket disengaged from the main payload.
The company has been experimenting with recovering their rockets by having them land and they’ve had some success with test rockets. But this time around they were planning on using a Falcon 9 first stage rocket which would, on separation from the other stages, attempt to land on an autonomous drone ship that would act as a landing pad in the ocean.
The size of the landing pad? 300 x 100 (170, with the wings deployed) feet or around 90 x 50 meters, which gives the folks at SpaceX a margin for error of about 10 metres.
As you can see, it didn’t go too well. The first-stage rocket hit the barge and by that we mean it hit the barge and was destroyed. A problem with the fin actuators is apparently to blame but the never-before-attempted ocean landing was expected to perform badly. The company said in December last year that “…the probability of success on this test is low, we expect to gather critical data to support future landing testing.”
If you have a spare 30 minutes and a slight spaceflight fetish, you can catch the CRS-5’s launch to the International Space Station below.