Rocket tips over after SpaceX recycle attempt (Update)

SpaceX launches cargo capsule, fails to nail rocket landing
After a scrub on Monday, the Falcon 9 SpaceX rocket stands ready for another launch attempt at complex 40 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Tuesday, April 14, 2015. This will be SpaceX's sixth commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
SpaceX's latest attempt at recycling its Falcon 9 rocket by landing it upright on an ocean platform failed Tuesday, after a successful launch of its cargo mission to space.

"Ascent successful. Dragon en route to Space Station. Rocket landed on droneship, but too hard for survival," SpaceX chief Elon Musk said on Twitter, after the rocket and Dragon cargo ship blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

A few hours afterward, SpaceX released a blurry image of the rocket appearing to approach the platform in the proper upright position.

"Looks like Falcon landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post landing," Musk wrote.

"All we have right now is low frame rate video (basically pictures)," added the Internet entrepreneur, who made his fortune as co-founder of PayPal and now also runs Tesla Motors.

"Normal video will be posted when ship returns to port in a few days."

Musk's California-based company is aiming to revolutionize the rocket industry by making the equipment as reusable as commercial planes, potentially saving millions of dollars.

Currently, rocket pieces fall into the ocean after launch and cannot be salvaged for another flight.

But SpaceX has a long way to go before it can hone the technology so that the first stage of the rocket can be flown back in a controlled manner and set down carefully on an ocean platform.

The company's first public attempt in January also failed, when the rocket broke into pieces after colliding with the autonomous droneship, the floating platform which is marked with an "X."

SpaceX has done other practice runs, in the form of controlled landings over water without a droneship positioned beneath. Landing on a hard surface requires much greater precision.

Musk had said Monday that the chances of success this time were about 50-50, but that the company believes it has an 80 percent chance of success by the end of the year since many launches lie ahead.

Cargo launch 'flawless'

The launch of the unmanned Dragon cargo carrier was described by NASA as "flawless," after it blasted off toward the International Space Station.

The Falcon 9 rocket launched from Cape Canaveral at 4:10 pm (2010 GMT), carrying a load of food and supplies for the astronauts living in orbit.

The cargo ship separated from the second stage of the rocket about 10 minutes into the flight, as planned, and carried on toward the ISS.

The cargo mission is the sixth official journey that SpaceX has contracted with NASA as part of a $1.6 billion deal for 12 such trips.

The supply is on track to arrive at the orbiting outpost on Friday, when it will be grabbed by the space station's robotic arm—operated by European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti—and guided in for berthing.

"We watched live!" she wrote on Twitter. "Amazing to think that in three days Dragon will be knocking on our door."

NASA television coverage of the arrival will begin Friday at 0900 GMT, with the grapple expected two hours later.

The Dragon is carrying about two tons of food and supplies, including material for scientific experiments and an espresso machine.

The reusable cargo craft will stay in space for about five weeks, as astronauts reload it with equipment to return to Earth.


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Apr 14, 2015
it also returns cargo too though. Also note SpaceX is already making a profit from this, and the profit will increase once they perfect the landing system. Part of that profit can then go into making the price of service cheaper for the customer. Keep in mind this is a private company that is still working out how to do this.

Apr 14, 2015
@Verkle - max payload is 6.6 tons, so it is $20m per ton or $10,000 a pound.

That's not expensive compared to the alternative rockets (and yes, that is only to a low orbit!).

If one counts the 3.3 ton return capacity as well, it is only ~$13m per ton.

If SpaceX can reuse the first stage the cost will come down considerably, and they have a good shot of getting there, possible this year. But it will still cost thousands of dollars per pound...

Apr 15, 2015
Landing on a hard surface requires much greater precision.


And much greater luck with the weather the way they're doing it. They're balancing a very light metal cylinder as tall as an apartment building upright from its heavy end, trying to land it gingerly on a platform on the moving ocean - a modest gust of wind may unbalance it and send it over, and it has to lean into the wind to stay balanced, yet it can hardly tolerate touching down at an angle or it will topple over and break.

They don't really have a chance unless the weather at the landing pad is perfect.

@Verkle - max payload is 6.6 tons, so it is $20m per ton or $10,000 a pound.


The max payload is not reached because of the fuel required for the return. That's the point.

It's so improbable to get a successful recovery that they'll never get their money back. If they succeed 2/3 of the time, there's just 18% chance that they'll get to use the same rocket a fourth time.

Apr 15, 2015
Also note SpaceX is already making a profit from this


Are they?

NASA is paying them a package deal for 12 launches, so they can afford to waste a couple for testing purposes, as long as the rest of the launches cover the cost.

it also returns cargo too though.


Not this one. The Dragon capsule may, but that's a different thing.

Apr 15, 2015
The problem is as follows. The first stage of the Falcon rocket separates at mach 6 instead of mach 10 to have enough fuel to return. This means it imparts only 1/3 the kinetic energy to the second and third stages, and that means - simplistically - 2/3 less payload reaching the orbit.

That means three times the cost per pound into orbit, so you need to send the same rocket up three times just to break even.

Sending the rocket up four times is 25% cheaper than sending four rockets - if you ignore the cost to refurbish it - but if there's a 75% chance it won't make it that far, the whole affair is pointless.Over subsequent launches, you'd lose more rockets than you save money.


Apr 15, 2015
Yes, Eikka correct. Furthermore, this is not a valid private enterprise. It's government money funnelled into substandard toys to enrich the boys club. That's ok, just know it.

If PayPal, Apple or Microsoft fund a serious scientific space program then I'll be impressed. How much did the Curiousty Mars rover cost? Or Dawn to Ceres?

Petty cash for these suckholes.

In the meanwhile it's - 'Jobs for the boys'.

Apr 15, 2015
In the meanwhile it's - 'Jobs for the boys'.


Most research is like that. Most of aviation is like that. Very few people have the means to make radically new designs of aircraft or ships without a stated need and contract from government.

The problem is that the aerospace giants have been relying on their cold war era designs for decades. Things have changed. Elon Musk sees an opportunity to build these things with new controls new materials, new fabrication technologies, for less money that the cold war era designs had.

There will be other customers besides the US government.

Apr 15, 2015
If PayPal, Apple or Microsoft fund a serious scientific space program then I'll be impressed.


Seriously? Elon Musk founded PayPal you dolt.


Apr 15, 2015
what a stupid idea trying to recycle rocket tubes.

It is much cheaper to discard them in the ocean where they can become good habitats for fish than make it so much more expensive than need be to reuse them.

Make them cheaper to make and discard the bloody things. There is no reason to recycle them than to waste money. Its not helping the planet at all an likely consuming more natural resources trying to save them that discarding cheaper made ones.

Apr 15, 2015
Things have changed. Elon Musk sees an opportunity to build these things with new controls new materials, new fabrication technologies, for less money that the cold war era designs had.


The problem is that if Elon Musk really wanted to save money, he'd put a parachute on the thing and make the design sturdy enough to survive a landing in water. Flip it over nose first to use the empty tube as a crash cushion to save the important bits.

Trying to land it upright Thunderbirds style is just so extremely delicate business that it's improbable even when the technology works.

And even when he succeeds, weather will still put strict constraints on the launch windows because he needs to have clear nice weather at the launch and landing sites, which are hundreds of miles apart due to fuel saving reasons. A competitor using the more robust parachute system will steal the market by being able to launch bigger payloads more frequently.


Apr 15, 2015
If PayPal, Apple or Microsoft fund a serious scientific space program then I'll be impressed.


Seriously? Elon Musk founded PayPal you dolt.



But PayPal isn't paying SpaceX. NASA is.

Apr 15, 2015
I'll wager there's a software problem. It might be that it is poorly written bloat that executes too slowly to properly guide that vertically stabilized first stage to a precise landing on a target moving along all axes. I'm certain that all the mechanics connected to the guidance computer are quite capable of performing to par, and I presume that raft's stabilization systems are up to snuff. Not that the software doesn't work, it just doesn't click in real time. It's a tough job. That's the OOP paradigm at work. Your computer doesn't seem to be getting a whole lot faster when additional bloat is added to upgraded versions of your OS. Your hardware has phenomenally greater potential.

I'd rethink the approach used to put the software together and make that computer bounce. Keep all the essentials and reformat it for speed. Tables and switch statements wherever you can invent a place to put them. That's just for starters.

Apr 15, 2015
Wouldn't it make more sense to discard the flimsy, wobbly tankage and just retrieve the complex rocket /turbo-pump assembly ??

Apr 15, 2015
@Nik_2213 thats the best idea I have seen here, but you still need the fuel tanks to land that engine system. The reason landing in the ocean is not viable is because sea water ruins the 9 liquid fueled engines. It costs too much to refurb them after exposure to sea water. So ocean landing is OUT!!!! Fuel is not the expensive part of this equation, the actual materials used in the rocket are.

Apr 15, 2015
Also, note that SPACEX will attempt to land next time on LAND. Everything has been done at sea so far as a safety precaution.

Apr 16, 2015
See the video here.. https://youtu.be/qlO7rJKGJ6s
Both landings have been highly entertaining, it looks so blimmin difficult.


Apr 17, 2015
but you still need the fuel tanks to land that engine system


Not if you parachute it down.

Toss the tank, inflate a raft around the engine components and parachute it down with the engine bell pointing up.

Also, note that SPACEX will attempt to land next time on LAND. Everything has been done at sea so far as a safety precaution.


Actually, the closer to the launchpad they want to land, the more fuel they use because they need to brake and reverse the trajectory. Getting it right back to the launch site would take nearly all the fuel the rocket has.

They need to launch east for efficiency reasons, and they can't launch over populations, so the launch site needs to be on an eastern coast, such as over the Gulf of Mexico in Texas, or in Florida.

That means they can't get back on land with it, unless they launch in Texas and land in Florida. The other question is, whether they get permits to lob ballistic objects at Florida in case they veer off course.

Apr 18, 2015
Maybe he should use a net!

Apr 19, 2015
That means - simplistically - 2/3 less payload reaching the orbit.
That means three times the cost per pound into orbit, so you need to send the same rocket up three times just to break even


Your logic is flawed. 2/3 less payload is not being sacrificed just so they can re-use a booster.

The only boosters returned are those where the payload is already not in need of a full burn to get there, such as Dragon capsule launches to ISS or similar. They are thus not suffering a "loss" by sending up less payload, they use the opportunity lesser payloads create to prototype the system, using boosters already paid for and written off otherwise, same as everybody else writes theirs off. If you've seen the animation for Falcon Heavy, with the three boosters, the coolness of this becomes apparent.

The landing gear locked only at the last seconds. The barge video shows at least one of them collapsed, enabling a fall over. Sticking throttle didn't help of course.

Apr 20, 2015
Couldn't they just bring is down on land, on a giant kevlar bouncy castle?

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