SpaceX fails to stick ocean landing after satellite launch (Update)

January 17, 2016

Jason-3 Satellite Launch
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen after launch from Space Launch Complex 4 East at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California with the Jason-3 spacecraft onboard, January 17, 2016
SpaceX's unmanned Falcon 9 rocket broke apart Sunday as it tried to land on a floating platform in the Pacific, marking the fourth such failure in the company's bid to recycle rockets.

However, the primary mission of the launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California went as planned, propelling into orbit a $180 million US-French satellite called Jason-3 to study sea level rise.

"Well, at least the pieces were bigger this time!" Elon Musk, the CEO of the California-based company, wrote on Twitter.

SpaceX is trying to land its rockets back on Earth in order to re-use the parts in the future, trying to make spaceflight cheaper and more sustainable than before.

The firm succeeded in landing its Falcon 9 first stage—the long towering portion of the rocket—on solid ground at Cape Canaveral, Florida in December.

Even though an ocean landing is more difficult, SpaceX wants to perfect the technique because ship landings "are needed for high velocity missions," Musk tweeted.

"Definitely harder to land on a ship," he added after the latest foible.

"Similar to an aircraft carrier vs land: much smaller target area, that's also translating and rotating."

Currently, expensive rocket components are jettisoned into the ocean after launch, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars.

In this NASA TV image, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen at the Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the
In this NASA TV image, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is seen at the Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 4 East with the Jason-3 spacecraft onboard, during launch, January 17, 2016, in California

Competitor Blue Origin, headed by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, succeeded in landing a suborbital rocket in November.

However, no other company has attempted the ocean landing that SpaceX is trying to achieve.

In the end, the problem on Sunday was not due to high speed or a turbulent ocean, but came down to a leg on the rocket that did not lock out as anticipated.

"So it tipped over after landing," Musk said.

SpaceX said the rocket landed within 1.3 meters (yards) of the droneship's center.

Oceans satellite

There was no hitch in the launch itself, and the blast off at 10:42 am (1842 GMT) of the rocket and satellite went flawlessly.

The satellite aims to offer a more precise look at how global warming and sea level rise affect wind speeds and currents as close as 0.6 miles (one kilometer) from shore, whereas past satellites were limited to about 10 times that distance from the coast.

The technology will monitor global sea surface heights, tropical cyclones and help support seasonal and coastal forecasts.

During a five-year mission, its data will also be used to aid fisheries management and research into human impacts on the world's oceans.

The satellite is the fruit of a four-way partnership between the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US space agency NASA, the French space agency CNES (Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales) and the European Organisation for the Exploitation of Meteorological Satellites (EUMETSAT).

Explore further: SpaceX to launch ocean satellite, try water return Sunday

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1 / 5 (1) Jan 17, 2016
Okay, so evidently the drone barge, while stabilized, still moves up and down with the swells in a busy sea. What's needed is a drone barge that can move up or down to gently accommodate the idiosyncrasies of the nine rockets doing their level best to land straight up, and account for any displacement from the straight and level.

Maybe a long teardrop ballast with gyros in the leg and bulb.
5 / 5 (7) Jan 17, 2016
‏The reports of broken legs were premature, the accident cause was simpler than that:

Definitely harder to land on a ship. Similar to an aircraft carrier vs land: much smaller target area, that's also translating & rotating.

However, that was not what prevented it being good. Touchdown speed was ok, but a leg lockout didn't latch, so it tipped over after landing.

Well, at least the pieces were bigger this time! Won't be last RUD, but am optimistic about upcoming ship landing.

[ https://twitter.c...05131264 ]

The swell movements of heavy seas are small in such a large barge.
4 / 5 (4) Jan 17, 2016
still moves up and down with the swells in a busy sea.

Question is, how busy is too busy to land? Seems like it's very sensitive to weather.

SpaceX says it needs to perfect the technique so it can bring back its rockets in all kinds of situations.

Specifically, the larger the load they lift the further down the field they have to land, because they haven't got enough fuel left over to get back home. For small satellites, they can get almost back to launchpad, but for heavy satellites or trips to the ISS they have to land at sea.

The amount of fuel required to turn around and land increases exponentially the closer to home you return until there is simply no room left for the payload.

1.4 / 5 (19) Jan 17, 2016
Don't to worry we paid for it, none of it came from Elon's pocket. That's why he is so relaxed with his blow up toy again and again since he is guarantied to be paid, a screaming moral hazard.

After government subsidized electric car fiasco, useless and ridiculously expensive battery con, another disaster rocket toy play from apartheid boy but this time entirely for taxpayer money. Boy, he earned every badge of SV technology psychedelic gurus.

We see today an example of their creative destruction, of what unemployed NASA engineers built for pittance, and created pile of trash floating in the Ocean.

I guess, unable to get hardon with sex, booze and drugs SV tech gurus get high on orgasmic chaos, blow up toys and inhumane exploitation of their cheerleading, gadget addicted serfs.

Let's name it for what it is, a taxpayers con.

Interesting take on those parasites of reasonable mind I found at:

Whydening Gyre
5 / 5 (10) Jan 17, 2016
Regardless of "failure" label, I'm sure it was a veritable goldmine of data to further improvements.

And, Eikka nailed the reasoning for the need to land at sea, I think...
5 / 5 (3) Jan 18, 2016
The Germans had plenty of failures before their efforts ended up being perfected in the Saturn V, it's amazing that they've come as far as they have in such a short time, this is no easy feat.
not rated yet Jan 18, 2016
What is that old mid-eastern saying: "If the mountain will not come to Mohammed, then Mohammed will have to go to the mountain!"? Do not make the rocket to all the work! Make the barge do it, act like a seagoing Segway. give it a raised second deck with hydraulics on the corners to maintain a constant elevation above sea level at ever point in the plane of the deck. Put the electronics and equipment that would have otherwise have to be carried on the rocket..up and down at great expense and risk of vibration failure, etc... ON the BARGE! Make a smart barge!. A big one so as to make it an easier target to hit; AND one that is not doing the six degrees of rotational and translational freedom thing like the sea is wont to do. The sea is always changing, and changing quickly. For the rocket to respond to that is asking too much with present day primitive chemical rockets when we COULD be using nuclear rockets or Nuclear/VASIMR rockets. No rough sea landings!
1 / 5 (11) Jan 18, 2016
Surely instead of trying to land on the barge directly with all the consequent risks, why not:-

a. Approach eg 100m away to one side
b. When eg 2-5m from sea extend cowling to protect engines last point of powered descent
c. drop into ocean vertically
d. drag aboard when settled

Presumably since rocket's exhausted most of its fuel it should have positive buoyancy & provided it has reduced vertical speed to ocean significantly there shouldn't be much velocity to offer damage re b. Might not even need significant engine cowling as clean up will be necessary anyway as part of refurbishment for next launch of course clear ocean debris prior to descent. This saves the weight of the 3 supports too...

The video suggests some lateral & non vertical descent momentum as well as issue with latches. ie Its approach attitude could have stressed latches that side & in any case could point to need for the latch to have a rather stronger sprung position release etc...
3.7 / 5 (3) Jan 18, 2016
I suggest having large, cushioned, gantry-like arms rise up to secure the rocket once it is within feet of touchdown. They could be cushioned with inflating airbags and essentially "grab" the booster near its top end and hold it vertically. Hitting the bull's eye doesn't seem to be the issue. These cushioned arms would guarantee the booster does not tip. Their rapid deployment could even be powered by small rocket thrusters, to make it look sexy.
not rated yet Jan 18, 2016
here's the video, I recommend letting it loop through a few times, then study the orientation of the barge with respect to the ocean horizon when it becomes visible. The fin did break, because the barge was tilting toward it when it touched down. It is evident from the way the deck bobs back after the damage has been done and the column is falling. Landing was dead center, though. Amazing, when you think about it.

Nothing to do here, except maybe change the way the fins set themselves after they deploy, because they appear tough since it didn't literally break. That, and provide better stabilization at the critical time.
2.9 / 5 (15) Jan 18, 2016
"Don't to worry we paid for it, none of it came from Elon's pocket. That's why he is so relaxed with his blow up toy again and again since he is guarantied to be paid, a screaming moral hazard."

The idiocy here is pretty amazing.

"Let's name it for what it is, a taxpayers con."

Tell me, how is it a taxpayer con, when the a large portion of their manifest is commercial? You don't like gps? You don't think we need more satellites? Content to out source them to the Russians and be reliant on them? Don't think we need weather satellites?

SpaceX is a private company, spurring on huge changes in the launch business to drive down costs. If anything, they will be saving you huge numbers of tax dollars. Instead of paying 500 million to launch a satellite, contract one from SpaceX for 60-90m. But hey. Remain ignorant.
3 / 5 (2) Jan 18, 2016
matt, put [ q ] and [ /q ] around quoted material (no spaces) to denote quotes.
4.8 / 5 (10) Jan 18, 2016
According to Musk, "Falcon lands on droneship, but the lockout collet doesn't latch on one the four legs,...", so it toppled.
Some useful info here, http://www.thereg..._are_go/
and the comments are (mostly) worth a look.
(They do have a report on this latest launch as well, but it's a bit basic)
2.3 / 5 (6) Jan 18, 2016
Try fail try fail try fail try succeed try fail try succeed try succeed.

Yup, thats how it works. Still the same old universe. Comforting, actually.
1 / 5 (8) Jan 18, 2016
RM07 suggested
I believe the salt water is what destroys the rocket. The old shuttle boosters used to parachute into the ocean, but were unusable after being doused with salt water
Yes and No, it all depends...

Besides the claim 'destroy the rocket' is an emotive non-quantitative term, one must be cognisant of the fact rockets, especially engines are made from materials that have to put up with oxidation products of combustion.

Everything has a time aspect, it would obviously be completely inappropriate to leave it in salt water for long enough to cause corrosion damage and in any case whilst retrieving the rocket its easy to wash with clean water before the normal refurbishing process prior to the next launch.

If you can offer a technical feedback re time in respect of the materials than that would be of interest instead of 'destroys the rocket' and especially so as many materials survive various exposures to salt water just fine and don't get 'destroyed' ?
not rated yet Jan 18, 2016
I can NOT be the only person to have thought of a complimentarily rotating/translating in 6 Deg of Freedom secondary deck for the landing barge like in my post 13 hours ago. Let that barge do some work on bringing Musk's bird home. Why spend hundreds of millions on a state of the art spacecraft to let it get destroyed by a moving barge costing a few lousy bucks at a surplus auction. You, Elon, have a nice, however anachronistic, chemical (oil monopoly subsidized) launch platform with decent tech supporting the unreliable chemical processes. Please mate it with a state of the art barge recovery system like a stable platform like my other post. No one else seems to notice this, but ANY carrier based fighter jock KNOWS how hard it is to land planes on a much LARGER carrier with a limited version of this tech. Carrier landings are combat situations under pressure. Barges are not so more atttention to stability is possible and should be used.
2 / 5 (8) Jan 18, 2016
@Mike - see http://llis.nasa....sson/836

It doesn't give a time frame but tells exactly what changes were made, but one key thing to note is all electronic systems had to be redone.

After every flight electronic components were being returned to the vendor for refurbishment. After refurbishment

(thanks baud)
5 / 5 (7) Jan 18, 2016
"I can NOT be the only person to have thought of a complimentarily rotating/translating in 6 Deg of Freedom secondary deck for the landing barge like in my post 13 hours ago."

That wouldn't have helped in this case, a collet failed to engage, and the leg it was supposed to lock folded. Terribly technical stuff... https://en.wikipe...i/Collet
Possibly relevant quote "An internal collet can be used to lock two telescoping tubes together. In this case the collet is in the form of a truncated cone drilled and threaded down the centreline."

The barge is ballasted and has positional thrusters, it's stable enough for the job.
Personally, I think the progress they've made so far is great, looking forward to the falcon heavy :) https://en.wikipe...on_Heavy
1 / 5 (6) Jan 18, 2016
matt_s kindly offered
@Mike - see http://llis.nasa....sson/836
..tells exactly what changes were made, but one key thing to note is all electronic systems had to be redone
Indeed & valid from THAT perspective only, the essential differentials not explored, please note:-

1 Extremely easy to protect electronics from sea water esp short periods Eg Variety of enclosures, encapsulation, conformal coatings - rather trivial in fact

2 Unlike Space-X, SRB's had nil vectoring capacity, short term recovery problematic

The whole point of my post & especially so from a control systems risk assessment
perspective is the differential since the SRB tech has been well superseded.

Thanks for the link matt_s, if anyone can also offer any sort of rationale which is clearly
against the scenario I have painted, at least, in respect of a risk assessment strategy
then most interested to read of it ?

So far, there is nothing to in any way to invalidate the option I offered :/
not rated yet Jan 19, 2016
Remember the pretty VTOL test rocket NASA had ? It crashed & burned when a leg failed to lock-out.

In that case, IIRC, it was a check-list fault on the plumbing which left a landing leg swingin' in the breeze...

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