Early this morning, SpaceX made a fourth attempt to successfully return a Falcon 9 rocket to Earth in order to earn the coveted “reusable” tag. However, something seemed to go terribly wrong during the first stage of flight–most likely an explosion of some kind–and the attempt was unsuccessful.
“The range confirmed that the [Falcon 9] has broken up,” NASA tweeted just seven minutes after the rocket’s 10:21 a.m ET launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. “SpaceX is putting together their anomaly team.”
SpaceX also launched its seventh commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station (ISS), sending more than 4,000 pounds of supplies and payloads into space aboard its Dragon capsule.
While dozens of scientific teams were no doubt vitally interested in what would happen to their cargo when it arrived on the space station, they will have to wait until future launches.
Leading up to the launch, however, the more riveting question for many people was whether the Falcon 9 rocket could land itself after the launch on a sea-borne platform emblazoned with the phrase “Of Course I Still Love You.” That has been a major question through three previous attempts, in January, February, and April.
Each of those rockets was destroyed.
In January, the first attempt ended in a fiery explosion as the rocket slammed into SpaceX’s “droneship” at-sea platform. The February try nearly made it, but the rocket hit the water just 10 meters from the droneship in rough seas. In the April attempt, the Falcon 9 hit the platform almost perfectly vertical, but was going too fast and exploded after tipping over.
Today, the rocket barely made it off the ground. The driving force behind the effort is to develop a “reusable” rocket, which would give SpaceX — and its partners at NASA and various universities and labs — a huge cost advantage and means that sending cargo to the ISS will become cheaper and cheaper.
“SpaceX believes a fully and rapidly reusable rocket is the pivotal breakthrough needed to substantially reduce the cost of space access,” the company says on its Web site. “The majority of the launch cost comes from building the rocket, which flies only once. Compare that to a commercial airliner – each new plane costs about the same as Falcon 9, but can fly multiple times per day, and conduct tens of thousands of flights over its lifetime. Following the commercial model, a rapidly reusable space launch vehicle could reduce the cost of traveling to space by a hundredfold.”
SpaceX has said it would continue attempting to land a rocket until it’s successful. It’s not clear when it will try again. Shortly after the launch attempt, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk tweeted:
A photo of the explosion was posted by @NASAWatch shortly afterwards: