SpaceX managed to land a booster on a floating ocean platform in its second try this year — the only problem was that it quickly tipped over and exploded.
For SpaceX founder Elon Musk, however, it’s a failure that is a milestone on the path to success, and a vast improvement over an even harder landing back in January when the company first attempted to land a Falcon rocket on a floating platform at sea, according to a Washington Post report.
Musk believes that if his company is successful, it could revolutionize the space industry, making spaceflight cheaper and therefore more common. Estimates suggest that by reusing the rocket and not dumping it into the sea, the company would save $54 million per flight, a huge cost savings.
Musk took to Twitter to explain the recent failure: “Looks like Falcon landed fine, but excess lateral velocity caused it to tip over post landing,” he wrote.
Indeed, video of the crash shows the rocket descending toward the platform, rocking back and forth almost wildly at times before extending its legs and settling on the platform — then, a sudden lateral move happens, and the rocket falls over the side, exploding on impact.
It was certainly closer than SPaceX came in January. The rocket successfully completed its main mission of delivering supplies to the International Space Station.
Another attempt at a sea-based landing was scrapped earlier this year due to poor conditions at sea.
It’s a tricky proposition to land the rocket, and one that certainly has more kinks to work out. It starts with the launch of the rocket, which gets 50 miles above the Earth before launching the second stage, which ultimately takes the payload to its intended destination. Then, the first-stage rocket flips onto its axis using nitrogen boosters and begins its descent, using engines to slow the rocket to a maximum speed of 20 feet per second as grid fins steer it toward the landing site. The legs deploy as it nears the platform, and it is then meant to settle softly onto it — a small target at just 300 by 170 feet.