SpaceX's latest rocket booster landing ended in failure, with the Falcon 9 rocket suffering a crash landing and explosion after an otherwise-successful mission to launch two communications satellites into orbit.
The company made history in April after its first successful landing of the Falcon 9 rocket booster on a platform in the Atlantic Ocean. Since then, the company has performed two more successful landings at sea, but today's crash breaks its streak.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk confirmed the botched landing on Twitter, explaining that the thrust on one of the rocket's three landing engines may have been too low. He said the company is already working on upgrades to enable the rocket to compensate for a thrust shortfall, with a fix expected later this year.
Today's mission was fairly routine for SpaceX. The payload was two Boeing Ku-band satellites, which will boost the capacity of communications providers in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America. After launch, the Falcon 9 booster re-entered Earth's atmosphere and attempted a landing on the company's seaborne droneship, called "Of Course I Still Love You."
As with other missions, SpaceX cautioned in a press release that "the first-stage will be subject to extreme velocities and re-entry heating, making a successful landing difficult." The rocket exploded in what Musk estimated was the "hardest impact to date."
He promised video of the impact later today; "Droneship still ok," he tweeted.
SpaceX has been working on these complicated ocean landings so it can reuse rockets. Traditionally, rockets have crashed landed into the ocean because getting them to land upright and intact is a complicated engineering feat. But getting it right means space firms like SpaceX can save money and time by reusing rockets rather than deploying new ones for every single flight.
While SpaceX performs booster-assisted satellite launches and cargo resupply missions, some of its former employees are working on a way to get mini satellites into orbit with much less complication and expense. Their company, called Vector, is trying to get the cost down to between $2 million