SpaceX Rocket Crash Lands On Dronepad, But At Least The Launch Was A Success

On Friday afternoon in Florida, the latest SpaceX rocket crash landed on its dronepad after launch. The idea was to launch the Falcon 9 rocket into the air and then land it upright on an autonomous drone barge (or robot boat, as I like to call it) at sea. The launch itself was a success — once in space, the rocket deployed a heavy satellite into orbit — but the rocket crash landed on the barge after reentry.

According to SpaceX founder Elon Musk, this wasn't entirely a surprise. Launching the rocket and releasing the SES-9 satellite into high orbit was the main goal, and doing so required so much fuel that there wasn't very much left to use to guide the rocket's landing. As such, the company said before the launch that "a successful landing is not expected." It's a good thing they lowered expectations, because the landing was indeed not successful.

This was the fifth time SpaceX tried to land a Falcon 9 rocket on a robot boat. Had it succeeded, it would have been the first-ever successful landing of a rocket on a drone barge. The launch was delayed multiple times, as the team had problems superchilling the rocket's liquid oxygen supply and, also, an errant boat strayed into the launch site. Today's unsuccessful landing means that SpaceX has still only been able to land a rocket on solid ground — which, of course, is still quite impressive.

As you might expect, it's easier to land a rocket on ground than on a ship floating in the sea. Good ol' fashioned Earth provides more surface area to work with, and unlike with a ship, there's little to no chance that the ground will stray off-course or sink into the ocean. However, sea landings require less fuel and allow for much more flexibility in determining a landing site, so SpaceX has every reason to try and perfect its sea landings.

In the meantime, check out the footage of Friday's launch. The video below was filmed by onlookers; the official SpaceX feed cut out midway into the launch.

And in case you're wondering what it looks like when a rocket attempts, but fails, to land on a drone barge, here's an amazing video from SpaceX's most recent attempt to land a Falcon 9 rocket at sea.

Despite failing to land, Friday's rocket did succeed in its primary mission of putting a new telecommunications satellite into orbit, which is, you know, a pretty big deal.