SpaceX rocket booster misses landing as supplies sent to space

The company also lands boosters on its drone ships in the ocean, but all of its land landings had been successful - until now.

SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket lifted off Wednesday, December 5, from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, but after successfully propelling the Dragon capsule, loaded with cargo and supplies, on its way to the International Space Station, the rocket malfunctioned on its return to Earth and spiraled into a failed landing. The stage, he noted, continued to work even after tipping over into the water, going through a standard post-landing safing sequence and transmitting data. Falcon 9 first stages are outfitted with targeting algorithms that keep them offshore until the very end of their touchdown sequences, when it's clear that everything is working well, he said.

During re-entry and landing burns that began around 6 minutes and 8 minutes respectively into the flight, one or more of the booster's grid fin hydraulic pumps stalled, sending the plummeting rocket off course from its planned landing site. The horizon is vertical, at right; the waffle-iron-looking things are two of the booster's "grid fins". And if it is on land it avoids buildings.

Altogether, the company has recovered 32 boosters following liftoff - 33 once this one is towed back, said Hans Koenigsmann, a SpaceX vice-president.

"So, public safety was well-protected here", Koenigsmann said. "It knows where buildings are, so it's pretty smart in that aspect", he said of the landing system on the booster.

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First published December 5, 11:13 a.m. PT. Update, 12:38 p.m. PT: Adds more details about the launch.

He also didn't expect any effect on the final Iridium launch, although he suggested that launch may slip until early January for other reasons. "We have enough time between now and then to bring in corrective actions and to make sure that we land that booster safely". It was the company's first missed ground landing, although it has overshot floating barges plenty of times in the past, a tougher feat to pull off.

The Dragon space capsule that flew on Wednesday was used once before, on a supply mission in February 2017.

He later added that the rocket appeared in good shape, and could be reused on a future mission. If SpaceX rockets misbehave, that could prompt the agency to perform a safety review and delay those experimental launches. Koenigsmann said he believed this was the second launch to use the redesigned COPVs, after the launch of the Es'hail-2 communications satellite November 15.

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