Falcon 9 launches NASA satellite, first stage landing fails

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The competition heats up: SpaceX successfully put its first NASA/NOAA science satellite in orbit today, though its attempt to land the Falcon 9 first stage on a barge failed when one landing leg broke and the stage tipped over.

The first stage however was still recovered as it fell sideways on the barge. The link above includes a picture, which shows that stage lying on its side. The engines might be recoverable, but certainly they have enough material from the stage to do tests and learn a great deal more about how it tolerates the stresses of launch. Commenter Frank provides a link to a video that shows the stage falling over and exploding, something the images I had seen previously had not shown. They might have more material to test, but hardly as intact as I had first thought.

Nonetheless, they have now successfully test fired the engines from last month’s recovered first stage.

The 156-foot first stage booster that carried out that successful landing was taken to the company’s hangar at Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and partially inspected. It was later taken back to Launch Complex 40 and hoisted upright via a crane. On Jan. 15, a static fire was conducted. “Data looks good overall,” Musk said in a tweet, but noted Engine No. 9—one of the outer engines—showed thrust fluctuations. He said that there may have been some debris ingestion, but the engine data looks OK and that they would borescope later that night. There has been no word on how that inspection went.

That all nine engines functioned is a very good sign, even if one had issues.


  • Frank

    Looks like an explosion and damage when the tipping rocket hit the deck

  • mpthompson

    Frank, thanks for the video link. Damn, they came so close on this one. Elon indicated that one of the legs failed to lock down into position. I suppose that’s just one more thing for them to fix so it doesn’t happen again.

    The competition must really be getting nervous watching SpaceX inch their way towards a reliable method of recovering the first stage of their rocket. It may not be tomorrow, next week or perhaps even next year, but the day is clearly coming when the recovery of the booster is as routine as the launch of the booster. What makes this really exciting is that the competition will be forced to react with innovations of their own and we may ultimately see the kick off a rocketry renascence that rivals the innovations between the 1920’s and 1950’s.

  • geoffc

    There has to be a way to say it Landed successfully, just had trouble staying upright.

    Someone probably spiked the RP1 with a bit of Ethanol. Stupid Ethanol subsidies strike again!

    They were so freaking close! They hit the X within 1.3 meters, from almost space (200K altitude, Mach 6) on a slightly moving target. That is out of this world amazing.

  • pzatchok

    They need an arm type catch system set up in each corner of the landing area laid back over the water to start.
    That way when the rocket comes down the arms come up pretty fast to support the top of the rocket.
    If it works even in seas like the ones they had they would stand a better chance of stabilizing and reusing the rocket.

    I never thought the boat idea would be stable enough in the open ocean.

    Now a self propelled Semi Submersible oil platform would be perfect. It could motor out to any location needed and submerge for stability. After the rocket lands its own crane system could either lower it to a truck on the dock or onto a boat at sea.

    But even a used one would be expensive and far more than the cost of the barge system they have going now. But to ensure near100% recovery it might be worth it now.

  • Rick Smith

    Why can’t they just put parachutes on the first stage and have it come down in the ocean? Retrieve it, disassemble, clean and rebuild. This has to be cheaper than building a whole new one.

  • Dick Eagleson


    In the 40’s it was said that the Norden bombsight could put a bomb in a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet. It couldn’t, but it looks as though SpaceX can do quite a bit better than that repeatably.

    Rick Smith

    Red hot metal engine components don’t react too well to sudden immersion in corrosive sea water. They’re inclined to warp, crack and do other things that would cancel any alleged benefits. SpaceX will have the barge landing thing figures out pretty soon now. Personally, I think they’ll manage the trick when they launch SES-9.

  • Dick Eagleston gave you the technical reasons why landing in the ocean doesn’t work. I can give you the history. SpaceX tried this for the first five years of Falcon 9 launches and consistently found that the salt water caused so much damage it wasn’t cost effective to refurbish the engines, which is of course the most important component.

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